The Bill answers the call of the dark side

By Rob Virtue on August 6, 2009 10:33 AM |


There's been a group of controversial and occasionally corrupt police officers patrolling the beat around Docklands for over a quarter of century.

No, not the Met, The Bill - the ITV programme is set in Tower Hamlets - battling crime in the East End.

Last month, the show was cut from two shows a week to one and the producers took the decision to give the programme a makeover.

The iconic theme tune was changed, incidental music was brought in and the scripts and storylines were given a gritty edge, exploiting its move to post-watershed on Thursdays.

Andrew Lancel, who plays popular character DI Neil Manson talked The Wharf through the changes and life filming around Docklands.

The Bill has long been a success. Were you surprised when you heard about the planned changes?

"The Bill started as a once a week show at nine o'clock in the evening so it's now come full circle. In our hearts we wanted to do a nine o'clock show. Some episodes would have fit perfectly after the watershed. And really 8pm is an awkward time for people to sit down and watch it."

Less fantasy, more grit?

"Yes. The viewing public demand a lot more of an American style with programmes like The Wire and CSI proving popular. And I think our transition has worked really well.

"People have taken The Bill for granted over the years and a change was good.

"These people have been in your home for so many years and I believe we've found the place we should be.

"The background music helps explain the storylines. We had to repeat everything before but not so much now."

You are based in Wimbledon but seem to do a lot of shoots around here.

"Yes, Sun Hill has to be the biggest area in London. We take in Wembley, south London, but a lot is done around Poplar.

"People like to see the backdrops of London, like the Gherkin and especially Canary Wharf.

"The Wharf's a great site and fantastic to work in. We sometimes go out as a team around there for a meal. We recently finished early and I just went to get the Tube and could see it's like its own city - it's got its own community.

"We shoot a lot of scenes around the estates in Poplar and everyone's very supportive. We don't just show the glamorous side of London."

Are you enjoying it more?

"I've never not enjoyed it. I've been lucky and never had to go in and say give me more storylines. They are using my character a lot.

"And as a team we are the happiest family on TV. It's a good place to come to work.

"I live in Liverpool and have a baby there so it has to be something good to keep me down here."

How does your character develop in the show?

"It's interesting to see how he deals with people. If he's behind his desk he's fine but he's different when he's out of his comfort zone.

"He has a two part special coming up looking at a story a couple of years ago when he was involved in a shooting of a psychiatric patient. It involves flashbacks and it's hard hitting."

What is the real police involvement on the set?

"We have two full-time crime advisers. Everything we say and do is checked. We've got a great relationship with the police, and would never do anything they wouldn't do. It has to be realistic."

If you were commissioner for a day in London what would you do?

"I would look at the shootings and the crime culture. There should be zero tolerance. There's something rotten in the state of Denmark and it has to be nipped in the bud. However, the police are the experts and they are doing the best they can.

"On a lighter note instant fines for environmental crime like littering. It drives me mad particularly when people drop litter out of their car."

What reactions do you get off people in the street?

"They think I'm going to be like him - moody. Manson never smiles but I do a lot. People say "it's him off The Bill a lot" and sometimes you forget and don't know what they are talking about.

"We've also got these 40ft advertising boards with the new series so sometimes people want you to pose next to it. It can be embarrassing - sometimes I have to wait there for hours till people recognise me!"