The Cops — Killer TV no.47

BBC2, 1998-2001

Katy Cavanagh, Rob Dixon, John Henshaw, Steve Jackson, Jack Marsden
‘Just go back to your house, Mr Bassett.’ — WPC Mel Draper
‘You can’t talk to me like that. You’re only a slip of a tart.’ —Bassett
I’m a police officer, and I can do what I like.’ — Draper
Identikit: The lives, stresses and small triumphs of officers on the beat in the northern town of Stanton.
logosA drama that early on utilised the verite style of filming, which suited a series dedicated to portraying ordinary coppers in a realistic, sometimes harsh, light. Arguing, bantering crudely, dealing with foul-mouthed locals, the officers are caught in the hurley-burley of unglamorous, street-level law enforcement cum social work. This was a show that so displeased the police that they withdrew their assistance for the second series. No wonder when The Cops opened with a young female constable, Mel Draper, turning up for a shift straight from a druggie night out at a rave, when a more experienced officer played by John Henshaw was shown abusing the rights of a young suspect, or when another constable has sex with a female member of the public he is assisting. But the series also exposed the difficulties officers faced – the rancid corpses, poverty and abuse they encountered. The drama was done with higher levels of adrenaline and panache by the US series Southland more recently, but The Cops was far more compelling than The Bill ever was and way better than most of the ‘warm bath’ cosies and period cop shows made in the UK these days. It was nominated for three Baftas for best drama, winning twice. The Cops ended after series three because executive producer Tony Garnett – who’s got form for producing gritty policiers, such as 1978’s Law & Order and Between the Lines – did not want to make any further episodes. Which was a shame.
Classic episode: The pilot sets the tone perfectly as a new-broom sergeant – or ‘tosser’ as one wizened PC immediately christens him – turns up at Stanton nick after his predecessor has died of a heart attack while chasing a scrote. Unreconstructed copper Roy Bramell is launching a one-man vendetta to nail said scrote, Vince Graves. Vince lives on the Skeetsmore Estate which, according to Roy, is full of ‘dirty, thieving, lying scumbags’. And a probationer WPC has to fend off the advances of a horny SOCO officer at a flat where she’s found a stinking, fly-infested corpse. The series’ infectious style of overlapping stories, street-shot action and realistic dialogue all immediately mark The Cops out as a sharp drama that still holds up well if viewed today.

Watercooler fact: The Cops put John Henshaw on the cover of Radio Times and on the TV map. Quite a feat for a former bin man who only decided to become an actor at the age of 40. He has since been in constant demand, appearing in series as wide-ranging as Emmerdale, Casualty, Early Doors, Heartbeat, Downton Abbey and By Any Means.

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