Friday 13 February 2015

Rockliffe's Babies

Genre: Drama
Channel: BBC1

Transmission: 1987 - 1988

Who hasn't found starting a new job a tough ordeal?

Having to learn new procedures, enraging people with your lack of experience and working out who the best person is to lend you 20p for the coffee machine - it's one hell of a slog!

Just imagine the chaos that would ensue if you had a workplace rammed full of new recruits. All careless and wet behind the ears.

We feel nothing, but deep, deep sympathy for any one put in a position to mould such a ramshackle bunch into a well oiled machine.

You only have to take a quick look at Rockliffe's Babies.

Bobbies on the Beat

Sgt. Alan Rockliffe (Ian Hogg) is not a happy man. There's nothing he likes more than banging up the bad guys, but he's currently got a thorn in his side.

The literal form of this thorn is a set of new PC's straight out of Hendon Police College.

And, well, to put it politely, they're letting the bad guys slip through their careless hands.

Rockliffe's Babies sees Rockliffe trying to take control of his fledgling officers as they run amok through the streets of North West London.

Nothing will stand in the way of their buffoonery and a predisposition for love, hunger and cockiness are all causing Rockliffe's blood pressure to shoot through the roof.

Police Procedures

Two eight-episode series of Rockliffe's Babies aired between 1987 - 1988 on BBC1. The series went out in the 9.30pm slot on BBC1 and episodes were 50 minutes long.

The series was devised and written by Richard Keefe who had previously tackled the law genre with Crown Court a few years before.

Leonard Lewis was on producer duties and had previously worked on shows such as When the Boat Comes In, Second Verdict and The Good Companions.

The gritty and deprived council estates which featured heavily were mostly located in the Kensal Rise area of North West London.

Rockliffe's Babies received a couple of repeats up until 1990, but that was the last time it was seen on terrestrial TV. The series later received repeats on UK Gold.

A spin off series, Rockliffe's Folly, aired in late 1988 and saw Rockliffe relocating to the more pastoral surroundings of Wessex, but lasted only 7 episodes and was never repeated.

Anything You Do Say Will Be Given in Evidence

We read about Rockliffe's Babies somewhere online and the basic premise was enough to get us interested.

As luck would have it, the Archival TV gods were looking down on us and delivered two episodes via the power of YouTube.

The series starts off with a lone Police car racing across London's iconic Westway and immediately you're plunged into the heart of a frenetic, uncertain city where pockets of crime are just waiting to bubble up and engulf society.

Just as you're recovering from this delicious scene setter you're knocked for six by the amazing theme tune written by Joe Campbell and Paul Hart.

Featuring a guttural child's choir, the tune is an ode - almost nursery rhyme like - to life on London's deprived council estates. And then they go and stick some wonderfully 80s saxophone over it. It's an enthralling mix of sounds that we can only describe as gutterurchin funk punk lounge poetry.

Devastatingly fantastic intro aside, what's the actual show like?

Well, it's the 1980s, it's London and at the very nub of the show are the police.

What's that? Oh yes, it's The Bill calling!

Rockliffe's Babies is very much in thrall to The Bill and we can't argue that the atmosphere of the show differs greatly.

Unfortunately, Rockliffe's Babies doesn't contain the high calibre of characters that The Bill did.

There's no Burnside, no Tosh, no Roy. Not even a Reg!

However, it wouldn't be fair to label the characters in Rockliffe's Babies as terrible. Well, you know, they're a mixed bag.

Rockliffe comes closest to legendary status and it's no surprise that his cantankerous rages and old school methods spawned a spin off series. In fact, he's like a proto Gene Hunt, quite happy to give a slap and turn a blind eye. Frustratingly, and quite inexplicably, Rockliffe features for just 30 seconds in the opening episode, but even then he takes the show by the scruff of its neck in an instant.

Gerry O'Dowd (Joe McGann) is the ladies man of the station with a dazzling charm he can flick on in an instant. However, he also displays an innocence and naivety that frequently pulls the rug from under his feet. He's the quintessential Joe McGann character, so what more can we say? Well, he's not quite Charlie Burrows in The Upper Hand, but immensely likeable all the same.

Steve Hood (Brett Fancy) is the local kid who knows the gritty streets like the back of his hand. We were really interested in his mysterious background which is shrouded in thinly veiled racism and a dubious association with the National Front. He's not one to play by the rules and has an undercurrent of menace bubbling beneath his wide boy exterior.

The rest of the cast, though, are a frustrating bunch. They feel like unfinished sketches of characters and the cast struggle to really make these characters sing. It's difficult, too, when all the characters contain one fatal flaw - they're useless and completely inept!

We're always willing to suspend our disbelief, but seriously, come on! How long would a police team like this last? They're ABSOLUTELY USELESS!

It's all well and good in a comedy like Operation Good Guys, but in a drama? Nah! We're not having it! 

Their inability to stay level headed and not bugger things up actually frustrated us so much that we ended up cheering the bad guys on!

That's not to say that the show doesn't have a certain charm and the actual plots are quite entertaining, but everything always feels inferior to what was going on in Sun Hill over on ITV.

Perhaps the show should have marked itself out by concentrating on Rockliffe, O'Dowd and Hood. There's excellent dynamics to pit against one another and, by concentrating on a smaller, more intense group, would have reduced comparisons to what was going on at Sun Hill over on ITV.

We'd certainly like to see more episodes as anything London based in the 80s with a hint of grime always ticks our boxes, but for now, our go-to police option will be The Bill.

We will, however, be setting Rockliffe's Babies theme tune as our ringtone!


Out with the Bath Water by Chris Hughes

A bitter row has erupted at the BBC in wake of the decision by drama chiefs to axe the popular cop series Rockliffe's Babies and put the hero Sergeant Rockliffe out to grass in leafy Dorset.

Corporation bosses decided to let the current series, which recently pipped 10 million viewers, run its course. But the jobs of all the main actors with the exception of lead performer Ian Hogg, look certain to go afterwards.

A Rockliffe source told The Stage and Television Today; "It's ridiculous that they should change the format to a rural Dixon of Dock Green and lose the fire and bite of London life. I don't know why it is, especially since the ratings were doing so well. Are they afraid of the forthcoming violence guidelines?".

Ex producer of the show Leonard Lewis refused to confirm that the revamp is under way but a BBC spokesman said that the new series will involve certain changes. He said; "It's early days, but we believe it will be a spin off police series. There will be quite a few changes.".

Source: The Stage and Television Today, No. 5575, 18/02/1988, pg 21


  1. Rockliffe's Folly was aptly titled alas. But I loved the Babies, great show that has stayed with me since childhood and fortunately I've managed to get almost all the eps together now. And yes, absolutely brilliant theme tune

    1. I've just got hold of all of Rockliffe's Babies and Folly, so looking forward to going through 'em.

      Watched one episode of Folly so far and it's not a patch of Babies. Harmless fare, but it's just another rural detective show. Doesn't have that edgy big city feel which made Babies so great.

      And Folly's theme tune ain't nowhere near the melodic genius of Babies!

  2. where are they now and what are threy doing ray russell i like this serious

  3. its a shame they did no film another series