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WHEN Bill actress Trudie Goodwin told her bosses she was leaving she had one big worry - that they'd kill off her character June Ackland.

After a record-breaking 23 years, Trudie was so fond of the popular sergeant she was desperate June would not meet a grisly end.

"I'm not sure I could bear her to die and I told them I didn't want her to be killed off," Trudie says.

"I quite like the idea that she's still out there and doing something else, somewhere else, and that makes it bearable for me to leave her. She's been a part of my life for 23 years and, if she died, I'm not sure I could cope with that."

Trudie, the only remaining original cast member of the hit police series, handed in her notice last year.

That gave the show nearly a year to come up with a dramatic exit and the producers made sure the actress was involved.

"Because it was my decision to leave I had some say in how she went, which was very nice of The Bill," says Trudie, 55. "I said I'd like something quite romantic to happen to her, so they've come up with this fantastic storyline."

Following a string of disastrous relationships, we've seen June get engaged to headmaster and devoted family man Rod Jessop (Richard Hope).

But then, out of the blue, June's estranged husband Jim Carver (Mark Wingett) turns up. With his drink and gambling problems behind him, he wants June back and viewers will have to wait until Trudie's final scenes next month to see which man she chooses.

"Rod is very nice and perfect for June, so will she do the sensible thing and marry him, or go off with Jim, which is definitely not the sensible thing? Even though I know the ending I'm still not sure she's made the right choice!" she laughs.

Trudie joined The Bill in 1983 after appearing in Woodentop - a pilot about a fictional police station. She was 31, the show was then commissioned as The Bill and the rest is history.

It is the longest-running police series in British TV history and Trudie can count royalty among her fans.

When Prince William was introduced to a senior bod on The Bill at a showbiz party he revealed that not only did he love the show, but that he was June Ackland's No1 fan.

"He said it was his favourite show and he really liked me. I think he saw me as a mother figure - I don't think he fancied me, unfortunately!"

Trudie laughs.

The Queen is also said to watch it and when Trudie was introduced to Princess Anne at a party she said her children, Zara and Peter, never missed an episode.

"It seems extraordinary, because you can't imagine the Royal Family watching the telly, but I suppose the show is a bit of an institution now - it's been on forever and ever," says Trudie.

With such supporters it would have been easy for the actress to stay in the show but she is adamant she has made the right decision.

"I could've stayed a year and then another year and got a bit more money in the bank, but I might drop down dead tomorrow and not have tried anything else," she says. "For the past couple of years I've been thinking I wasn't getting as much out of the show as I should, but until recently I wasn't in a position to leave.

"My kids come first and it would have been stupid to have thrown myself out of work while they depended on me. One of my daughters was at university which was costing an arm and a leg and my other daughter was still at school and I didn't know her future plans.

The defining moment came when she said she didn't want to go to university, so I didn't have that financial commitment anymore."

Trudie told the producers last spring. She recalls: "I had no doubts, but come October when they started talking about specific dates for leaving it hit home and I started to panic.

"I realised then I had actually done it and I had a few sleepless nights wondering why I'd quit a secure, safe job - 23 years is a long time and you get into a nice routine. It might be a shock to the system when it is over, but it's one of those things that had to happen."

Born in Brockley, South London, Trudie decided at an early age she wanted to act and at 18 won a place studying English and Drama at Darlington College of Arts.

She then trained as a teacher and taught drama for a year at a secondary school in Deptford, South London.

She quit after 12 months to follow her acting dream, taking jobs as a secretary, barmaid and cleaning pub toilets to top up her income.

After she met her husband, actor Kit Jackson, the couple struggled in low-paid theatre jobs until Trudie was spotted for TV.

She and Kit went on to have two children, Jessica, now 24 and Elly, 18. With Trudie's job security in The Bill, Kit frequently turned down acting work to stay at home and look after the kids.

Now they're looking forward to spending more time together - after her final scenes they went on a three-week break to India and Jordan.

But now back home she is itching to start work again.

So far she has no new roles lined up but is willing to consider anything, be it period drama, comedy, TV work or theatre.

"I can't see myself as being terribly glamorous, so I don't know about doing glamorous roles, but I'd love to do something that involved dressing up in a proper period costume instead of a police uniform," she says.

"It's going to be a challenge and I know it's going to be luck as much as anything, but I can't afford to retire - I've always been rubbish with money!"

So could June be tempted back behind the custody desk at Sun Hill nick in the future?

"Returning is not something I'd choose to do but you just don't know," Trudie admits.

"After many years in the business I've learnt you should never say never."

SGT June Ackland's final scenes in The Bill will be screened on March 7 and 8 I can't afford to retire - I've always been rubbish with money!


FOOL: June lends Jim money in 2004; CLOSE SHAVE: Gabriel gets to grips with June in 2005; GRIM: A bloodbath in 1995; Picture: BOB POWELL
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 26, 2007
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