Former stalwart of The Bill, Graham Cole, says the acting industry is really going to suffer after the long-running ITV1 soap was axed on Friday.

Graham, who played Pc Tony Stamp for 25 years, told “A lot of young actors cut their teeth on the show. I first worked with Alex Walkinshaw, who plays Smithy, on The Bill when he was 14.

“It’s been a huge employer over the years and the acting industry is really going to suffer.”

Graham paid tribute to the show and its ‘wonderful legacy’.

“It’s a very, very sad day. I’m devastated for the actors and the crew. I know their contracts were up on Monday and they’ve been waiting to hear [what was happening].”

But Graham was pragmatic about ITV’s decision to axe a show that first screened in 1983. “It’s a very, very tough advertising environnment… But if viewers do want a real choice, they need to get behind ITV and these types of shows.”

Graham said he was pleased that ITV programming boss Peter Fincham renewed his pledge to create more drama. “They’ve always had a good commitment [to drama], so as long as it is committed to it that’s a good thing.”

He believed there still was a public appetite for detective and cop shows and pointed to the continued success of Midsomer Murders and Law & Order UK. “Policing has changed massively with the move to neighbourhood units and squads and they’re harder to make drama about.

“Maybe they could have slimmed down and changed it again? But ITV has changed massively – and it’s had to.”