Tune in, Switch off - My old school chum

10th July 2009 at 01:00

"Sir, Sir. Please, me, Sir." Back in the Baby Boomer decade, Simon, one of my fellow pupils, repeatedly showed his urgent desire to read aloud by volunteering for parts in the plays in our English lessons. He brought the dullest scenes to life, reciting poetry where there was only prose.

These were really his first auditions and, had he not made it as an actor, I think he'd have still pretended he was one, such was his passion.

This is the sort of vision and ambition we try to instil every day in schools into our young charges. It must have worked with Simon because, more than 40 years later, he is now DCI Jack Meadows, star of The Bill (ITV), right.

I watched it to see how much I'd aged. Well in both cases there's a lot less hair and a load of wrinkles. That's before the make-up department does its stuff. But then he needs these to look the part. For me they're caused by the day job.

The Bill is so soapy you can see the suds. You could blow bubbles with the plot flimflam. After glitz-gilded dramas from American networks (and Hotel Babylon, of course) I felt I'd gone back in time. I get the same effect from reading West End theatre programmes: almost every actor has appeared in at least one episode.

There were none of those camera tricks at rapid-eye-movement speed like you get in US cop dramas. The dialogue was as realistic as a copper's notebook, but less exciting.

It was like visiting a car boot sale after a lifetime of shopping in Harrods. You felt as if you were there, on the set, in the scene. But you didn't want to be.

The plot turned around the illegal antics of Jack Meadows' son, Ben, just released from prison, and the integrity of our Chief Inspector in having his own flesh and blood sent down. Was he noble hero or father from hell? Well, don't worry: this wasn't the moral dilemma of a Greek tragedy - just the filler between advertising breaks before you put the kettle on.

By episode two it looked as if recalcitrant son versus obstinate dad would end in a scoreless draw. Young Ben's apparent death in a car burn-out finally got to Jack and his emotions cracked. But some of us had noticed there was a clue in the title "Prodigal Son".

Our distraught DCI sprang surprise hugs instead of handcuffs on his reunited boy. Policeman melted into parent. It was a prodigal, even prodigious reunion.

Then it was the tension of the chase and all bravo ones and bravo twos as the police did what they are best at - driving at speed with blue lights through red lights while keeping an "eyeball" on targets. And losing an eyeball isn't as bad as it sounds. Might even be a useful word for pupil tracking.

My verdict on Simon? Well, had I not been told he'd become an actor, I'd have believed he'd spent 40 years in the police force. It was a brave, bravo, even bravura performance. In a script of prose, he was still the poet.

Ray Tarleton is principal at South Dartmoor Community College in Ashburton, Devon.

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