by Wild Bill writers Jim Keeble & Dudi Appleton
There are a different types of writing partnerships – some take a character or a scene each and send to the other, but we like to actually write in the same room, together. It’s line by line, word by word and sometimes comma by comma.
It seems pretty weird to other people but we know each other well. We met on the first day of college and were friends before we started a working partnership which continues to this day. We had a shared passion for film and music back then and we weren’t always able to find the things we wanted to see and hear. So it seemed logical to make them ourselves.
The original idea for Wild Bill came from David Griffiths, who read a piece in the LA Times about David Cameron posing the concept that British police chiefs could come from English- speaking countries outside of the UK. He was trying to pave the way for the NYPD’s Bill Bratton to come and take over the Metropolitan Police. That never happened, but the one thing it did lead to was Wild Bill.
The series is about an improbably handsome and successful American cop who comes to run a police force in Boston, Lincolnshire. He’s running away from something but we don’t know what, and bringing with him his young teenage daughter. He finds himself in the last place he wanted to be and yet maybe this is actually the place he needs to be – and that needs him.
Rob Lowe was already set to play Bill Hixon, so we weren’t just imagining an American cop in the UK, we were imagining Rob Lowe as a cop in the UK and that affected much of our thinking about the show. Particularly about where we should set it. We thought about one of the big, metropolitan areas of the country such as Manchester, Liverpool or Birmingham, but soon started questioning how different that really was from an American metropolitan area.
We liked the absurdity of putting Rob Lowe in Lincolnshire, and what that would bring out in him and what he would bring out in the place. In Manchester or Liverpool, he’d still be able to get the coffee he drinks, the sushi he eats and the exercise classes he could find in any major city in the States, so it needed to be somewhere removed. So the show becomes less about an American coming to England and more about a metropolitan guy going to a place where he can’t get what he wants, can’t live the life he’s used to – a place that will push all his buttons.
In this respect, we wrote it from our own points of view. We live in and around London and that metropolitan life is pretty familiar. So going to Boston, Lincolnshire was about as foreign for us as it is for Bill Hixon. It’s very easy to see people in more rural areas as the ones who can’t be removed from their environment, but actually, we’re the ones challenged by it when we’re there. It challenged us and in turn, we wanted to challenge Bill – to put him in a place that he doesn’t understand and that has no interest in understanding him.
Get the season one Wild Bill DVD HERE
Boston was in the news a lot when we were developing the show. It was frequently cited as the Brexit capital of Britain, with the highest Leave vote in the country and also in a recent year had the highest level of homicidal crime. Boston is a beautiful town with an amazing cathedral built around a grand market square. It also provided many of America’s founding fathers. It has been through some hard times of late and yet it retains a really strong and particular character all its own. It also very much has its own rules, and that opened the door to certain types of stories.
The Lincolnshire landscape also provided fascination. There’s nowhere else quite like it in the country, and it seemed the closest thing we have in the UK to a mid-west American landscape, with vast fields, endless skies and those single tracks with a remote farmhouse at the end of them. At night, distant lights across vast fens take on a life all their own. It felt to us like a place that hadn’t been seen on British screens.
Bill Hixon is this metropolitan guy who is sent to this rural area that is entirely different from what he wanted and is used to. But his deep, dark secret is that – like many of us – he ran away from a place like this. So what is it like to have to go back? He’s worked so hard to develop this sophisticated persona and now he’s being sent to a place very much like the one he wanted to escape. So the joke continually comes back to kick him in the ass (or as his boss Keith would have it: “Arse Bill, with an ‘r’. If you’re going to stay here, learn the bloody language.”)
Here in the Lincolnshire Flatlands, Bill Hixon is forced to confront the messiness of humanity that he fled when he left for the big city.
Though Bill is a Chief Constable who shouldn’t really be investigating cases, each episode forces him to emotionally engage with stories beyond his buttoned-up persona. It’s conceived as a procedural crime show and we worked hard to create the twistiest and turniest of plots, but it’s mainly concerned with Bill’s emotional journey via the characters that he encounters. For a guy who likes to hide his emotional side behind a bank of screens, figures and data, the cases and characters Bill meets continually push him way beyond comfort. And that’s without dealing with his teenage daughter.
We both felt that we had a sense of Rob Lowe from his previous work, and that’s what the audience will bring to it too. This meant that we weren’t just playing with the actor, but also our perspective of the actor. Luckily Rob has a great comedic sense as well as being able to let the veil drop when you least expect it, letting you glimpse behind a polished exterior. We needed something that was going to puncture the polished, perfect shell of the Hollywood actor and Lincolnshire provided that.
What we didn’t want it to be is all about how different Americans and Brits are because that’d get tired pretty quick. What is funnier to us is the idea of a guy and a place that both use humour to get through the day. Neither Bill nor Boston suffer fools gladly.
All of these stories are somewhat heightened, which lends itself to a particular sense of humour and way of looking at things. Mainly at the absurdity of our disconnected modern lives. Our villains aren’t master crooks, they’re mainly ordinary people who have ended up doing something extraordinary – or extraordinarily stupid – as a result of their circumstances. We never set out to be particularly procedural or consciously comic, we set out to throw Bill against life and life against Bill and see how they deal with one another.
Wild Bill is a bit different. We don’t feel we’ve seen anything similar in the approach to crime and character. It’s lyrical, funny and thrilling. It has a lot of ingredients. It’s also cinematic, which was another good reason to set it in Lincolnshire. Everything is widescreen there. The show has a lot of different elements, and we’re hoping that all of that works together to provide something fresh and new.
It also has some very universal themes. We are very divided as societies both here and in the US, and this show seeks not only to demonstrate that divide but also bring the two sides together. It’s not always harmonious, but it does stir the pot. And if that isn’t a Lincolnshire saying, it really ought to be.
Get the season one Wild Bill DVD HERE