Oliver Crocker: The Bill Podcast

Oliver Crocker runs a highly successful podcast for the long running ITV police drama The Bill. The Bill, was always a fan favourite in Australia with Saturday night’s often referred to as “Bill night”. Oliver has caught up with so many legends from the show, from Cryer to Brownlow and everyone in-between. He’s also just written a book about the first 3 series of The Bill called Witness Statements, TV Flashback caught up with Oliver to find out more about The Bill Podcast…

1) When did you first watch The Bill? Were you always a fan of the series?

My Mum and Dad watched “The Bill” and I can actually remember watching the series for the first time. It was the end of an episode called “Is That the Time” from Series 11, which was Philip Whitchurch’s last episode as Inspector Cato. I was fascinated by the friction between the characters in the station and could still remember the closing moments vividly over twenty years later. So we sat down and watched the next episode as a family, which saw the introduction of Andrea Mason and Alan Westaway as new probationers Debbie Keane and Nick Slater.

So I grew up with them and “The Bill” quickly became the most exciting thing on TV for me. I remember watching the episode “Fire” on a little TV with my family on holiday in a caravan and continued to watch regularly for the next five years or so. “Badlands” was massive at the time; everyone was talking about it the next day at school. “Will Quinnan survive?” Very happy memories. All the characters like Ackland, Boulton, Boyden, Carver, Cryer, Datta, Garfield, Greig, Loxton, Page and Stamp were my heroes on telly for many years, so you can imagine the joy I’ve had by interviewing the talented actors who played them.

2) Where did the idea for the podcast come from?

I had just written my first book, “All Memories Great & Small”, where I interviewed 60 cast and crew about the making of the classic BBC series. I also used it as a chance to celebrate each of the contributors’ careers and tell their stories. I loved it and met so many fascinating people. After the book was published and I finished all the associated press and signings, I had a real comedown – I missed chatting to people I admired. I then fell down a YouTube rabbit hole of “The Bill” compilation clips and not only rediscovered some of my favourite moments, I discovered a load of wonderful characters I had not seen before, such as Dashwood, Galloway, Haynes, Martella, Melvin, Peters, Ramsey, Roach, Taffy, Turnham, Yorkie etc.

I then started buying the DVDs and fell in love with the series all over again. I had produced the special features for the DVD releases of “Z Cars” and “Dixon of Dock Green”, where I had tracked down and interviewed many of the surviving actors. I couldn’t believe there were no such interviews on “The Bill” DVDs, so thought I’d have a go at chatting to some of the cast.

3) Why did you decide on a podcast and not a written or video interview series?

Writing my book took 15 months, so you do a lot of work before anyone gets to enjoy it. I had previously co-presented a Podcast about “Dad’s Army”, which was great fun, though I wasn’t very hands-on with the production of it. I checked out Soundcloud and saw that I could upload 4 x 45 minute interviews for free. This felt like a good way of testing the water and seeing if there was an audience. I was very lucky that Jon Iles (DC Mike Dashwood) said yes, which was a fantastic way of opening the series and Jon has been wonderfully supportive and become a good friend.

Ben Peyton (PC Ben Hayward) was already a close friend and he has been kind in supporting all my projects over the last decade, including several short films. It was good to chat about different eras of the show from the off. I also love chatting about the different aspects of their careers and someone like Chris Humphreys was a great early subject because he has done so much as an actor and a bestselling author that made for a really cool chat: when else do you get to chat about “The Bill” and “Highlander” in the same conversation? When the Drama Channel announced their initial repeats of the series in 2017, the Podcast suddenly snowballed and the audience grew quite rapidly.

4) Were you surprised that so many of the cast were keen to take part?

I was very lucky that the initial interviewees introduced me to other legends to chat to. Jon Iles put a word in with Barbara Thorn, while Ben Peyton did the same with Suzanne Maddock. Obviously booking Trudie Goodwin was a gamechanger and she kindly put a good word in for me with Eric Richard, Mark Wingett and Nula Conwell.

I’ve now interviewed over 50 castmembers, though there are still plenty who I have not yet approached. Some of the actors have politely declined and I respect that for some people it is a long time ago. But I’ll keep trying, so if you haven’t heard your favourite yet, you never know…

5) How much research do you put in for each interview? Where do you start?

