Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Sun Hill's finest - Remembering Burnside

Christopher Ellison as Frank Burnside was my favourite all time character from Thames Television's classic cops drama, "The Bill." Christopher Ellison made Frank Burnside the best cop on the box since John Thaw's excellent portrayal as Jack Regan in, that other Thames classic, "The Sweeney"
DCI Frank Burnside first appeared in the first episode of The Bill (after the pilot), "Funny Ol' Business - Cops and Robbers", broadcast on 16 October 1984, as a guest character from the Flying Squad, then a DS. He is a former colleague of Sergeant Bob Cryer who makes no secret of his dislike of Burnside. Burnside is thought to have slipped through the net of Operation Countryman, the Met's anti-corruption drive in the 1970s, and revels in his notoriety. When PC Jim Carver arrests a small-time car thief, Burnside arrives at Sun Hill to appeal for the man's release. Cryer is appalled at the suggestion, and urges DI Roy Galloway to block the request. However, Burnside explains that the prisoner is a valuable police informant, and manages to persuade DI Galloway to secure his release. The incident creates much ill-feeling within the station, particularly among Sgt Cryer and PC Carver.

DS Burnside reappears twice more in the episodes "Ringer" and "The Chief Superintendent's Party". By this time, his apparent villainy is an open secret at the station, and few are pleased to see him, least of all Sgt Cryer and DI Galloway. However, DS Burnside is indifferent to their hostility, and sets his sights on WPC June Ackland. Burnside is too thick-skinned to sense her obvious repulsion towards him, and June takes great delight in stringing him along. However, other Sun Hill officers take exception to his pursuit of her, prompting DC Mike Dashwood to intervene. He informs Burnside that June is Galloway's mistress, forcing the rogue detective to switch his sights elsewhere.

He was called "Tommy" when in series one and two, but when he appeared as a regular character from 1988 onward his first name was changed to "Frank" as there was a real-life "Tommy Burnside" serving in the Metropolitan Police at the time.

By 1988, The Bill had switched to a twice-weekly half-hour format, with significant cast changes. Galloway's departure from the series creates a vacancy for a new DI, and the first half-hour episode, "Light Duties", sees officers taking bets on who the new incumbent will be. DS Ted Roach has his own sights set on the job, and is appalled to learn that DS Burnside is a rival candidate. When Burnside takes the post in the episode "Just Call Me Guv'nor", DS Roach and Sgt Cryer are outspoken in their views on the appointment of an apparently corrupt officer.

It soon becomes clear that DI Frank Burnside is far removed from his previous incarnation. Besides a new rank and Christian name, Burnside acquires a new outlook. The sneering wide-boy of the hour-long shows is replaced with a darker and more authoritative character. His apparent corruption is explained away by Inspector Christine Frazer as a result of Burnside having worked undercover on Operation Countryman, forcing Sgt Bob Cryer to swallow his pride and welcome DI Burnside to Sun Hill. However, DS Ted Roach is far harder to win round.

Despite their similarities, both having maverick tendencies, but ultimately on the right side of the law, DI Burnside and DS Roach have an uneasy working relationship. Roach's increasing bitterness at having been passed over for promotion, coupled with a thinly-disguised drink problem, make him almost unmanageable for his senior officers. When matched with DI Burnside's explosive personality, the two officers physically come to blows. However, their similar policing styles and views lead to them developing a mutual respect. As the police force becomes more politically correct, maverick officers such as DI Burnside and DS Roach are increasingly seen as a dying breed. As such, their working relationship becomes one of mutual dependency, each watching the other's back when either of them sail too close to the wind. When DS Roach walks out of the job following an assault on Inspector Monroe, DCI Jack Meadows caustically remarks that it is "the end of an era for DI Frank Burnside."

Meadows' prophecy is proven right later when DI Burnside mysteriously fails to show for work. It is explained that Burnside has been taken out on a "special operation", prompting his colleagues to speculate that he is working undercover. As the years go by, a succession of DIs take Burnside's office.

In 1998, The Bill returned to the hour-long format. In October of that year, DI Burnside returned to the series in a two-part story, "Cast No Shadow" and "Betrayal". The story follows an investigation led by DS John Boulton and DC Jim Carver into a protection racket, which leads them to Manchester. Carver is shocked to discover that his former boss is one of the main players in the operation, and he and Boulton are forced to take DI Burnside back to Sun Hill in handcuffs. Meadows is openly hostile towards his former colleague but, reminiscent of Sgt Bob Cryer ten years earlier, he is forced to backtrack when it emerges that DI Burnside is working undercover. Furthermore, Burnside had been promoted to the rank of DCI within the field, and is now on an equal footing with Meadows.

DCI Burnside then appears semi-regularly in The Bill. He is now head of the elite Crime Operational Command Unit, and his work frequently brings him into contact with Sun Hill officers, investigating high profile cases. One such investigation leads to him arresting DC Jim Carver on suspicion of murder. Despite their rocky start, DCI Burnside took the impressionable young DC Carver under his wing during his reign as DI, and is sorry to see his friend's sad fall from grace. Carver begins drinking heavily following his enforced move back to uniform, marking a steep decline into alcoholism. When he wakes from a drunken stupor to find a murdered prostitute beside him, it seems Carver's career is over. However, DCI Burnside manages to solve the murder, and urges Carver to seek help for his addiction.

