As The Bill gears up for a major six-part storyline centred on a troubled comprehensive school, we chat to the show’s story editor Noemi Spanos about how ideas get from script to screen…

How long have you been a story editor on The Bill?
“I’ve been here for a year and a half. Before that I was on Waterloo Road and then EastEnders as a script editor, working more closely with the script process than the overview that I do now.”

Where did the idea for the schools storyline come from?
“We often explore the issue of youth crime on The Bill but we became interested in how the police work with schools to tackle the problems of drugs, knives and violence among its pupils. We carried out research with a police liaison officer and spoke to teachers and youth offending officers. We realised it would be difficult to cover the topic in just a stand-alone episode so we thought ‘why not do a six-part season’ with the school at the heart of it.”

Why six episodes?
“This allows us to really get under the skin of all the issues. We also wanted to give the character of Nate his biggest challenge to date and thought sending him back to school would be a good way to do that.”

What was it like talking to a real school liaison officer (SLO)?
“He was really useful resource. The role of a school liaison officer involves everything from educating the pupils against carrying knives to controlling the playground and dealing with any criminal act committed in school. The SLO must gain the trust of the pupils but must also be clear with them that their job is to uphold the law. It’s a fascinating position and we wanted to explore that pupil/teacher dynamic through Nate and the pupil Jimmy, who is in all six episodes.”

Does The Bill consult real police for advice on storylines?
“Yes always. We’ve got a researcher who puts us in touch with specialist police officers and we have three police advisors who work for us full-time on The Bill. They read all the scripts to make sure we are procedurally accurate. It’s one of the most important things at the Bill to make sure we are procedurally accurate – that we are depicting reality wherever we can.”

Does The Bill’s writing team ever run out of ideas?
“Because we meet people from all areas of policing we are never staring at a blank page. We did a story a little while back about domestic sex trafficking which wasn’t something we were aware of until one of our police advisors put us in contact with a detective. Sometimes a story comes to us and sometimes we have to search for it – but we haven’t run out so far.”

Once you have your idea and have done your research what happens then?
“The script process takes about three months per episode, so for this six-parter we had various different writers working on each of the different episodes because they couldn’t do six all on the go at once. And then it is off to shooting…”

And are you happy with the end result in this instance?
“We are really pleased with the School Season. There are some really great young actors in it and some really meaty storylines; the six-part format allows us to really get to know each of the guest characters, which sometimes you don’t get to do in single episodes. It is also a really great opportunity for Ben Richards. It is a coming-of-age tale for him which is brilliant, we are really really happy with it.”