After 33 years in the New Zealand Police force, Graham Bell experienced a ‘career shift’ becoming popular host of Police Ten 7. On the air for 17 years, Bell was a hit with the New Zealand public as he colourfully described offenders each week. Recognised publicly for both his police and television work, Bell is arguably one of New Zealand’s most recognisable faces. Grandparents NZ had a Q&A with Bell.
When were you first approached to host Police Ten 7 and what made you agree to do it?
Just before retiring from the police I was the officer in charge of the investigation into the murder of Beverly Bouma at Reporoa. Screentime followed the investigation and filmed a documentary “Operation Bouma” which was screened on TV. Following this I was approached by Ross Jennings of Screentime who pitched the idea of me fronting a police programme when I retired. It sounded like a good idea so I agreed with the proviso that we include a crime solving element to ensure the co-operation of the Police Department.
You had a 33 year police career before moving in to television. Police Ten 7 first aired 17 years ago, how did the series affect you?
Once I became accustomed to the demands of being a TV presenter I really enjoyed it. It was good to be able to utilise the knowledge and skills I had built up in my 33 years as a police officer; and to remain in touch with many of my former colleagues. I also thoroughly enjoyed being a virtual ‘free agent’ and not subject to the policies, rigidity, curbs and restraints of the police department. I was also aware that my ’turn of phrase’ was not universally popular with police HQ.
How did the New Zealand public react to you being on TV?
I experienced virtually no negative responses from the NZ public. Wherever I went I was greeted with a positive and friendly attitude 98% of the time.
How do you think your experience as a police officer helped your TV career?
I couldn’t have done the job the way I did without my police background. Having widespread acceptance from the serving officers was vital and arose from my having been one of them.
If you were approached to do the series now, would you?
I would be happy to do it again; but I am older now and being tied to the demands of a weekly appearance would be more awkward. Mind you I am confident that I still have the ability and skills.
What have you noticed in terms of society since the beginning of your policing career and the beginning of the show? It does feel like crime has become more violent and widespread.
Despite how common crime reports seem NZ is still a relatively crime free environment. That crimes still make the news here indicates how unusual they are in the scheme of things. In most other parts of the world murders, rapes, robberies and violence rarely make the news unless there is something particularly sensational about it. NZ has between 70 and 100 homicides a year. In many places overseas they have that many in a week. The only blot on the horizon here is the proliferation of drug use, particularly methamphetamine, which is often an aggravating feature toward violence and mindless behaviour.
Across your television and police career, what has been the absolute career highlight for you?
Highlights of my career include many of the murder and other serious crime investigations I have successfully led; as well as making a success of Police Ten 7 over many years. I was awarded a Queens Service Medal in 2001 which was a very nice way to end my police career. Going to Wellington with my family for the investiture was a great day for all of us.
What do you get up to these days?
These days I still do some speaking engagements which I really enjoy, voice a few ads here and there and otherwise enjoy a quiet life in semi-retirement.