Sunday 1 January 2017

17 of the Greatest Characters from The Bill

One of ITV's most successful and long running shows, The Bill managed to clock up 2,400 episodes in its 27 year history of tackling crime in Sun Hill. And, given this long lifespan and some amazing writing, The Bill was able to drive its narrative with a fantastic array of characters who, for better or sometimes worse, engaged us and left us dreading the moment that those iconic patrolling feet would appear and signal the end of an episode.

Even several years on from the end of The Bill, these characters still feel fresh in our mind, so I decided to revisit what I consider to be 17 of the greatest characters from The Bill.

1. Jim Carver (Mark Wingett) - 1983 to 2005 & 2007

The original focal point of The Bill, Jim Carver starred in the 1983 pilot Woodentop and had a starring role in the series for 22 years, acting as one of the longest serving officers at Sun Hill and crucial in establishing the series' initial success

Starting off in uniform as part of his probation period, the fresh faced Carver steadily rose through the ranks at Sun Hill thanks to his determination and honesty. A man for whom injustice was completely abhorrent and an affront to everything he held dear, he eventually reached the rank of Detective Constable, but after working in CID for 12 years he was demoted to uniform.

It's a demotion which hit hard and his subsequent alcoholism was the first sign that he suffered from an addictive personality; once he completed his rehabilitation from alcohol, he replaced it with a gambling addiction. Now married to June Ackland - who helped him beat the drink - Carver ran up massive debts and June was forced out of retirement to raise funds.

Carver - after divorcing June - was transferred to Manchester in 2005, but made a brief return in 2007 for three episodes.

2. June Ackland (Trudie Goodwin) - 1983 to 2007

June Ackland's very first task in The Bill was to take the young, fledgling police officer Jim Carver under her wing in Woodentop in 1983.

An honest and caring copper, Ackland exuded empathy and sympathy for victims of crimes and her colleagues. Keen to resolve conflict in the station just as much as on the mean streets of Sun Hill, Ackland was always ready to step into any disputes to defuse any tension. She also managed to gain the respect of her peers by always wielding a firm authority and was far from a pushover despite by her kindly demeanour.

However, Ackland's private life was far from being calm and authoritative. Embarking on an affair with DCI Wray hinted at her troubles with forming relationships and this was further highlighted in her somewhat disastrous marriage to Jim Carver which was shortlived. One of her most bizarre storylines saw her being repeatedly manipulated by the insane PC Gabriel Kent (more about that later), but she weathered most storms and ultimately retired in 2007.

3. Frank Burnside (Christopher Ellison) - 1984 to 2000

Although, at first, only appearing in occasional episodes, Burnside made such an impression whenever he turned up that by 1988 he was established as a leading character and, with his wide boy antics and propensity for bending the law, it was the role that Christopher Ellison was born for.

Originally looked down on as a bent copper, when Burnside officially joined up with the Sun Hill team, it was revealed that he was always an inside man for Operation Countryman (an operation set up to weed out bent coppers). Despite an initially uncomfortable pairing with DS Ted Roach, the two soon developed a steady partnership and Burnside's brooding Cockney charm went into overdrive.

Burnside suddenly disappeared from Sun Hill in 1993 on a 'special assignment' before resurfacing in 1998 as the head of the Crime Operational Command Unit and occasionally collaborated with Sun Hill. There were further adventures for Burnside in the spin off series titled, not surprisingly, Burnside, but this only lasted one series before being cancelled.

4. Alfred "Tosh" Lines (Kevin Lloyd) - 1988 to 1998

Best known as Tosh, Alfred Lines was somewhat of a shambles of a police officer, but still proved to be incredibly popular with the viewers, thanks, in part, to the honesty and shortcomings of his character.

Just as likely to be found munching on a pie as he was to be arresting criminals, Tosh somehow managed to be a highly successful member of CID. However, due to his shambolic approach to life - his erratic Volvo was somewhat of a metaphor for his life - he never stood a chance of rising any further in the force, but seemed relatively cock a hoop to be where he was. Well liked by all and sundry at Sun Hill, Tosh was a real family man - with five children - and frequently put them before his career.

