The Bill – Hold Fire

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Hold Fire opens with a bang – literally – as Melvin and Smith tangle with an exploding car.  Melvin – or rather his stunt double – is set on fire whilst Smith is caught up in the aftershock of an impressive pyrotechnics display.

Both Melvin and Smith are hospitalised, although neither are badly hurt (Melvin’s hands require attention whilst Smith has a dislocated shoulder).  This could have been the end of this particular plot, but events then move in an unexpected direction as we learn that the car isn’t all it appears to be.

It’s Frazer’s call as to whether she brings in CID, but for the moment she decides not to – which later displeases Burnside.  We’ve already seen him sniffing around the CAD room and when he runs into Frazer at the accident scene he’s typically forthright.  “You’ve got one burnt-out bent motor, a geezer dead, another one in hospital suspected of carrying explosives, and you don’t know what you’ve got?”

Apart from this, Jim and Viv are engaged in a stake-out at a pub.  This isn’t the worst job in the world, as it allows them the chance to have a few drinks and play all the video machines.  We learn that Viv is much better at Out Run than Jim is ….

Ted also has a decent subplot, as he deliberately flunks his firearms retraining.  Dashwood reacts caustically to the news when Conway tells him (wondering if Ted shot the instructor!) but doesn’t feel able disclose the reason why.  Thar’s left to Ted later in the pub, when he obliquely discusses his day with the barmaid Sadie (Cheryl Hall).  This would be Hall’s last appearance as Sadie (a semi-regular since 1984) although Hall would rack up six later credits on the show, each time as a different character.

Ted tells Sadie that it’s easy to shoot someone, and for Ted it’s obviously too easy.  You wouldn’t expect such a seemingly self-confident man to be wracked with such doubts, but it’s a nice beat that serves to strengthen and deepen his character a little more.

Apart from Cheryl Hall, Hold Fire also features several other familiar faces.  Walter Sparrow, someone who may not have had a very recognisable name but had a very familiar countenance, plays an elderly, garrulous patient at the hospital whilst Peter Wight, an incredibly busy actor, is the firearms instructor who gives Ted a hard time.

As so often, there’s an open-ended feeling to proceedings as the “A” case (the exploding car and the suspect at the hospital) doesn’t end the way that Burnside and the others would have hoped.  It remains rather nebulous anyway, since we never learn exactly who they were and what the job, if any, was.  But elsewhere there’s better news, as Jim and Viv get their man.  You win some, you lose some ….

The Bill – Country Cousin

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Barry Appleton’s Country Cousin wastes no time in setting up three storylines within the space of the first few minutes.  Burnside is at the train station, waiting impatiently for the arrival of DS Jarvis (John Labanowski), Edwards and Haynes deal with the fallout from a bus crash whilst Tom Penny hopes to learn whether he’ll be allowed back onto active service.

The bus crash is rather nasty – this might have been pre-watershed, but there’s still plenty of blood and pain on show.  The bus-driver is shown to be in a very bad way, whilst several elderly passengers are in a pretty distressed state.  Edwards and Haynes, first on the scene, are therefore placed in the thick of the action – and by the time the ambulances arrive they’re caked in blood.

Once the ambulances do turn up, the work of Edwards and Haynes is over, but it’s not surprising that both – especially Edwards – find it hard to disengage.  The later revelation that the driver was an epileptic pushes the narrative into a different direction.

Burnside’s encounter with Jarvis is highly entertaining.  Jarvis is an almost stereotypical country bumpkin (albeit one with a hard centre).  The fact he’s not come to London to apprehend a major criminal (his quarry is only responsible for burning some hay) serves to reinforce this point.  And when he catches his man, he gives him a backhander – which offends Burnside.  We’ve already seen that Burnside isn’t averse to giving criminals a slap himself, so it’s not an objection to force per se – I think it’s more to do with the fact that Jarvis is on Burnside’s manor and therefore it’s not the done thing to dispense a little rough justice without asking permission first!

Despite the fact that Burnside clearly has little time for him, a sense of duty still means that he’s honour-bound to show him the sights for a few hours.  These sights, somewhat inevitably, involve a seedy bar full of prostitutes.  Burnside is called away, leaving Jarvis in the safe hands of Mike Dashwood – who inevitably loses him ….

I’m not sure whether the music we hear in the bar – instrumental versions of various Human League hits – is meant to serve as a signifier of the downbeat nature of the place (they couldn’t even afford a tape of the real thing, so have to make do with ersatz copies) or has more to do with the issue of licencing music for television (since it’s presumably cheaper to use sound-alikes).

Tom Penny, driven to and from his assessment by Viv, fluctuates between confidence and despair.  One minute he’s feeling fine, the next he’s convinced that his days as a copper are over.  And if he’s no longer a policeman then he’s nothing – an admission that for him, like many others, the job has become all-consuming.  It’s very much the “c” plot (we eventually learn that Tom will be reassessed in a month’s time) but Roger Leach is always worth watching as the pained Penny.

