JUNIOR cop Ryan Pilkington has made a sensational return to Line Of Duty as the child recruit of gangsters who is now secretly embed-ded in Central Police.
The creator of the hit BBC1 police drama, Jed Mercurio, has even teased that the undercover criminal — played by Gregory Piper — might actually be a good guy after all.
The hint will spark huge speculation among the show’s millions of fans who were already reeling from seeing him join the murder squad at the centre of the new series.
Jed, who hired the then teenage actor for series one when it was filmed a decade ago, said: “It’s great to be working once again with Gregory Piper in the role of Ryan Pilkington.
“Now that Ryan’s a police officer, viewers will have to wait and see if he has turned over a new leaf or if he remains a dangerous inside man for organised crime.”
Gregory, 23, from Dudley, West Mids, was just 13 when he first appeared in 2012’s debut series.
He was the foul-mouthed hoodlum messenger for the criminal gang in cahoots with bent copper DCI Tony Gates, played by Lennie James.
He tried with bolt cutters to cut off the fingers of hero detective DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston), who was disrupting the operations of the Organised Crime Group (OCG).
Gregory then reappeared as a young man in the last series, playing a fully fledged member of the OCG, as he cut the throat of undercover-cop-gone-rogue DS John Corbett (Stephen Graham).
Gregory was thrilled to be given the chance to enjoy the Line Of Duty experience as an adult actor. He said: “At 13 years old, you don’t really take everything in and what is going on around you.
‘IT WAS TOP SECRET’
“Then I got this message out of the blue, saying they wanted to bring back my character for series five. It was amazing news. It was so top secret that I couldn’t even tell friends and family.”
At the end of series five the other members of his OCG had either been killed or arrested, as in the case of the gang’s second in command, Lisa McQueen (Rochenda Sandall).
She told police there were no more gang members at large, knowing full well Ryan had joined Central Police.
The last episode of the series saw him on parade at the police training college, leaving everyone wondering how and when we would be seeing Ryan again.
In the run-up to the start of series six earlier this month, social media has been buzzing about the prospect of him reappearing.
Megan Gallagher tweeted: “I can feel my frustration building for when Ryan Pilkington shows up.”
Paul Nixon added: “I wonder what’s going to happen with that rascal-turned-copper Ryan Pilkington?”, and Aurora Truelove wrote: “I am dreading Ryan Pilkington showing his face . . . we know it’s coming.”
But few could have thought he would be working with DI Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure), after she grilled the younger Ryan when he was arrested in series one.
They are both now in the team probing the death of TV journalist Gail Vella, which has the attention of police corruption-busters AC-12 because it has taken so long to solve.
And viewers were on the edge of their seats as DS Arnott arrived at the Murder Investigation Team’s offices and got close to being spotted by the man who had tried to maim Steve’s hand while it was jammed in a vice.
By the end of yesterday’s second episode it seems Ryan is secretly working for the criminal gang and controlling or watching the MIT’s boss — suspected bent copper DCI Jo Davidson (Kelly Macdonald).
The big question is whether he is actually a good guy, pretending to be a gangster, pretending to be a copper.
At the end of series five, we saw him in his police interview saying: “Where I grew up it was easy to fall in with the wrong crowd. My mum, she was off her face on drink and drugs.
“The person who made me see there was another way, to be a useful member of society, was a police officer, PC Simon Bannerjee. He’s the reason I wanted to become a police officer too — to help people.”
Only hardcore Line Of Duty fans are likely to recall PC Bannerjee, played by Casualty star Neet Mohan, the kind cop from series one who tried to help young Ryan see the error of his ways.
In the final episode of that series, he was seen giving the youth his card, telling him: “You can call me if there’s stuff you want to talk about, or you want someone to buy you a burger. Promise?”
Devotees have long suspected that PC Bannerjee might have turned Ryan, and he is actually spying on the criminals for the police.
But as with all Line Of Duty plots, we are left feeling anything could happen.
Gregory’s journey with Line Of Duty began while at a drama workshop near his home in Stourbridge, near Birmingham, where his tutor put him up for the role of Ryan in 2011.
The casting team wanted someone aged 16 or over, who would need no chaperone. But he made such an impact at auditions that they made an exception, with his mum’s consent.
Calling police officers “bent bs” and torturing pensioners on the show’s Borogrove Estate, a.k.a. The Bog, the devil child on a BMX soon shocked viewers.
But they were just as impressed with Gregory’s acting. He said: “The first thing someone would say would be, ‘God, you’re horrible’, but then they would go on to say, ‘Oh, but well done.’ ”
However, his role caused controversy, and in 2012 the BBC got into trouble for a “serious lapse” of care, with watchdog Ofcom finding the young actor was not sufficiently protected from emotional distress during “highly violent and adult” scenes which also contained sexually explicit language.
The BBC replied that the team had been in constant touch with Gregory’s parents during filming and he had come to no harm.
Although he did not return in series two, three or four, he still felt grateful for his big break landing the role in series one.
Gregory said: “I didn’t think it would go any further, and you just kind of thanked your lucky stars you had that experience in the first place.”
He returned to his studies at Windsor High School, in Halesowen, near Birmingham, continued at the same drama workshop he was at before and worked with local companies and shows.
Then when he turned 19 and was rehearsing for a production of Arthur Miller play The Crucible, Line Of Duty bosses got back in touch.
CRIME & VIOLENCE
Filming began in 2018, and Gregory was stunned to discover he had been given one of the most important and bloody scenes in the series — cutting the throat of John Corbett.
He said: “It was one of those moments where, read-ing the script, it was a big gasp. Stephen Graham’s character is so great that to think I had the responsibility of ending that was scary.”
But there were more surprises in store because Gregory had no idea his character would go on to join Central Police at the end of the season.
Now he thinks Ryan has the potential to do anything, because he has grown up desensitised by a childhood of crime and violence.
Gregory said: “If he was strong enough when he was younger he would have broken DS Arnott’s fingers but he wasn’t.
“Now he’s grown up and capable of doing the things he wanted to do.”
- Line Of Duty continues on BBC1 on Sunday at 9pm.
WHAT’S GOING ON?
WE are learning more, but is anything becoming clearer?
Here are ten key questions viewers need answers to after the latest episode.
- It’s now obvious that DCI Davidson, left, is in league with the criminals, but is it under duress? If so, what’s their hold? Could it be linked to the mother who appeared in the photo frame featured in the opening show?
- Did DCI Davidson ensure that Ryan Pilkington was placed in her department? Did she force out PC Jatri so he could come in?
- Did Kate really sell out her former department AC-12 by tipping off her boss about their arrival? Or was that just her protecting her own investigation as an undercover operative for someone else?
- Exactly why is John Corbett’s widow Steph, left, still talking to Hastings – and is Arnott visiting her out of a sense of decency or because he’s taken a shine to her?
- Why did the deputy chief constable block AC-12’s initial bid to “ambush” the MIT?
- Why did Jatri ask to be transferred? And has she REALLY been framed by DCI Davidson?
- What is the link between police, politicians and Jimmy Savile that journalist Gail Vella, left, was uncovering?
- Where does DS Buckells fit into all this? He seems fishy, particularly as his office contains yet more golfing references.
- DCI Davidson seems to hate AC-12 but why? Is she just fronting up to cover her tracks or does she have a long-lasting beef?
- Will Steve really go now he’s been made a DI?
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