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Nate learns a lesson in life.

There was a time when your schooldays were supposed to be the happiest of your life, but in recent years some playgrounds have begun to look more like war zones.

Writers of The Bill have been keen to examine the situation, and in the first of a six-part storyline, a reluctant PC Nate Roberts is appointed as Safer Schools Officer at Deansgate Comprehensive.

On day one he breaks up a fight between two girls who know who is responsible for a recent arson attack, and Smithy is stabbed as he pursues the investigation.

Hoping to renew his acquaintance with attractive teacher Becky James, Nate volunteers to carry on in the liaison role.

Ben Richards, who plays the PC, doesn't have to think too hard when asked what's been his favourite Sun Hill storyline.

"Probably these ones actually," he explains.

"They are the most physical and mental. It's been a real challenge. There's a lot of responsibility doing a six-parter and following Nate's storyline throughout." Is it a good role to play? "Yeah, it's been really good," he enthuses. "When you first see him, he loves the adrenaline-fuelled stuff. He loves taking after crooks, and flirting with women and stuff. Then things have got a little bit deeper with him recently, especially with this." Richards adds: "As well as all these different crime storylines we've got going through this story, we've also got this will they/won't they relationship with the head of year, played by the lovely Naomi Ryan. They don't hit it off at the beginning. They're constantly arguing, they see things completely opposite, but through it all you're thinking these two are so right for each other." How has Nate changed over the last couple of years? "I think he's realised that things aren't as black and white as they seem," says Richards. "There's different shades of grey with life. Working on the job he's learning more and more, especially working at Sun Hill where everything kicks off on a regular basis. He's learning to maybe think twice before making a judgement." The Bill is now celebrating 25 years on the box.

Why does Richards think it's still going strong while other similar shows have fallen by the wayside? "It's the format: a cop show from the perspective of the copper; the strong way it's been put together; the high standard of what they want to achieve; we've got a great crew here and good writing," he says. "Basically just keeping it true to the life of a copper, which is always very interesting, and it's ever-changing. I think they try to keep very current as to what's going on on a day-to-day basis for your average copper." Working on ITV1's hit drama also led to a brief appearance in a Teutonic version: SOKO Leipzig.

"That's basically a German form of The Bill, which is a more CID-based show," he explains.

"While we were filming we did part for this German show, using some of the cast of The Bill and some of the cast of SOKO Leipzig.

It's the first time it's been done. I did a tiny bit in it, but it was great." The Bill (ITV1, 8pm)


RELUCTANT: Nate (Ben Richards) is appointed as Safer Schools Officer at Deansgate Comprehensive.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Apr 8, 2009
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