Alex fits The Bill

IF ALEX Walkinshaw hadn t got his big break in The Bill 10 years ago, he could still be looking after his mate s snooker hall in Barking, writes MATT TROLLOPE. In between acting jobs in the 90s, Alex – housewives choice Smithy – worked at Flukes in Bark

IF ALEX Walkinshaw hadn't got his big break in The Bill 10 years ago, he could still be looking after his mate's snooker hall in Barking, writes MATT TROLLOPE.

In between acting jobs in the '90s, Alex - housewives' choice Smithy - worked at Flukes in Barking Town Centre.

"It was a funny old job, I never seemed to get paid, but spent all day playing snooker, minding the place for my pal. They were happy days, though, and I have fond memories and still have some good friends from those times."

Other more strenuous jobs included labouring, office fitting in the City and being a white van man.

"I'd be prepared to go back to any of that stuff tomorrow, if I had to - I'm not afraid of a bit of hard graft."

But hard graft as an actor earned the 34-year-old his break on The Bill...and Smithy himself has now risen to the lofty heights of Inspector.

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It was at the age of 12 that Alex first took an interest in acting, travelling up to the Sylvia Young Theatre School in Marylebone for Saturday lessons. When he was offered a full-time scholarship a year later, his mum went back to work full-time so the family could afford the fees.

Living in Salisbury Road, Barking, he went to St Margaret's Primary School, but the family moved to South Ockendon when he was six.

"My nan has lived in Barking all her life, near Barking Park. So I have knocked round that area all my life."

A former extra on Grange Hill, Alex had bit parts in The Bill on several occasions between 1992 and 1995, but joined as a regular in 1999 as Pc Dale Smith. After leaving in 2001, he returned in 2003 when his character was promoted to Sergeant, and earlier this summer Smithy was promoted again.

These days, Alex lives in Kent with wife Sarah and children Flora, five, and Jack, two, travelling back to the East End to use his West Ham United season ticket and see old mates from The Bill - award-winning author Roberta Taylor (Gina Gold) and Scott Maslen (Phil Hunter, now EastEnders' Jack Branning).

Talking to the Recorder as The Bill was relaunched in a new Thursday 9pm slot and in HD, he said: "There's a bit more drama now, more edge and atmosphere, and the incidental music helps add to all that. It's like the show has grown up a little bit."

After, 25 years, The Bill, through its various guises, has become a British institution, but what police shows did Alex grow up watching and how do the real police feel about the show?

"I loved Cagney and Lacey, Hill Street Blues and Juliet Bravo...these days I love stuff like The Wire.

"Some of the police I meet love the show, others get frustrated that we solve everything in an hour, without any paper work. Yeah, I guess our clear-up rate is pretty good."

* The Bill is screened on ITV1 every Thursday at 9pm.

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