The problem with The Bill, these days, is that even LISTING its problems is hard enough, let alone solving them. Let’s see: no interesting or even likeable new characters; the unease abt when stories are exciting (= endless Kilroy-style folk-panic “BIIIIIG” themes: paedophile rings, serial killing, international drug gangs, the popular officer who’s a demented stalker, the gay sarge in love with the sexually confused copper*, the entire senior-officer-is-a-rapist-turned-pantomime-luny season, zzzz), the problems of canteen-culture realism after Stephen Lawrence; eps no longer half-an-hour and self-contained…

(*Actually I quite enjoyed this story…)

I’ve watched it on and off for 20 years, never recently as religiously as I did 88-98. I miss the rotund and testy old-timers like (especially) Derek Conway. I miss the everydayness of most of the stories: they weren’t all badly-tackled “glamour issues”. And they were SO NEATLY WRITTEN, little half hours of perfect dramatic structure, running the flatfoots’ tale against the tecs’, for deft contrast and implicit comment. I miss its unexpected wit, daring even (their “Fly on the Wall” ep of 1999, I think, with the station’s daily life caught on documentary, was just so excellent).

Anyway I was flicking channels last night, and caught a scene with Ramani de Costa: in a way it was all “actor-business”, ways of doing things, expressions, moves, ideas, but it caught my attention because here was someone having fun again. So that was one thing. I stayed and watched a bit, and the “racist tension in Sunhill” story was actually neatly done, a good thoughtful expectation-reversal which took the issue seriously without being sententious or preachy or (their pre-eminent mode for far too long lately) just stupid.

The lethal station-fire that Barry from Brookside set, all those seasons ago, carried off a whole raft of unreplaceable steady intelligence in this ensemble, and the balance has never returned. There are still far too many histrionic dullards at Sunhill, but they didn’t dominate this episode, which is a good (re)start. The value of long-running quasi-realistic procedurals like this, I think, is that they reflect what we hope and dream the actual World of BritCop could be like today, if only if only if only… It’s not a bad thing to have this expectation crystallised: after all, it only makes you complacent if you go on to ignore everything you know about non-fictional policing culture, rather than contrast and compare and act accordingly.