DCI Burnside is the principal character in the episodes in which he appears, and the popularity of these episodes paved the way for a spin-off series, Burnside. The six-part series, three consecutive two-part stories, follows Burnside's new role as a DCI with the National Crime Squad, described in the show's publicity as the English equivalent of the FBI. The series is much grittier than The Bill, as its post-watershed timeslot enabled stronger language and more violent scenes. Although each two-part story focuses on a different crime, the series is underpinned by a story arc, which explores DCI Burnside's pursuit of gangland boss Ronnie Buchan. Buchan had murdered Burnside's best friend years earlier, and Burnside is determined to use his newfound influence as head of a team within the NCS to bring Buchan to justice. The series ended with Burnside vowing to nail Buchan by whatever means necessary.

Despite the popularity of DCI Burnside's character in The Bill, his spin-off failed to take off, and was axed after just one series

Brighton Rock (1947)

Late 1930s and Brighton is run by vicious gangs. One of which is led by the Teenager, Pinkie Brown. After killing a man at the fairground, he tries to establish a watertight alibi - even if it means marrying a potential witness to prevent her giving evidence against him.
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Brighton Rock was an excellent 1947 British drama film directed by John Boulting and starred Richard Attenborough as Pinkie (reprising his breakthrough West End creation of the character some three years prior), Carol Marsh as Rose, William Hartnell as Dallow and Hermione Baddeley as Ida. It was Produced by Ray Boulting and Charter Film Productions. The film was adapted from the 1938 novel, Brighton Rock by Graham Greene. In the United States, Brighton Rock was retitled Young Scarface.
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When Brighton Rock was retitled Young Scarface for its American release, the implication was clear. Here was a British thriller in the tradition of the American gangster movie, a genre dating back to such durable classics as Little Caesar and the original Scarface.

American gangster movies emerged out of the 1930s Depression, a time of power struggles between organised crime leaders vying for control of illicit or unobtainable commodities. The British tradition arose from the similar black marketeering and 'spiv' culture of wartime and post-war rationing and deprivation. Although the film's preface announces its location as a Brighton "in the years between the two wars... now happily no more", the clothes and mannerisms of Pinkie's gang place them very much within the familiar archetype of the wartime spiv.

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Graham Green's novel had been written in 1937, towards the end of the depression. John Boulting was initially attracted by the way it so vividly evoked a sense of place. "The setting was not a backdrop; it was one of the characters." The Boultings' film uses its locations well, richly depicting the town's bar rooms, racetracks, cafes' and Boarding houses, and benefiting from Harry Waxman's superb atmospheric cinematography.

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A contemporary Daily Mirror reviewer accused the film of, "false, nasty, cheap sensationalism." However, most critics then and since, have warmed to the realism of the setting, noting how homeliness of the tea shops and the seaside pierrot shows perfectly complements the menace of the gangsters' activities, their rivalry with other groups and internal conflicts.

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It is a contrast also encapsulated in the two leading performances. Richard Attenborough and Hermione Baddeley had already appeared in a stage version of the novel, as had William Hartnell who plays Pinkie's Henchman, Dallow. Attenborough's astonishing performance as perversely puritanical teenage gang leader Pinkie has an edgy intensity which is counter-pointed by Hermione Baddeley's warm and vibrant portrayal of touring player Ida.

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Brighton Rock was not the only new and distinctive British crime movie to appear in the immediate post-war years, but the fine contributions of its participants, both behind and in front of the cameras have made it the most memorable. It remains the most celebrated antecedent of later works like, The Criminal, Get Carter and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.



Published by


Volume 14, No.168, December 1947, pages 170-1


Drama. Placards announce the arrival in Brighton of Kolley Kibber, journalist out on a circulation stunt. He is recognised by a gang led by Pinkie Brown, a 17-year-old boy, as being responsible for the death of Kite, the gang's former leader, and Pinkie resolves to kill Kolley. Kolley disappears, and later, when his body is washed ashore, the faked verdict at the inquest is "heart failure". Pinkie provides himself with an alibi which forces him to marry Rose, a waitress, who has evidence that would destroy it. Ida Arnold, a friend of Kolley's, never satisfied with the verdict on him, decides to take a hand. The police are slow to act, but Ida saves Rose just as Pinkie has staged a suicide pact and Pinkie falls into the sea. Rose is sent to a convent with her faith in the worthless Pinkie still unimpaired.

Brighton Rock is disappointing and difficult to follow. Those who have not read the book will be completely at sea, and those who have will be irritated at the tricks played with a superb story. One requires a knowledge of race-gang language to understand what the characters are talking about. The photography, especially in the latter half, is good, but there is not enough Brighton to be seen. It is well acted. Richard Attenborough, as Pinkie, is all Pinkie should be, ruthless, craven, sinister and sadistic, and he looks and lives the part. Carol Marsh, a new find, is a restrained Rose, and Hermione Baddeley, as always, is fruity, common and kind.