Oliver Crocker is a TV historian and has interviewed hundreds of cast and crew as the presenter of “The Bill Podcast” and the author of TV tie-in books “All Memories Great & Small” and “Witness Statements: Making The Bill (Series 1-3). As a Researcher his TV credits include three series of ITV’s award-winning This Morning. He also produced the special features for the DVD releases of “Z Cars”, “Dixon of Dock Green” and the 2016 feature film version of “Dad’s Army”.
- When did your love for classic television begin?
I can remember sitting down as a child with my mum and brother to watch an episode of “Thunderbirds” for the first time (the episode was “The Uninvited”, where the action takes place in a pyramid). This was around 1992 and I remember initially being reluctant at watching something that my mum said she had watched as a child, but of course we loved it and quickly became hooked. The following year, BBC2 started repeating “Captain Scarlet”, which I also loved. Then my dad started to introduce us to television he had enjoyed as a boy, including the original “Star Trek” and “Space: 1999”. In 1996, when Paul McGann starred in the TV Movie of “Doctor Who”, I was introduced to the series via a 16-page pull-out that the Radio Times printed, detailing the history of the show. There started an obsession and I began collecting the VHS tapes for the classic series and really enjoyed David J Howe’s companion guidebooks to the series. My grandad also gave me a TV Times book, 40 Years of British Television, which I found fascinating. When I was younger, I thought I would want to work in television and indeed I did for a few years, but along the way I discovered that I enjoy writing about my favourite programmes and interviewing the people who made them far more than I ever did making programmes myself.
2. Why did you start podcasting?
I had co-presented the Dad’s Army Podcast for a few years which I had enjoyed, though I was pretty hands-off and didn’t do any of the recording or editing myself. Then a few years later I fell in love with “The Bill” again, having watched the series regularly from the mid-90s. I started diving into the DVD box sets for the early episodes, which I had never seen. I had been recently making the special features for the classic police dramas “Z Cars” and “Dixon of Dock Green” DVDs, interviewing the surviving cast and crew. There was no special features on “The Bill” DVDs and having discovered that Network had stopped releasing them, I thought a podcast might be the best way to hopefully capture some gold-dust about the making of the series. Jon Iles (D.C. Mike Dashwood) was my first guest on “The Bill Podcast” and set the tone by being a fascinating, generous, amusing and honest interviewee. Almost five years later, I have interviewed over 80 cast and crew from the series! “The Bill Podcast” has been played over 220,000 times in over 50 countries worldwide and been nominated for three British Podcast Awards. I also reunite cast and crew on the podcast’s Patreon channel, where fans can unlock over 50 hours of exclusive content, including commentaries and reunions. There were nearly 2,500 episodes of “The Bill” made between 1984 and 2010 and there are still hundreds of cast and crew I would love to interview, so it should keep me happily busy for a while yet.
3. When did you begin writing and what are some of the benefits of being an author in the U.K?
I started writing the first edition of “All Memories Great & Small” in 2015, having been inspired by a walking trip around the Yorkshire Dales with my wife Tessa. We visited the World of James Herriot Museum in Thirsk, where I was very excited to see a mock-up of the TV set used in the classic BBC series, plus lots of memorabilia. I looked for a book about the series in the museum’s gift shop and discovered that there had never been one written. I then had a lightbulb moment and suggested to my wife that I could have a go at writing a book about the series. I had never written a book before and looking back my inexperience showed in my early drafts, but I was lucky that Matthew West at Miwk Publishing gave me a chance and took me on, giving lots of advice and feedback. I interviewed 60 cast and crew about their memories working on “All Creatures”, including the stars of the series Christopher Timothy, Peter Davison, Carol Drinkwater and the late great Robert Hardy. The book was released as part of the centenary celebrations for Alf Wight, the real James Herriot and I was honoured that Alf’s daughter, Dr. Rosie Page, wrote the book’s foreword and was incredibly encouraging. At the time I was working for a digital agency and when that job became a lot busier, I neglected my writing for several years, which made me unhappy and unfulfilled. In 2019, I made some changes to my life and dedicated more time to my writing and am now a full-time author and podcaster, which is exciting and challenging. I thankfully have a very supportive wife in my corner and lots of talented people I admire who are happy for me to take them for a trip down memory lane.
4. What personal challenges have you faced during the global pandemic?
I am a very sociable person, so I found lockdown difficult, though once I discovered Zoom I used this as a chance to start socialising with friends and also enhance my creativity. I started reuniting cast and crew from “The Bill” on Zoom, where I was able to reconnect some people who hadn’t seen each other in over twenty years. The gold-dust and interaction that came out of these sessions was such a tonic, not only for me as a historian, but as a human being. I have been lucky to build on this working with Misty Moon Events, who have hosted a series of “The Bill Reunions” on Zoom, where fans have been able to listen to memories of the cast and ask them questions. We are now looking at doing our first in-person event since the lockdown, back at the Cinema Museum in London. Though lockdown meant that the Zoom Reunions gave opportunities to fans who are unable to travel to London for events, so we are looking at live streaming the next event, so that fans anywhere in the world can join in the fun.
5. How has covid affected you as an author? What professional challenges have you tackled?
The pandemic affected many businesses, including the original publisher of “All Memories Great & Small”, who contacted me to let me know they were closing their publishing arm and that the book was going out of print. I found this out on the day the trailer for the new Channel 5 version of “All Creatures Great & Small” launched, which I knew would introduce new fans to the old series and I wanted to have All Memories back in print for when this happened… I looked at options and felt that self-publishing would be the way to go. I had recently launched devonfirebooks.com and self-published my second TV tie-in book, “Witness Statements: Making The Bill (Series 1-3)”, where I had tremendous support from Robert Hammond, who designed a gorgeous front cover as well as formatting and proof-reading the book. I wanted to challenge myself and learn new skills and the opportunity to re-release “All Memories Great & Small” meant that I could work on how to do the typesetting and formatting myself, though Robert Hammond once again designed me a beautiful cover. I didn’t want to limit myself to doing a straight reprint of “All Memories” and wanted to offer something new to the fans who had already bought the original book five years ago. I started approaching new interviewees and hunting for rare archive material to help me enhance the book for the Expanded Edition.
6. Tell us about your latest book.
“All Memories Great & Small” celebrates the making of the classic BBC series, told through the eyes of its makers. Every episode is accompanied by exclusive memories from 75 cast and crew, including fifteen new interviews conducted especially for the Expanded Edition. As well as the original regular cast, dozens of guest actors and members of the production team share fascinating insight into how this iconic series was made, and how they began their respective careers in television, with plenty of hilarious anecdotes along the way. I was also very lucky to use dozens more previously unpublished behind the scenes photographs for this new edition. Plus I was very grateful to utilise dozens of original call sheets, kindly loaned to me by Alison Lewis (Rosie Herriot), Jessica Sewell (Mary Clark) and Liz Robinson (whose father loaned the BBC his period car for use as James Herriot’s car in Series 2 and 3). These call sheets helped me create detailed production notes for multiple episodes, listing previously uncredited cast and crew, revealing locations and detailing in-depth dates for filming, rehearsals and studio recordings. Dr. Rosie Page also wrote an updated foreword for the book, which she describes as “A must for all Herriot fans, which will also be enjoyed by anyone with any interest in television production”
7. Where can readers find your book?
Signed copies of All Memories Great & Small: Expanded Edition are available from devonfirebooks.com on offer at £17.99 (RRP £19.99) with international shipping.