I do a lot of research as I want to put the interviewees at ease and I think they appreciate that I’ve taken the time to look at their work, especially lesser-known projects. My approach has changed over the years, initially I would research episodes in microscopic detail, but after a while I realised it’s far more interesting to listen to the interviewee talk more openly about their memories and careers as a whole, than me trying to pin them down to specific details about a scene they shot over 30 years ago… Although when they have given a superb performance, I still like to mention it – and sometimes the actors have asked me to send the scene in question to them afterwards. I read as many existing interviews as I can – the old Bill annuals are good for research – and I just watch as much of their work as I can.

6) Were you surprised to learn how popular The Bill was in Australia?

I was pleasantly surprised at first, although when you think about it, it makes perfect sense, especially when considering the excellent quality of television that Australia has produced for many years. I used to be a “Neighbours” addict as a teen and I think that was because the acting was always superb. Jackie Woodburne remains one of the finest television actresses I have ever watched – similarly with Trudie Goodwin, their acting has staying power and their commitment to their performances just enhances how much you care about their characters.

I think Australia has been a huge influence on the way British programmes have been produced – they paved the way by being able to produce a high volume of television, without sacrificing the quality. I’m sure the Australian approach has greatly influenced our own – and was likely a factor in “The Bill”’s format change in the mid-00s. I now take great pleasure in telling people how big “The Bill” is in Australia, and indeed how popular the Podcast is there. At the time of writing, The Bill Podcast has been played over 120,000 times – and 20,000 of that audience is from Australia.

7) Although all interviews are special for different reasons are there any that stand out?

I’m really enjoying producing the Video Commentaries for the Podcast’s Patreon channel and its always very special to reunite cast and crew for the first time in many years. The most ambitious was when I surprised Trudie Goodwin and Colin Blumenau while recording a Commentary on Series 4’s “The Coop” – I conspired with Larry Dann to pop up as a surprise and then I invited another six legends from the Barlby Road era to do the same and we had a wonderful time. That’s when I pinch myself. I’m really lucky to have stayed in touch with many of the cast and the most special interviews for me are the ones that have formed friendships, for which I am really grateful. They know who they are…

8) Have you been surprised by fans reaction to the podcast?

The nicest reaction I have had is from a real police sergeant in Australia, who listens to the Podcast in his patrol car on shift. That was just wonderful to hear. I’ve also had lovely messages from people who have been inspired by some of the Podcasts. The knowledge that some of the fans have about the show, especially some of the Patreon subscribers, puts mine to shame and I’m always impressed by how encyclopedic some of them are.

I was also very surprised when I attended Misty Moon Event’s “The Bill Reunion 4” in London and had a number of people compliment me about the Podcast and even a few who asked me for a selfie… including someone who took a selfie with me, then after taking it asked me who I was?! That made me laugh.

9) This is a question you normally ask: what do you think about a reboot of the series? Do you think it would work?

I would love to see the series return in a tight 12-part format, akin to Geoff McQueen’s original vision. You could either set it in the past like ITV have done wonderfully with Endeavour, or bring it right up to date and make it real, gritty and dangerous. I think ITV could test the water by repeating the final 2010 series in HD, which wasn’t given enough time in its new format. It should never have been cancelled, especially when they just hit a new stride. Or what I’d really love to do is try and remaster the original episodes – some of the repeats look like they have been ripped from YouTube and they have had their aspect ratio cropped – it would be lovely to give the originals some TLC.

10) Any big future plans or interviews coming up?

I have interviewed 40 cast and crew about the making of the first three series for a new book, Witness Statements. This is the first new book about The Bill published in over a decade and is the only one ever to feature an in-depth interview with John Salthouse (D.I. Roy Galloway) about his time on the show. He won’t be appearing on the Podcast, so Witness Statements is the only place to read a very unique interview spread throughout the book.

I’m also preparing a number of new Commentaries for the Patreon channel, which are the most in-depth chats about the series I have captured to date.

I’m so grateful to all the fans who listen to the Podcast and especially those who are supporting the Patreon channel, it is allowing me to produce so much more content and I’m pleased that so many fans are enjoying the extra content.

Thanks so much to Oliver for some great insight into the popularity of The Bill podcast. ViaVision are also re-releasing series 1-4 on DVD from September 16th, you can order your copy here.

For a taste of the podcast, you can listen to Oliver’s first interview with Jon Iles (Mike Dashwood) below: