What was to become The Bill was commissioned as a one-off play for Thames' Storyboard strand. This was a series of potential pilots - with Lytton's Diary, staring To the Manor Born's Peter Bowles - as one of the other plays granted a series.
Entitled Woodentop, it followed new police constable Jim Carver on his first day at Sun Hill station in South London. Trouble ensues when he clips a young tearaway around the ear. Luckily for him, Sergeant Wilding has a word with the boy's father, who luckily agrees with this 'old-school' form of punishment.
Writer Geoff McQueen took his inspiration from a recently screened documentary on the Thames Valley police force - and the fact he was skint at the time!
Director of Woodentop, Peter Creegan had quite a pedigree working on police dramas - he'd worked on both Juliet Bravo and Z Cars.
Force for change
The Bill was commissioned just two months after Woodentop was screened. It wasn't just the name that was changed... Desk Sergeant Wilding was written out because the actor who played him, Peter Dean, had been hired to play stallholder Pete Beale in EastEnders. Robert Pugh (DI Galloway) was replaced by John Salthouse - and with the change came a change in accent, from West Midlands to a London one. PC 'Taffy' surname was changed from Morgan to Edwards.
Arguably, The Bill's most popular character was Frank Burnside, played by Christopher Ellison. He appeared in three episodes of the first series, but his tough guy persona proved such a hit that he returned in 1988 and stayed until 1993. The character got his own spin-off series, Burnside, in 2006.
The Bill was also ground-breaking for portraying policewomen as just as tough and resourceful as their male colleagues. PC June Ackland (later promoted to Seargeant) as played by Trudie Goodwin was on-screen from the pilot to 2007, making Goodwin not only the show's longest-serving character but also the world's longest screen police character,
In October 2003 the show celebrated its 20th anniversary with a live episode, a move that EastEnders, Coronation Street and Emmerdale have copied.
The Bill's beat
The theme tune, although tweaked over the years, remained "Overkill" by Charlie Morgan. The end titles are remembered for featuring the feet of two officers, on the beat (although this was dropped in 1988).
From the Square to Sun Hill
A number of EastEnders cast went on to appear in The Bill, including Todd Carty (PC Gabriel Kent), Gillian Taylforth (Sergeant Nikki Wright), Louisa Lytton (PC Beth Green) and Roberta Taylor (Inspector Gina Gold). Anna Wing went from playing Lou Beale to crime fighter May and Michelle Collins (Cyndy Beale) played a single mother in an early episode.
Such was the success of the series, the show was turned into a twice-weekly, half-hour drama, after three series. A third episode was added in 1993, but when ratings took a downturn in 1998 it was returned to the hour-long format. The Bill was eventually dropped in 2010, with the last episode screened on 31 August.