Sadly, in real life, Kevin Lloyd was an alcoholic and found himself sacked from The Bill due to turning up on set whilst under the influence. And, just a week after filming his last scenes for the series, Lloyd was dead following a stint in rehab.

5. Roy Galloway (John Salthouse) - 1983 to 1987

DI Galloway had reached his lofty position in the force whilst still relatively young - much to the chagrin of the older, yet subordinate DS Roach - but his grit and determination to nail the bad guys was more than enough to convince his superiors that he was the right man for the job.

It was a determination, however, that could leave Galloway severely hot headed and his frustration frequently boiled over, with his work colleagues taking the brunt of his rage. Whilst his dedication to the job is admirable and his passion for justice undeniable - just look at the snarling diatribe he unleashes on a porn director in an early episode - it's an attitude which alienates him from many of the officers at Sun Hill and, especially, his wife who later demands a divorce.

6. Dale "Smithy" Smith (Alex Walkinshaw) - 1999 to 2010

One of the later bona fide stars of The Bill - as it began morphing into much more of a soap opera - Smithy was a controversial character at times, but one who was fully immersed into the heart of drama at Sun Hill.

Accused of being both racist and homophobic on separate occasions - not helped by joining Gabriel Kent's 'Straight White Male Police Association' - Smithy had strong held beliefs and convictions which were both a help and a hindrance to his career in the Met. His strong arm approach saw him landed in hot water for 'encouraging' homeowners to take the law into their own hands (leading to a death) and his charms with the ladies found Smithy being framed for the murder of a gangster's moll following an affair with her

Finally, Smithy's behaviour and fortunes changed - despite being stabbed in 2009 - and Superintendent Meadows promoted him to Inspector.

7. Viv Martella (Nula Conwell) - 1984 to 1993

With an Italian heritage, Viv Martella brought a welcome dash of Mediterranean beauty to the streets of Sun Hill, but also had the nous to laugh in the face of the sexism she was frequently subjected to at the station. Try as hard as they could, but the chaps at Sun Hill just couldn't secure a date with Martella as, for her, work was purely work.

Martella's fiery nature - indicative of her Italian roots - meant that many police interviews she conducted descended into furious verbal attacks, but, if nothing else, it underlined her dedication to the job. In sharp contrast to this frustrated anger, though, Martella also possessed a huge heart and was the perfect officer to have on hand for a distressed victim.

Bowing out of The Bill in 1993, Martella met a tragic end whilst out on patrol with Tony Stamp. Attempting to move on a van which was illegally parked, Martella was fatally shot by what turned out to be a pair of gunmen and Sun Hill was plunged into mourning.

8. Dave Quinnan (Andrew Paul) - 1989 to 2002

Salt of the earth fellow Dave Quinnan was an ex-electrician who, after working as a sparky on Aberdeen oil rigs, made a sidestep into the force. A straightforward approach to police work saw him concentrating squarely on catching criminals and taking home a decent wage. Perhaps his humanistic qualities were lacking somewhat when it came to consoling victims, but he was more than capable of shifting gear into a full on Cockney charmer mode when necessary.

This wideboy persona, though, spelled trouble for Quinnan at times and this was most ably demonstrated by the breakdown of his marriage following an affair with PC Polly Page. He also found himself in potentially hot water whilst doing electrical work on the side, an activity which was strongly against work protocol.

However, whilst these were problems brought on by himself, Quinnan's career was truly rocked in 1999 when he was viciously attacked and stabbed by a gang of youths on the Jasmine Allen estate. Quinnan eventually returned to Sun Hill, though, even doing community work with some of the youths who attacked him. Quinnan left in 2002 to join covert operations squad SO10.

9. Samantha Nixon (Lisa Maxwell) - 2002 to 2009

Samantha Nixon came to Sun Hill with a weighty set of credentials behind her, not satisfied with one degree in psychology, she backs this up with a further degree in criminology. Originally, Nixon harboured dreams of becoming a criminal profiler, but this was never realised due to what she suspects was sexual discrimination.

