TV Flashback recently spoke to Steve Bisley about his time on both Police Rescue and Water Rats. From 1993 to 1995 he played Senior Sergeant Kevin ‘Nipper’ Harris in Police Rescue and after a guest starring role in Water Rats, his character Detective Sergeant Jack Christey took over from popular character Detective Senior Constable Frank Holloway – after Colin Friels’ departure from the show. Special thanks to Via Vision Entreatment who organised the interview to help publicise the DVD release of Police Rescue and Water Rats.
1) How did you become involved with Police Rescue?
I was asked to do it. They offered me the role of Nipper. He was the sergeant, he sort of ran the squad in a way. There was another guy above him, another actor, but I sort of ran the operations end of it I guess, dealing with the guys. Gary Sweet, Steve Bastoni, Tammy Macintosh, Sonia Todd, Jeremy Callaghan. It was a joy to play, absolute joy to play. Water Rats was the same. It was one of the last big dramas. After these two shows, certainly after Rats finished, was the start of the reality bite. And so the big dramas went and you had people losing weight, people cooking food, and people renovating houses. That seemed to be where it was all heading and you thought this will go away in a minute, won’t it, and it didn’t.
But I feel the stuff that’s around at the moment is a departure, and I think we’ll go back to really good drama. And I think the quality you can see being pumped out through Netflix and Stan, people like those providers, and Netflix are here now making shows, so it just means everyone is going to have to lift their game. The local providers included. Interesting times.
2) You were pretty much desk bound for most of Police Rescue, did you ever want more action scenes?
I enjoyed where he sat in the show. You didn’t need another fool hanging off a rope, there was enough butch stuff going on. I really enjoyed playing Nipper and I did get to do some stunts.
3) And what about the personal aspects of playing Nipper? Did you enjoy the family side of the character?
Absolutely. It’s really nice, and I think the scripts were great in Police Rescue. I mean I haven’t seen it in a while, but I think it still holds up, and obviously Water Rats too, and I think that’s why they’re releasing them [on DVD], because I think there’s a return to that sort of quality.
4) What were some of the major challenges working on Police Rescue?
The nature of the show. We were a rescue unit, I loved the fact that every week there was a big rescue sequence, there was some really hairy stuff. Abseiling off the harbour bridge, my character had to manually operate a lift that had been stuck and the brakes failed, all that stuff. Gary Sweet abseiling off the QANTAS building in the city. We threw Steve Bastoni off Centrepoint Tower, we had him worried and his eyes were as big as dinner plates when he hit the ground. He didn’t stop jibbering for about a week. That was fairly out there. I loved it and obviously the audience did too.
5) Jack Christey could be a bit of a cowboy, did you enjoy that part of the character?
Yeah. It was just a different way to view the entrance of a new character. It’s often challenging to take over when there’s an established character who’s leaving the show and that baton change is hard to do, it’s challenging from an audiences point of view as well.
6) This might be testing your memory, but did you have a favourite storyline or episode for Police Rescue and Water Rats?
I can remember them all. I’ve got a really good memory, it’s not too good some days. In both shows there was no real standout. I liked everything about both shows, we worked very closely with the Rescue police, we were given all the uniforms, they were the real thing. Normally with police shows you’ve gotta fabricate your own uniform and it can’t be exactly the same as the real coppers, but we were able to, and they would vet all the scripts to make sure what we were doing is what they’d be doing. So you really felt this was as real as we could make it. That was great and I think that comes over on the screen, and there’s enough of each characters personal life in there to keep that side of the show interesting. So I liked them both. There was a bus crash that was pretty interesting and a lot of heartfelt stuff, and people losing their lives and we were trying to rescue them. Equally I loved Water Rats, in both cases huge amount of work to get through in a day. Television is always fast, there’s no mucking around you’ve got to be on song all the time. Theatre runs at a different pace as does film.
7) And did the fast pace cause tension on the set?
No, I think it creates an energy. I don’t think it necessarily create tension, I think people thrive on the energy of it. To get through the sort of hours we were doing, I think all that energy and adrenaline really helped. On both shows actually, because there’s no chance to go back, you keep going and the nature of the shows required that amount of energy on them anyway. Water Rats we were chasing down the baddies, in Rescue we were saving people. People loved that, the public like it too, when the Rescue guys turn up it’s gotta be good. I have immense respect for police, men and women. They’re the people we call when the sh*t hits the fan. It doesn’t matter what it is, we want the police, it’s like calling to your mother. No matter what, they have to attend, they have to go and that’s an extraordinary career to have. Every time the phone goes you don’t know what’s at the end of that call. These kids, police coming out of the academy, they’re in their late teens. They’re seeing the worst side of humanity on a daily basis. Carnage, destruction, sorrow, and grief. It asks a lot of anybody.
8) What will you treasure most from your time working on Police Rescue and Water Rats, from both a professional and personal perspective?
I think the collective of all the performers on both shows. We became very close as a group. We were spending a lot of time together obviously in the execution of those shows, people of like minds and people who were working at a real fast pace and being careful with each other in those situations and helping, being supportive and getting through. Same with the crew. The cast and crew. I’m involved in Doctor Doctor, the last 2 series, the same thing. All those shows, you get a real little microcosm of life. We all get there super early in the morning and it’s still dark and we’re there till the sun goes down and beyond. And that’s our day and that’s the next day, and the next day and the next day. And on and on it goes. It’s an extraordinary camaraderie between a group of people going in one direction, the support and friendship that comes out of that, it’s wonderful.
9) Do you stay in contact with the cast and crew from both shows?
Most all of them.
10) Why do you think Police Rescue and Water Rats were so successful?
Good people working on them, attractive shows to look at, great production values, engaging stories and great scripts. Boom.
11) You left both shows, how do you know when it’s time to leave a show?
I don’t know. Sometimes it’s not of your choosing and sometimes it is. It’s knowing when to hold them and knowing when to fold them.
12) Did you have a favourite show out of Police Rescue or Water Rats?
No. They’re both great shows.
Thanks to Steve Bisley and Via Vision Entertainment. You can see Steve Bisley in action in both Police Rescue and Water Rats in the video below: