Thanks to Oliver from The Bill Podcast for organising an interview with Jon Iles. Jon was one of the original cast to work on the The Bill, playing popular DC Mike Dashwood. He worked closely with the team in CID including Galloway, Burnside and Roach. TV Flashback caught up with Jon to find out about shooting early episodes of The Bill:
1) How did you become involved with the Bill? Had you watched Woodentop?
It was just another audition; in those days I would often have more than one audition in a day, the concern was less about the nature of the audition rather ‘must get to the next one in time’. I did, however, write in my diary that I was very confident after the interview. I hadn’t seen Woodentop, and there was no way of finding it.
2) Did you do any research for the role? Did you spend time with real detectives?
We weren’t offered the opportunity, and it wasn’t something I even thought of, it was just another job and you expect the writers to have done the research, I was only signed up for six episodes. Although I did have a drinking pal from my local Police Station in Greenwich, S E London, who was my age, well spoken, a DC, and very fashion conscious, so I knew the Dashwood character was out there (as time went by it became very clear that the real Police hated Dashwood with a passion – there were letters to the Police Federation magazine!)
3) When you worked on the first series, did the cast and crew feel like they had something special? That this could be popular and go on for years?
Not at all. It made me think of Hill Street Blues which was very much the bench mark for gritty, ‘real life’ cop shows and I thought we were just following that trend… but you have to remember that I came from a comedy background, in a minor way. My tv work consisted of The Dick Emery Show, Never the Twain, Fresh Fields, and a few other very British sitcoms, loads of tv commercials, theatre and the odd Pantomime. No tv drama to compare it too.
4) What did you think of the documentary style of shooting the show? Did it make it easier or harder as an actor?
The main thing I learnt very quickly from more experienced cast members was to underplay, try not to ‘act’ too big. Also, we shot scenes in one go, a master shot, so you had to be 100% on top of the script, and the whole process was fast… rehearse, shoot, rehearse, shoot.
5) How did you feel about the cast expanding as the show grew? Did you feel like it made it harder for your character to get storylines?
With hindsight I’d have to say, yes. At the time it was just a natural growth in light of the increasing success and the demand from ITV for more and more episodes. The hour longs were pulling 15 million viewers per episode. When the show went twice weekly, a smaller cast simply wouldn’t have been able to shoulder the workload. We had to build two custody area sets to meet the script demands for that location.
But it’s true that Dashwood suffered in later years as the writers chose who they wrote for, and I think as Dashwood was more of a catalyst rather than a driving force like Burnside, I ended up with handful of writers who ‘got’ the character.
6) Did you have any favourite moments or scenes from the show?
I do have two stand out moments that made me laugh out loud. A scene where Dashwood is at a grotty apartment block and as he approaches in his very smart car, a fridge is dropped from an upper balcony and lands on the roof… it was so funny.
The other was the black panther, Ebony. In the episode, we had a huge perspex sheet between her and me, invisible to the camera (audience). On the publicity shoot for the episode it was a different story; in a huge cage dressed to look like a living room, me, the trainer (with a foot long bamboo stick with meat on the end for protecting me!) and the beautiful, huge black panther, Ebony.
During the shoot she sat next to me, so close I felt her very hot breath, and not only put her paw on my leg but gently chewed my (white) knuckles holding a teacup. Apparently, at that point, the Executive Producer, Michael Chapman, went away to check the insurance.
7) Who did you enjoy shooting scenes with? Any funny moments?
You know to be honest it was the most extraordinary job I ever did in nearly thirty years of acting. We drank together, we partied together, we worked together, and thirty years on we still regard ourselves as a ‘family’, re-connecting with many through the wonderful Oliver Crocker, it’s as if time has stood still.
Of course most of my time was with CID and I won’t choose a favourite; we laughed every day, some of the funniest people I will ever meet, hell, you had to bring your ‘A’ game to that set. I was often crying with laughter, I’ve never laughed so much in my life.
8) Why did you leave the show? Was it your plan or the producers?
The Producers. It wasn’t pleasant, but at the time I wasn’t panicked by leaving, I thought I’d be fine after eight years in the top rated cop show on British tv. I was actually told on the set, filming, by a call from my agent. The director went ballistic that I hadn’t been spoken to by the producers before hand.
Anyway it’s all worked in a roundabout career swerve. I didn’t get the breaks I needed to in acting after leaving and luckily I was able to move into voiceover work, which I love and continue here in the West Country of England, by the sea.
9) Were you surprised to learn the show was popular in Australia? Do you get fan mail from Australia?
When it became clear how much the show was liked in Australia, I was the first to go on a promotional trip that I organised myself. It was fantastic, and one interview led to another and another and I was stunned at how well known the show was.
A casting agent saw an interview with me and I was taken to Auckland, New Zealand to film a Gold Blend Coffee advert, which paid for the entire trip! I still connect with fans of the show on social media, I absolutely adore Australia and it’s a huge regret that I didn’t move there after The Bill.
10) What do you think led to the success of The Bill?
Geoff McQueen’s vision and the show’s unique selling proposition (UPS) was what set it apart from every other cop show. Everything had to be seen through the eyes of a policeman/woman, so you never saw crims plotting a robbery for instance, unless there was a police-person present to witness it; no prying into family/love life, apart from how it affected a characters ability to carry out their duties.
When the producers decided to discard Geoff’s mission statement, they rang the death knell of the show…
11) What will you treasure most from your time working on The Bill, from both a professional and personal perspective?
Professionally, I’m so proud to have been part of what became such an iconic show, little did I know how groundbreaking it was for British tv.
Personally, a job is a job and it remains that but for the people who make it happen. That huge mass of skills, wardrobe, technical, set design, editors, cameramen/women, writers and last, but not least, actors, all made The Bill what it was, the people made it the most enjoyable work I’ve ever done.
12) What have you been up to recently?
Like I said, I’m a very happy voiceover artist these days. We’ve recently released a new audio version of PINOCCHIO with original score: www.pinocchio-cd.com
I’ve started an adaptation on DRACULA, again with an original soundtrack by Dr Sarah Watts. I’m also a Patron of The KIT WILSON TRUST, an animal rescue centre.
All in all life is great albeit difficult, stressful and heartbreaking for so many during this vile pandemic. I wish each and everyone a safe and happy outcome and above all, be kind.
Thanks to Jon for an interesting journey through his time on The Bill. Don’t forget Via Vision are re-releasing the series on DVD. You can pick up series 1-4 here with more to come...
If you want to see Jon in some scenes from the show, check out the video below:
If this interview wet your appetite for more stories from Jon, listen to Jon’s The Bill podcast below (he was Oliver’s very first guest):