WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
The Bill is such an iconic TV programme, running for so many years, that chances are you may have taken it for granted. But watching it from the very first series onwards may just surprise you. The raw, nervy energy of its early run still packs a punch today, as we're thrown into the world of London's Sun Hill police station and its plucky, bolshy officers.
Unlike other police shows that came before or since, The Bill is about the real, everyday lives of everyday coppers, rather than simply focusing on major investigations. Particularly in its first few series, the emphasis is as much on the day-to-day chores in the nick, as it is on the big cases that need cracking. That's what makes it so compelling: you'll feel like you're right there in the office, as the officers bicker, swap gossip, deal with bureaucracy and sniff out rivals, before heading out to the mean streets of East London.
THE FIRST HERO
The Bill has given us more famous characters than you can shake a truncheon at, but in the opening episodes a lot of the focus is on one man: Jim Carver. Veteran fans will know that Carver goes onto become one of Sun Hill's biggest players, with storylines ranging from rampant alcoholism to a very messy lovelife.
But in the first series, we see a very young and very green Jim Carver who's just joined Sun Hill and been taken under the wing of future lover June Ackland. In a way, Carver is our eyes and ears in Sun Hill, being new and needing to learn the ropes of this often tricky environment. And, as well as dealing with local yobs, thieves and other assorted wrong 'uns, Carver also has to get a handle on office politics at Sun Hill - and get into his new boss's good books.
THE EARLY CASES
Right from the start of the series, there are some pretty dark cases for Sun Hill's finest to deal with. The reliably compassionate June Ackland has her nerves tested by the discovery of a teenager's body, in a case that leads June into a murky subterranean world of pornography, prostitution and exploitation. It gets so intense that she even considers leaving Sun Hill - an unthinkable prospect for Bill fans.
There's gangster violence as well, with an informant brutally stabbed to death during an operation to expose and take down a cinema that's been turned into a secret drugs den. That said, there are also quite a few more eccentric situations demanding our coppers' attention. These include a spate of bizarre bomb hoaxes hitting local restaurants, a pair of OAPs who may just be master criminals, and a runaway pig. As in a literal, actual pig.
BACK TO THE 80s
There's another major character in the early Bill, and that's the era itself. If you were around in the 80s, brace yourself for a heady dose of nostalgia, and if you weren't... expect to see a Britain that's a world away from the country we know today. It's not just the clothes, the hairstyles and the gritty, hard-edged feel to everything. It's also the geography and the landmarks. The first few series of The Bill take place in a London that has physically disappeared.
From the streets where the bobbies walk their beats, to the buildings they burst into, these swathes of the city have been utterly transformed since the days of young Carver and Ackland, and this gives the early Bill an added fascination for modern viewers. And let's not forget the volatile politics of the 80s too. A march by the National Front, the entrance of Sun Hill's very first black police officer, and the problems faced by women coppers in the workplace are among the stories and themes explored in a show that's very different from The Bill you might think you know. Watch and be surprised.