Line of Duty creator Jed Mercurio loves to play the long game – and he’s really outdone himself this time, bringing back a key character who we last saw seven years ago.
“I want to ask the audience a question,” Mercurio announced at a series five screening in London. “Did anybody spot who one of the organised crime gang were? Did anybody spot…? The little kid from series one! The kid who was 12 or 13 riding around on that BMX bike!”
Yes, that’s right: troubled kid Ryan Pilkington (Gregory Piper) is all grown up, and is now a fully-fledged member of the balaclava gang. You can see him in press images standing behind crime boss John Corbett (Stephen Graham):
You may remember Ryan from his earlier work, which included yelling “bent b***ard” at Tony Gates (Lennie James) and shoving Steve Arnott (Martin Compston)’s hand into a vice so he could chop off his fingers with a pair of bolt-cutters.
The boy had a miserable home life with a deadbeat mum who couldn’t be bothered to look after him, and had become the terror of his council estate. His job with the balaclava gang involved delivering “burner phones” and riding around on his BMX bike, and despite the intervention of a well-meaning cop at the end of series one who promised to take him out for burgers, Ryan seems to have continued right down the same path.
The actor Gregory Piper was only 13 years old the last time we saw him in Line of Duty – and back in 2012, the BBC actually got in trouble for a “serious lapse” in his care. Ofcom found that Piper was not sufficiently protected from emotional distress during filming scenes of a “highly violent and adult nature,” which also exposed him to “sexually explicit language.”
According to the Birmingham Mail, the BBC said programme-makers had been “in constant dialogue” with the parents “before, during and after filming every day” and that “neither episode resulted in any apparent harm, distress or anxiety to the child actor.”
And four series later, Piper is making a comeback…
Line of Duty continues on Sundays at 9pm on BBC1