Maggie wouldn't treat me like that
By Karen Fredericks
When the producers of Blue Heelers first approached the Victoria Police to borrow uniforms, badges, cars and other paraphernalia to use in the show, the force was not keen. Producer Hal McElroy told the Sydney Morning Herald Guide (March 8) that the cops were concerned the show was going to depict the police as "weak, corrupt or incompetent".
The turning point apparently came when the police commissioner, Neil Comrie, summoned the producers to lunch to "please explain" an episode which featured a cop with a drinking problem.
"I looked him [Comrie] in the eyes and said 'I promise you that the police are our heroes. They are human, we see them make mistakes and they learn from their mistakes, but the Blue Heelers cops will always be heroes'", McElroy told the Guide.
Since that day, the level of "cooperation" grew to the point where the Victoria Police seconded an officer each year to act as the show's adviser, episodes of Blue Heelers were used as training films and cast members starred in police recruiting commercials.
The cast also participates in police charity events and, according to the Sydney Morning Herald story: "If the police force has an issue it wants to highlight it will suggest that Blue Heelers work it into an episode". According to McElroy, "Some Heelers scripts are even timed to coincide with the Victoria Police operations calendar".
I was pleased to read McElroy's rather frank explanation of the situation because it confirms what I have suspected for some time: that police media liaison units in Australia, Britain and the US control the vast majority of TV drama between 7.30pm and bedtime.
Anyone who chooses crime drama over hospital drama in the evenings will know that the police have a hell of a time fighting crime and that the main problem is all those stupid laws requiring a warrant for searches and bugging, and the right of crims (usually crack-addicted murderers) to legal representation, to remain silent, to a trial by jury, to be proved guilty before the scum-sucking bastard is thrown into some holiday camp of a prison, only to be paroled half an hour later and go and rape and murder yet another random victim.
Is it any wonder the poor old cops sometimes turn to drink or have some problems "relating to their significant other"?
Is it any wonder that, after a steady diet of Blue Heelers, Stingers, Halifax fp, Water Rats, NYPD Blue, Homicide: Life on the Street, Law and Order, The Practice, The Bill, Silent Witness, Cracker, Dalziel and Pascoe, Heartbeat, McCallum, A Touch of Frost and Inspector Morse (just to name the current crop), the citizenry are coming round to the police point of view: lets abolish civil rights for all those "psychopaths", "crims", "druggies" and "delinquent thugs" we see on the box every night. They forfeited their right to a fair trial when they hacked their innocent victim to pieces and posted them to the local mayor eh?
The Bill, like Blue Heelers, is a co-production with the local constabulary. Its central premise is that the British Police and Criminal Evidence Act (which sets out a few simple limitations on police powers) makes a bobbie's lot a most unhappy one.
Each week we cycle around the concrete jungle with the affable old bill trying to save elderly residents from teenage thugs. But how are we supposed to stop the 'orrible little delinquents stealing pension checks to buy drugs if we can't just whack 'em in the cells and keep them there until they confess? No, we have to let them "brief up" and ring their no-good junkie mother, and after 12 hours of interrogation we have to let them go! Is it any wonder kindly old grandmothers in pink twin-sets are too frightened to leave the house?
McElroy told the Sydney Morning Herald that Blue Heelers "has had a profound influence on the way people think about police officers and I'm proud of that. Right around Australia people are exposed every week to positive messages about the police and law and order, and they consume that unconsciously, particularly young people."
But all those "positive messages" can have some drawbacks for the cop on the beat. According to Heelers' executive producer, Ric Pellizzeri, police officers in Victoria sometimes get tired of people coming into their stations and expecting to find themselves in Mt Thomas, the cosy cop shop in Blue Heelers.
When treated less than politely by the pig behind the counter, many a tearful grandmother in a pink twin-set can be heard to sob: "Maggie wouldn't treat me like that".