Thanks to her academic background, she had a firm grasp of the criminal mind and this acted as an advantage in understanding and predicting the actions of those she was pursuing. However, this determination to understand everyone around her led, at times, to her fellow officers becoming highly guarded around her lest she read something into their behaviour.

Despite failing to fully endear herself to her peers, Nixon was a strong character who was able to forego social accomplishments and concentrate purely on her career. Nonetheless, still found herself struggling for recognition in a patriarchal police service. Not doing her case for promotion any favours, Nixon embarked on a series of internal feuds with Neil Manson and Phil Hunter to further ostracise herself at Sun Hill. 

Outside of the station, Nixon also had to deal with the antics of her errant daughter Abigail who, when she wasn't starting relationships with Sun Hill officers, was getting abducted by her mother's ex lovers. Again, this was a relationship tested by Nixon's propensity for concentrating on the mindset rather than the whole person, so it's no surprise that Abigail was such a rebellious young madam.

Nixon finally left Sun Hill in 2009 to join the child exploitation unit.

10. Ted Roach (Tony Scannell) - 1984 to 1993 & 2000

Making his debut in the second episode of The Bill, DS Ted Roach quickly established himself as a firm favourite with the viewers. An old fashioned copper, he enjoyed a glass of Scotch, was always keen to dust down his fighting gloves and wasn't averse to stepping outside the law to make progress.

Due to his unpredictable, maverick ways he was always going to struggle to rise up through the ranks of CID and this grated sorely for Roach. Forming an alliance with fellow maverick Burnside, though, meant that Roach certainly cleaned up in the arrests stakes. He was less keen on DC Mike Dashwood, though, who he dismissed as "a grammar school ponce" and Roach's short fuse ensured there was always an undercurrent of conflict in CID.

Roach's ultimate Achilles heel, of course, was women. Self assured in his ownership of the gift of the gab, his long list of girlfriends suggested he could certainly turn on his Irish charm, but was unable to maintain relationships. And the end of his tenure at Sun Hill came - in 1993 - following a drunken pub brawl over a woman, a brawl which his colleagues were called to. Roach then proceeded to hit Inspector Monroe - who he had never got on with - and departed Sun Hill.

This wasn't the last we saw of the lively Irishman, though, as he returned - now freelancing as a private detective - in an episode in 2000 to help Jim Carver with a murder case. The character was later killed off in 2004 in a car crash which occurred off-screen.

11. Polly Page (Lisa Geoghan) - 1992 to 2004

With a knowing twinkle set amongst her youthful eyes, Polly Page hailed from South London and was already familiar with the brand of villainy scurrying round the streets of Sun Hill. And this knowledge, combined with her eagerness to catch criminals, ensured she was a passionate bobby although she often put herself in danger thanks to her 'arrest at all costs' mindset. Driven by compassion, and with special training for rape cases, Page was the natural choice when a chaperone was required.

Despite concentrating more on the job than her love life, it was hinted that a great passion lurked within Polly - she's even rumoured to be a bit of a dominatrix behind closed doors. Oneday, her desire for love led her into the arms of PC Quinnan, the problem was that he was married. Once this affair fizzled out it plunged Page in to a personal crisis and she came close to taking her own life.

Following a year's sabbatical, Page returned to the force, but soon found herself sentenced for murder after helping a doctor commit euthanasia. Although she was eventually cleared on appeal and returned to Sun Hill, she was relegated to an uninspiring desk position as a CAD operator. Following a newspaper sting by a local journalist in 2004, Page decided to leave Sun Hill and start afresh in pastures new.

12. Bob Cryer (Eric Richard) - 1984 to 2001 & 2004

If ever there were a police officer you could set your watch by then it was Bob Cryer. Appearing in the very first episodes, Cryer was involved in the goings on at Sun Hill for 17 years.