Jarvis gets involved in an all-mighty punch-up, but still comes up smelling of roses, much to Burnside’s irritation.  Alongside the more downbeat narrative of the bus crash, the way that Burnside finds himself comprehensively bested by a mere carrot-cruncher acts as a welcome dose of light relief.  Country Cousin feels a little insubstantial, but still manages to juggle three mainly non-station storylines with ease.

The Bill – Caught Red Handed

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Barry Appleton’s Caught Red Handed juggles several plotlines at once and, as with previous episodes, it takes a little while before it becomes clear which ones will dominate and which will fade away.

The episode opens with the fallout from a stabbing.  Jill Kelsey (Chrissie Cotterill) attacked her husband, John (Jim Barclay), with a breadknife – stabbing him eight times.  It’s instructive to see how pretty much everybody (apart from Alec Peters) treats her with compassion, from Ted Roach at the scene to Inspector Frazer and Viv Martella at the nick.  Jill Kelsey is positioned as a victim rather than a criminal, which explains why Ted’s usual brusque manner is absent.

Of course, the fact she stabbed her husband not once but eight times suggests this may be more than a family row which escalated.  But she seems genuinely contrite and he – as soon as he regains consciousness – is completely forgiving and disinclined to press charges.  It slightly stretches credibility that he recovers so quickly (after eight stab wounds? Clearly they were very shallow ones).  His revelation that the argument started when he complained about soggy cornflakes signifies that this crime has a faintly comic air, strengthened when John turns up at Sun Hill to take his wife home.

So Burnside’s quite happy to let them go – the whole incident written off as a domestic – although it seems rather unlikely that he’d be discharged from hospital quite so soon (even if they were desperate for beds).  That he turns up at the nick still dressed in his hospital pyjamas also seems a little unbelievable.  There’s a late coda to this part of the story, which once again is played rather for laughs.

Attention then turns to an obbo at the local swimming baths with Tom Penny and June Ackland.  This is chiefly of interest due to the way Tom reacts when put under stress (not very well).  They’ve rigged up an observation point to monitor the changing rooms in an attempt to identity a thief who’s been rifling through the lockers.

When someone is spotted, June tells Tom to switch on the video recorder.  This is a slight plot weakness – back in 1988 VHS tapes would have been quite cheap, so why not just keep the recorder running all the time?  Although they catch the criminal, something goes wrong with the tape and they’re left with no visual evidence.  This is enough to once again push Tom to breaking point – showing that whilst he appears to be fine on the surface, whenever there’s the merest hint of stress he’s liable to fold like a pack of cards.  As before, there’s never any suggestion that he’s not in a fit state to do the job – or that the next time he makes a mistake it may have more fatal results – presumably everybody just expects that eventually he’ll pull himself together.

This part of the episode has a happy ending, money treated by the SOCO (Susan Curnow) was placed in the lockers.  It contained an invisible red dye, which would stain the hands of anybody who handled it.  Hence the episode title.

But Caught Red Handed could also refer to Yorkie Smith, who’s observed in the pub acting in a very suspicious manner.  Frankly he wouldn’t make a very good criminal as he’s far too transparent (although his fashion sense – rolling up his jacket sleeves as though he was in Miami Vice – should certainly be against the law).  Jim suspects he’s been buying drugs and a search of his locker reveals a packet of pills.

This places Jim in a moral quandary.  After confronting Yorkie and a brief moment or two of soul searching he feels he has no alternative but to make it official.  Later, Ted Roach is withering in his condemnation – telling Jim he may have irreparably damaged Yorkie’s career.  Ted’s viewpoint would no doubt be shared by many of his colleagues, where it would be seen as closing ranks to protect your own, rather than concealing a crime.

Yorkie comes clean.  The drugs are anabolic steroids, designed to help him rebuild his strength as a rugby player.  He claims that many athletes take them (which is true, although his statement that it’s not an offence is a little harder to swallow).

Had Burnside not been DI then it’s possible it would have been dealt with unofficially.  But Caught Red Handed provides us with early evidence that Burnside is keen to mould Sun Hill in his own image, and this incident gives him an ideal opportunity to clip the wings of the uniformed branch.

His summary of both Brownlow and Conway is insightfully caustic.  He claims that Brownlow “is more interested in his golf swing and that converted barn he’s got up in the lakes than what goes down at Sun Hill”.  He concedes that Conway is a good man and a good copper but that he has to play things “by the book. And that is a worse handicap that Brownlow’s golf swing.”

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The Bill – All in Good Faith

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All in Good Faith shows the sharp delineation between two very different types of coppers – on the one hand there’s Ramsey and Roach, on the other are Frazer and Conway.

Frazer calls Ramsey in for a chat.  She’s concerned about his attitude – seven members of the public have made complaints about him this year alone.  Given his faintly contemptuous and sarcastic attitude in front of her, it’s easy to see that he takes this same persona onto the streets.  Ramsey doesn’t disagree, telling her that he treats people the same way others treat him – which isn’t really what she wants to hear.

