So how does it feel to be the longest-serving cast member on The Bill?
I was actually in the very first episode, which was intended as a stand-alone drama, but was picked up and turned into a series. I had no inkling as to how popular it would be, and how it would run and run.
How did you get the part of June Ackland?
Well it came at quite a difficult period in my life. My husband, an actor, was away on tour leaving me to tend to our first child. Which on its own is quite a tough task, but I was also scouting around for new acting work, which I'd had to put on hold for the birth and so on.
So anyway I was put forward for the Woodentop audition, but to be honest I almost didn't bother. I just thought I was the last person who could ever play a policewoman, and it was quite a hassle to arrange babysitting for the two hour trek to the audition. And even when I turned up and did the thing, I was immediately apologetic, saying, "I'm sorry I wasted your time." So you can imagine my surprise when they said I was perfect for the part.
Did it feel odd to step into the uniform of a police officer?
I'll say. I was basically a caricature kid of the 60s, raised to view coppers with suspicion. You know, fight the power and all that. I'd been on my share of demonstrations, wearing silly clothes and railing against the establishment whenever I had the chance. So it was quite ironic, and did seem peculiar, when I put on the uniform of an officer. In a way, being on The Bill changed my view of coppers and gave me a newfound respect for their integrity and the difficult job they do.
Just how realistic is the show?
Well I guess viewers will always have their own opinions on how realistic the storylines are, but our research and planning behind the scenes is absolutely dead-on. For example, we wear actual, genuine police uniforms that we buy from the Met. There's a ritual of locking them away after shooting ends, and we're not allowed to store any one complete uniform in the same place.
And we must be doing something right because in between takes, cast members are often approached on the street by members of the public who've mistaken them for actual coppers.
Looking back over your years with the show, what's been the most memorable moment for you personally?
Actually one very moving moment that sticks with me didn't come while making The Bill, but was the result of my involvement with the show.
To put it into context, when I was young my mother had a Citroen car which she named Tootsie, after my childhood nickname (yes I was called Toots!). After she died I inherited the car, but was forced to sell it after new regulations about UK engines came in. I was very sad, and assumed I'd never see it again.
Then, years later, when I was down in Australia doing a promotional tour for The Bill with my friend Mark Wingett (Jim Carver), a man phoned up during a live radio interview to say he owned my old car Tootsie. Apparently, the man I'd sold the car to had shipped it Down Under, where it was sold to this new guy who bought it because he was a huge Bill fan.
He actually drove the car to the radio studio and let me have a go on it, for old time's sake. I was in tears!