Sergeant Cryer was a dependable officer of the law and acted very much as a father figure for the the staff at Sun Hill. Always to dispense wisdom garnered from the experience picked up in his lengthy stint in the Met (he joined up in 1970) - following a spell in the army with training in firearms - Cryer was well loved by all. Due to his upstanding nature, Cryer had serious issues with Burnside in the early series' of The Bill, but eventually had to admit he was wrong once Burnside's true involvement in Operation Countryman was revealed.

The world of policing had changed dramatically by the time the millennium came around and Cryer, with his aversion to computers, was beginning to feel like a relic of a bygone era. However, his unofficial position as a mentor for younger officers was still firmly in place. In particular, Cryer had plenty of time for Smithy - who had a similar army background - and encouraged the young officer's application to join firearms division SO19. Ironically, though, Smithy shot Cryer during a hostage situation and forced his early retirement in 2001.

Cryer returned to The Bill several times, sometimes for funerals and sometimes to help his niece Robbie Cryer who was now following in footsteps at Sun Hill. His final starring appearance came in 2004 when he reunited with Jack Meadows and Alec Peters to investigate the suspicious circumstances around Ted Roach's death.

13. Gabriel Kent (Todd Carty) - 2003 to 2005

Easily the most unhinged officer to ever work at Sun Hill, it's difficult to understand exactly how the psychopathic PC Gabriel Kent managed to slip through the Met's profiling processes. However, it's not that much of a surprise as psychopaths are sly buggers and will stop at nothing to succeed. And Kent's path to 'success' would be littered with nothing but tragedy and violence.

Originally adopting a persona which was a shining example of everything the law stood for, it soon became apparent that this was nothing but a duplicitous front. Enraged by the ignominy of not receiving all his parents' attention once they had adopted a baby (which was June Ackland's), Kent had grown up bitter and seeking revenge against Ackland.

Following an attack on Jim Carver with a vodka bottle over the head, Kent moved on to destroying Ackland's life. Starting a relationship with her, it emerged that, apparently, Kent was in fact the son which Ackland had put up for adoption. However, it was all part of Kent's meticulous deception and, at first, Ackland was devastated to discover she had committed incest. Kent, though, had a sudden change of heart and revealed his true background before bargaining a deal with Ackland to meet her actual son.

Whilst this smacked of psychopathy of the highest degree, Kent was to go much further with his twisted desires. Hiring an ex-Navy mate as a sniper, Kent gave the orders for several deaths in Sun Hill before letting the sniper fall to his death and take Kent's secrets with him. Still going strong, Kent also turned his attentions to PC Kerry Young who he became obsessed with and went on to rape; unable to have Kerry permanently, though, Kent used the sniper's rifle to murder her whilst she was in the arms of her lover, Smithy.

Eventually, though, Kent's crimes began to catch up with him and, with his arrest imminent, he jumped to his death off a block of flats in 2005 following a final punch up with Smithy.

14. Tony Stamp (Graham Cole) - 1987 to 2009

An affable, cheery Londoner, PC Tony Stamp trod the streets of Sun Hill for 20 years and was one of the most popular characters during the series' run.

Although he always had a smile on hand for his fellow officers and the public, he took his policing very seriously and thrived on the cut and thrust of working the beat. However, there was plenty over the years which could have easily wiped that smile off his face. He witnessed Viv Martella being shot dead, was accused of sexually harassing a young man and, most dramatically, was beaten within an inch of his life by a gang of vicious youths.

Stamp's relationship with Jim Carver was also a crucial narrative, particularly in later years. Despite a long standing friendship, Stamp and Carver found this strained when Carver married Marie Graham, a proposal which June Ackland had expected to receive. Stamp stood by their mutual friend Ackland, but it was later revealed the pair had slept together which enraged Carver. A year later, Stamp sped into Ackland whilst on patrol and she nearly died from cardiac arrest - whilst Ackland was in hospital, Stamp and Carver reconciled.

Leaving Sun Hill in 2009 to become an Advanced Driving Police Instructor, Stamp left behind a long legacy and many friends and fans. Stamp is also notable for fluffing his lines in the 2003 live special 'Fatal Consequences'.