He can’t resist adding that a frontline policeman is always going to be the subject of complaints which someone like her, with little or no experience of policing on the streets, will never be able to understand.  This conflict – between the sharp end and the executive level – has been played out numerous times across multiple police series.

We also see it again with Roach and Conway.  Ted Roach’s time as acting DI is going fairly smoothly (he’s off the drink for one thing) but the wheels start to come off when a gun handed in at a recent amnesty is tied back to a man called Duffy (Leslie Schofield) and linked to a crime which occurred five years ago.

Ted is keen to go round and nick him, but never stops to consider the nature of an amnesty.  Conway decides that for the sake of community relations it wouldn’t be a good idea to arrest Duffy (if they did, the public would lose all faith in future weapons amnesties) but Roach ignores him and nicks him anyway.

Conway and Frazer discuss Ted, with Frazer musing that “surely he must understand there’s more to police work than arresting people, we have to gain the public’s cooperation and respect.”

However when Ted brings Duffy in, Frazer is more forgiving.  “We’re sadly lacking good practical officers, with all his faults I wouldn’t like to see Roach get into trouble over this.  I’m positive he’d make a good DI”.  Conway then makes a revealing statement – as long as Brownlow is in charge at Sun Hill, Roach will never rise above his current status as DS.

All in Good Faith adds a little more meat to the bones of Ramsey’s character, whilst also throwing the spotlight on Conway and Frazer.  Conway is shown to be more of a politician than a thief-taker, but in his position – where he has to face both public and political pressure – that’s understandable.  Frazer’s character traits are teased out nicely – it’s difficult to say whether she or Ramsey came off best during their meeting (both made fairly valid points) but she seems more able to straddle both sides of the fence (a desire to catch criminals allied to the realisation that they need the respect and cooperation of the public) than Conway does.

The Bill – Good Will Visit

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In later years Sun Hill nick would become a hotbed of tangled interpersonal relationships and corruption.  But in 1988 things were much simpler.  Back then, if the boys and girls in blue had personal relationships they had the good grace not to let it interfere with their work whilst rotten apples were few and far between.

True, the likes of Ted Roach were happy to bend the rules, but there’s no sense that he was actively fitting up suspects.  Even Frank Burnside, briefly glimpsed during the 50 minute series and shortly to return as the new DI, was on the side of the angels.  The series made capital out of his reputation for corruption several times, but nothing was ever proved (although you could always argue that he was simply good at concealing it!)

The introduction in this episode of PC Ramsey (Nick Reding) helps to shake up the relief.  Ramsey, transferred from Barton Street, brings with him an unsavoury reputation and is viewed with suspicion and mistrust – at least to begin with – by the others.  Ramsey didn’t stay at Sun Hill for too long (about six months) and it’s interesting to observe that over time his rough edges were smoothed down, leaving him as just another member of the team.  The Bill would make capital out of bent coppers later on, but back in 1988/89 it was a storyline that seemed to be off-limits.

Ramsey’s first appearance – driving a flash car very fast (and parking in the Chief Super’s space no less) – is a non-verbal signifier of his attitude and his brusque manner when asking June and Yorkie for directions also helps to quickly define his character – he’s a self-contained unit, not interested in making friends unless (like Ted Roach) they can further his career.

His interview with Chief Inspector Conway (Ben Roberts) helps to fill in some of the blanks.  Conway regards Ramsey as a bent copper, although Ramsey counters that he was cleared.  Conway doesn’t see it that way – in his view (one shared by Ramsey’s previous Chief Super) Ramsey was clearly guilty, although when we discover what his crime was – cheating at cards – it doesn’t seem too bad, but it was serious enough for Ramsey to be busted down from plain clothes to uniform, a clear humiliation for him.

It doesn’t take long before Ramsey makes himself comfortable, demanding bribes from local traders, such as Leslie Fisk (Tony Portacio).  But his actions quickly catch the attention of Bob Cryer, which sets up a nice dramatic tension – Cryer now knows that Ramsey’s a wrong ‘un, so he’ll be watching him like a hawk ….

Ted Roach continues to rampage around the building.  Now he’s acting DI, Ted spends his time giving Mike and Jim a very hard time.   Ted forces Mike and Jim onto the streets where they tangle with a couple of Asians.  One of them launches himself at Jim with some flashy kung-fu moves, but the ever resourceful Jim throws a bin at him, which does the trick!

Mix in another subplot concerning Alec Peters and some sailors and you’ve got a typically dense episode of the series.  The arrival at Sun Hill of a well-drilled squad of sailors (responsible for smashing up a bar) is a nice comedy moment, as is Conway’s acid response when he discovers exactly what Alec has done.  “How can you board one of her majesties frigates in sight of traitor’s gate, of all place, without permission?”