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Over and out.. ON THE SET FINAL DAYS OF THE BILL.

Byline: BETH NEIL

CORRIDORS which once bustled noisily are hushed, desks are cleared and the canteen is almost empty.

This is the last week of filming at The Bill before ITV pulls the plug on television's longest running police drama and the famous Sun Hill building is like a ghost town.

Only a few cast members and production staff remain - the rest have packed up and gone for good.

After 27 years, filming has drawn to a close, the final episodes are due to air next week, and it all makes for a rather eerie atmosphere.

BUSINESS

Alex Walkinshaw, who has played Inspector Dale "Smithy" Smith for a decade, says news that the series was to end was a massive shock to the close-knit cast and crew.

He says: "If the show was doing badly or as a whole wasn't very good it would be easier to deal with.

"But it's actually performing well and the product is good so that's hard to get your head round.

"But business is business - it is the way of the world and things come to an end.

"I was in the car travelling into work when I heard there was a meeting and I just knew that was it. The ripples started going out from that and when I arrived everyone was feeling quite raw.

"But in true Bill style, it wasn't long before people started laughing and joking. One of the riggers walked past with a box for one of the huge plasma tellies as if he was nicking it and the banter started up again from there.

"We are a tight group and we have coped through humour.

"That is how we deal with everything here."

Chris Simmons, who plays DC Mickey Webb, sits himself down next to Alex and echoes his sentiments. He is just as baffled about the decision to cancel a show which was still regularly pulling in more than four million viewers and establishing itself in its grittier 9pm format.

The actor says: "I'm still scratching my head about it. It's all way above me and the politics get a bit much but, when you see some of the stuff we're doing, I'm at a loss. It's very, very sad.

"It's never been dull. There's always something different going on.

"It could've gone on and on. They would never have run out of stories. It has been on 27 years for a reason. And it's going out with a lot of dignity.

"We're not blowing the station up or anything like that. I'm pleased with the way it's all ending."

Over in the Talkback Thames cafe, Sam Callis, who plays Sgt Callum Stone, has grabbed a cup of tea between scenes. He says that while people have battled hard to keep their spirits up, the overwhelming mood on set has been one of sadness.

He says: "It's tough because so many people have lost their jobs. Every Friday for the last few weeks another group of people have left and it's been grim.

"I have enjoyed the journey and I am definitely going to miss it. There are a lot of people I feel very lucky to have worked with that I will not see for a long time. I've really enjoyed my time here so it's sad, especially because I think there was more to wring out of Stone.

"And people are going to really miss it once it has gone.

"It is all well and good to take drama off the television and replace it with reality shows if that is what people want to watch - but it is going to leave a very big hole."

Patrick Robinson has played DC Jacob Banks for the last two and a half years.

He is mourning the loss of a programme where so many young stars of the future have cut their teeth.

He says: "It's been a great breeding ground for young actors and crew as well and I think for that reason especially it's going to be a huge loss.

"People have come here and really learned their craft.

"I'm feeling very upset. Everyone feels very sad.

"All the people I've worked with and the guest stars have been fantastic. It's a family here. And, absolutely, it could have gone on. There is plenty of life left in The Bill."

Andrew Lancel (DI Neil Manson) adds: "I feel sad but immensely proud. I've worked with the best actors, directors and crew and I've had a great time.

"We've developed a very deep bond which will be there for ever.

"I've got a few things lined up including a film and a bit more singing.

"But most importantly I've got time with my wife and son up north."

Meanwhile Alex Walkinshaw has so much more than just a regular income over the last 11 years for which to thank The Bill. He met wife Sarah on the set when she worked as a makeup artist. They have two children, Flora and Jack.

DETERMINED

He says: "I've worked for the last 11 years, I got my wife and kids out of this building so I've got a lot to feel positive about. I've had a bloody good run of it.

"I've got a couple of meetings lined up and something I'm looking at doing something with Sam Callis which could be a bit of a corker.

"We'll just see what happens. I'm excited about the future and determined not to buy into the doom and gloom.

"I've got my PC, sergeant and inspector epaulettes in a display case which are coming with me when filming finishes.

"But mainly it'll be memories and friends I'm taking with me."

And will there be tears? "I'm sure there will be. But hopefully not from myself - I have got a certain reputation to protect."

THE BEST FROM 27 YEARS ON THE BEAT

CAPTION(S):

EMOTION DC Jim Carver (Mark Wingett) tells Sgt June Ackland (Trudie Goodwin) it's over in 2005 BENT Christopher Ellison plays DI Frank Burnside, who in 1986 was first seen stealing in a classic two-parter entitled The Ringer VILLAIN PC Des Taviner (Paul Usher) threw a petrol bomb into Sun Hill in 2002. He also exploded gas canisters and a fireball ripped through corridors, killing several of his colleagues GRITTY In 2004 DC Terry Perkins (Bruce Byron) went undercover in prison. He pretended to be a pervert as he investigated a lag thought to be running a paedophile ring from jail. EXPLOSION From 2008, PC Emma Keane (Melanie Gutteridge) and Sgt Stone race to help bomb blast victim Kathy (Emily Dobbs) GOODBYE Behind the scenes FUN Cast enjoy laugh ACTION Final scenes shot TRIP To the end of the road UNIFORM Sgt Stone on set
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 18, 2010
Words:1127
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