15. Jack Meadows (Simon Rouse) - 1992 to 2010

DCI Jack Meadows (later promoted to Superintendent) joined The Bill in 1992 following his demotion from another force for which many of the Sun Hill officers believed to be corruption.

Initially taking charge of CID - much to the annoyance of Burnside who believed the position to be his - Meadows was abrupt in his ways, but highly shrewd in analysing those in front of him, be it criminals or officers. As a result, Meadows was a highly successful DCI and made for a fantastic leader, one that even won round the prickly Burnside in the end.

Cool and collected he may have been, Meadows wasn't immune from making mistakes. His dedication to the job resulted in his marriage of 28 years crumbling away before he embarked on a relationship with an escort who went on to have his child. Meadows was also held for the disastrous handling of Don Beech and was close to losing his job.

However, Meadows's stern resolve and popularity at the station allowed him to weather all these career threatening storms and was promoted to Superintendent in 2009. Finally putting all the rumours of corruption behind him, Meadows maintained his position until the end of the series.

16. Don Beech (Billy Murray) - 1995 - 2000 & 2004

DS Don Beech was a successful detective, but also one of Sun Hill's most deceptive and cunning employees as evidenced by his numerous misdemeanours.

Arriving in 1995, Beech set about demonstrating the type of underhand techniques that the Met believed to be long extinct. More than happy to collaborate with criminals and take backhanders, Beech had enough underground contacts to conjure up the most unexpected resources. The final push into criminality came when he lied in court to protect a gangland boss in return for £20,000. With suspicions raised, Beech was placed under investigation, but he had soon fled the country after killing DS Boulton.

Beech's on the run exploits were featured in the two spin off series' Beech on the Run and Beech is Back. Returning to The Bill in 2004, he was now imprisoned in Britain, but willing to work with Sun Hill in exchange for a transfer to a low security prison. In true Beech fashion, though, he made an escape during the transfer and was never seen again.

17. Reg Hollis (Jeff Stewart) - 1984 to 2008

How could I do a list of the greatest characters from The Bill and not include old Reg, one of the most loyal Sun Hill stalwarts?

A curious chap with a keen interest in trainspotting and model railways, Hollis is very much the eccentric loner of The Bill. Originally confined to desk duties, Hollis struggles to make many social connections with the other officers, but once he starts going on patrols with PC Des Taviner, Hollis becomes more sociable. Despite striking up a solid friendship with Taviner, it's Hollis who arrests him following his petrol bomb attack on the Sun Hill station.

Hollis' position as head moaner and professional bore at Sun Hill ensures that the majority of his tenure is spent as a singleton. However, love is in the air in the form of Front Desk Officer, Marilyn Chambers who is also a train enthusiast. Sadly, on the day that Des plans to propose to her, she dies in the 2005 Sun Hill fire leaving Reg heartbroken. He eventually left The Bill in 2008 following a terrorist bombing incident.

Having run for 27 years, this is, of course, only a handful of the amazing characters to pass through the doors of Sun Hill, so please let me know who else you fondly remember!

And, please note: the Curious British Telly fanzine is now available - click here for more details!


  1. I rewatched the early years of The Bill the other year and was not only totally gripped, but also impressed by how well they stood up. It's just a shame that by some stage in the early 00s it went into absurd soap opera mode.

    For me, Galloway and Cryer were my favourite characters. I always preferred Galloway over Burnside, even though Burnside is of course an iconic and enjoyable character. And Viv of course, always loved Viv and her sass and sharp one liners. Loved Polly Page too, but it was sometimes hard to see her as Polly when I knew her better as Debs from Big Deal (also created by Geoff McQueen) I also loved how, in the early days, they didn't shy away from depicting the light and shade of characters and a good example of that is Tom Penny and the ep in which his wife comes to Cryer with the revelation that he beats her up at home. Such a storyline now would be the explosive end of a character, but back then tele had the balls to be realistic enough to admit such things occur and in real life these people don't exit the stage once the news is out. Also that despite it being a despicable thing to do, there is still some humanity and likeability in the character. He's multi-faceted.

