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Epic police drama finally cops it

The Bill's police force are hanging up their handcuffs and batons for good, after 27 years on the beat. But, while many fans will be sad to say farewell to the crime-fighters, there's one man who's pleased it's all over.

Simon Rouse joined the ITV police series as Superintendent Jack Meadows back in 1989. Although he can't take the award for most time served on The Bill force -- actors Graham Cole, Trudie Goodwin and Jeff Stewart are ahead of him -- he will be the longest-serving cop in Sun Hill.

Rouse gets top marks for patience, not least because he's conducting this interview from a hospital bed in France, having been diagnosed with a kidney stone while on holiday.

His 21-year tenure took its toll, admits the Yorkshire-born actor. "To be honest, I was so relieved on the last day of filming," he says. "It was emotional because we were saying goodbye to friends, but for me it was good, because I've done just about everything I could have done as Jack Meadows."

Rouse got into acting as a teenager when he discovered there were "lots of pretty girls" at his local amateur dramatics group in Bradford.

Fresh from graduating out of drama school, he became the envy of his class mates when he landed a lead role in a film adaptation of Alan Sillitoe book, The Ragman's Daughter.

But once he'd set foot in Sun Hill Police Station, Rouse found it hard to drag himself away from the "lovely money".

Now it's over, he's free to return to his thespian roots and has already landed a part in a West End production of JB Priestly's "wonderful play" When We Were Married.

But that's not to say he didn't have a good time playing a trusted copper.

"I stayed primarily for the loot," he says. "But it was a smashing part.

"I had some incredibly happy times there, real camaraderie and a sense of ensemble, and it was great for me because the part was a leader, so I did loads of good stuff over the years."

Long-serving, responsible and trusted, Meadows still managed to bend the rules when he thought it was appropriate, and eventually his fractured private life also edged its way into the show.

Rouse has mixed feelings about these plot developments.

He says: "The marriage breakdown episodes were good ones to do. They were very real, but some of the other stuff, like when Meadows was after a prostitute, was ludicrous. Dreadful stuff.

"Then they had me chasing after Debbie McCallister which culminated in the funniest, most outrageous scene I've ever done in my life.

It was when we were in Meadows' office, when she was giving birth under my desk and Chief Superintendent Chandler was sitting on another desk, threatening to kill himself, and she was screaming, 'It's coming Jack. It's coming!' Oh my God. I've never laughed so much in my life."

Being on a show for so long, meant he was able to see how it changed over the years. The 59-year-old is pleased to note that the programme moved with the times.

"When I first started, it was quite Sweeney-esque, very laddish and quite chauvinistic. Then I noticed female members of the cast became stronger, which is quite right, of course," he says.

One change he didn't welcome was the shift in schedule to 9pm.

"When it was pre-watershed, it was for the family. We couldn't use bad language or violence and of course, because it was a cop show, those things are integral to the stories. It had a good energy because of that, you were trying to make up for stuff you couldn't do."

But by far the most exciting moment in Rouse's 21-year stint came in 2008, he says, when he got to go to Germany to film a crossover episode with German police series, Soko Liepzig.

And the series has even invited him back for another episode meaning that, despite The Bill coming to an end, Superintendent Jack Meadows will live on.

The final episode of The Bill and documentary Farewell The Bill are aired on August 31 on ITV