The Bill – Home Sweet Home

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Cryer leads an operation to evict a group of squatters.  Councillor Thomas (John Bowe) is on hand to ensure that there’s no police brutality, but it seems any brutality will come from the squatters side ….

Whilst Thomas is quick to jump to the defence of the squatters, not many share his opinion (certainly not the other residents or the police).  The squatters may soon be homeless, but Bob opines that it’s out of choice not necessity – they all come from affluent families and are indulging themselves by playing as revolutionaries.  Cultural slumming, according to Hollis.  CND posters serve as clear signifiers of their beliefs, although their desire to make a stand for liberty and freedom is rather dissipated when we see them bailed out by their parents to return home with fleas in their ears.

Marie Tucker (Sasha Mitchell) is also homeless, although she has no-one to come to her aid (apart from social services).  Her social worker, Sonja Bloomfield (Janet Dale), is concerned, not only for Marie’s two young children, but also for Marie herself – who could be suicidal.

There’s a circular path to the story as Marie holes up in Councillor Thomas’ bathroom.  On returning home, Thomas is less than impressed to find his house has been invaded (he makes a swift beeline for the scotch).  There’s a clear irony at work here – Thomas was keen to champion the rights of the squatters earlier on, but (at least initially) he has little or no sympathy when events move to his own doorstep, as he urges Smith and Frazer to extract Marie as quickly as possible.

Bloomfield is on hand to discuss with Frazer how the system has failed Marie and countless others like her.  Marie and her children had previously lived in a grotty bed and breakfast (“wardrobe there, bed there, damp bit there, rotting bit there, roaches all bloody over”) but walked out when she could stand it no more.  Instead of pumping money into bed and breakfasts, Bloomfield despairs that there should be a better way.

The core of the episode – an unhappy Marie pouring out her heart to Frazer and Bloomfield – is unusual, since we can only hear Marie, we can’t see her.  This means that Frazer and Bloomfield are the ones who have to react as Marie’s monologue takes an increasingly dark turn.

There’s no happy ending.  Marie overdoses on pills from Thomas’ bathroom and by the time the door is broken down she’s unconscious and fading fast.  The fact she’s surrounded by her two young children only serves to make this emotional punch even greater.  Thomas sums it up (“what a mess”) and reflects how he entered politics to help people like Marie, but has failed to do so.

Cleverly changing gear away from the squatters (who initially seemed to be the focus of the episode) Home Sweet Home offers little hope or reassurance.   When PC Haynes frets that the ambulance is taking too long, Thomas shrugs and says that it’s a sign of the times.  “But we’re running out of time” counters Haynes.  Can we draw any solace from these events?  Thomas (who saw his marriage disintegrate due to his political ambitions) reacts with compassion to Marie’s children, which offers hope that in the future he’ll redouble his efforts to help the most vulnerable, but it’s about the only crumb of comfort on offer.

Nicholas McInerny contributed twenty nine scripts for The Bill between 1988 and 2008, although given the quality of Home Sweet Home, his debut, it’s surprising he didn’t write more.  He’ll return later in 1988 for Old Habits, but then takes a break until 1995.

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