    The Beech storyline was the last time I was ever hooked on The Bill. As a result some of the others on here; Gabriel Kent, Samantha Nixon etc, I have no experience of.

    Another top post!

    1. Cheers!

      The early years, well the first 8 or 9 in fact, were damn good slices of TV drama. Always accessible and never too complex.

      And the first couple of series are really gritty with the harsh realities of crime laid bare. There's also at least one topless scene in the show's early days which you wouldn't see nowadays!

  2. Chief Inspector Derek Conway

    Long suffering 'middleman' between Chief Superintendent Brownlow and the rank and file.
    Couple of his best episodes were the outward bounds weekend with Brownlow and Jack Meadeows v the posh gits from Barton Street and the 'Millenium Eve' episode where he and Jack go in search of a bottle of scotch!

  3. WPCs Claire Brind,Norika Datta and Leela Kapoor

    Three of the prettiest WPCs Sun Hill ever had!

    1. I liked Claire Brind too. I especially recall the ep where she plays the victim in a scene of crime reconstruction, walking through the last moments to try and jog people's memories

    2. embarrassingly, I have a number of screencaps of PC Kapoor from my days as a Bill fansite-inhabiting person of about ten years back...... lol (she was one of my latterday favourites)

  4. No mention of Cass Rickman? I'm still unhappy about her death 15 years on...

  5. can't argue with any of these. I always had a soft spot for Polly Page (wistful sigh)

    some of the characters from its last few years were pretty good. Remember that undercover cop who ended up actually becoming a criminal? (or something)

    1. Polly Page was a delightful officer to have on the beat!

  6. Series 1-3 were excellent, series 4 was ok but series 5 was better.

  7. Ted Roach was Welsh, not Irish.

    1. Nope, much like the actor who played him, Ted Roach was Irish.

  8. What about DC Mike Dashwood ... a more good looking cop you'd be hard to find, great character, shame he was written out so early and there were no romantic liaisions written for him either, what an awful shame!!

  9. Well, for me, my favourites in The Bill will always be your dependable but reliable characters, such as Reg Hollis(jeff stewart) Tony Stamp(Graham Cole). Another lovable character for me would be June Ackland(Trudie Goodwin).

  10. Really good post.

    Honourable Mentions for me go to John Boulton, Derek Conway, Des Taviner, Cass Rickman and George Garfield

  11. Ted Roach/Galloway/Burnside

    The original three amigos, I loved the early series, gritty post watershed plots. Ted could arrest me anytime with those twinkling Irish eyes, AHH.... I think it started going wrong in the 90s when it upped to 2/3 half hour episodes, which ultimately turned it into another soap. Turned off circa 1995.

  12. What a fantastic series,Better than ALL the rubbish on the box now.Frank Burnside the guvnor

  13. Sun Hill's Finest for me are as follows

    Jim Carver
    Reg Hollis
    Bob Cryer
    Ted Roach
    Charles Brownlow
    Frank Burnside
    Malcom Haynes
    Derek Conway
    Tosh Lines
    Andrew Monroe
    Ron Smollett
    Matt Boyden
    Jack Meadows
    Gary Mccann
    Philip Cato
    Suzi Croft
    Sally Johnson
    Don Beach
    John Boulton
    Eddie Santini
    Duncan Lennox
    Danny Glaze
    Cass Rickman
    Nick Klein
    Des Taviner
    Phil Hunter
    Gabriel Kent

    To be honest after series 16 the quality of the acting and written declined but there were a few decent storylines that came later but after Gabriel Kent left it wasn't worth watching anymore in my opinion.

  14. To me Best ones are Danny Glaze,Jim Carver,Jack Meadows,Callum Stone,Burnside,Ted Roach,Brandon Kane,Duncan Lennox,CSItds Brownlow and Okaro and for Ladies June Ackland,Gina Gold,Polly Page,Vicky Hagen,Eva Sharpe,Viv Martella,Emma Keane,Cass Rickman,