ITV’s decision to axe The Bill will see the industry lose one of its most important training grounds for on-and off-screen talent, according to people close to the show.

The drama will end in the autumn after 26 years and its format and history of innovation meant it was seen as an environment where directors, producers, writers and actors could test ideas and build their reputation.

“The Bill has always been a show that is director-friendly and has proved a breeding ground for many. You were able to go where you wanted to with the format,” said AJ Quinn, who directed 17 episodes between 1993 and 2009.

“The fact it will not be around is sad for directors in the current landscape because you want to play [with ideas], but there is a pressure to perform.”

Other former The Bill directors include Antonia Bird, Rob Bailey and Peter Cattaneo, who went on to direct Spooks, CSI New York and film The Full Monty respectively.

Paul Marquess, executive producer of The Bill between 2001 and 2003, described the show being axed as “tragic” and said the production had an excellent track record of promoting from within. He described it as a “university in storytelling” for writers.

Bectu supervisory official Tom Bell said the drama provided “wonderful opportunities” for talent to blossom. “An enormous asset to the industry, possibly unique outside of the BBC, will be lost,” he said.

The views chimed with those expressed on broadcastnow.co.uk.

“We were once world leaders in drama, and now there are fewer places for new writers, actors, producers and script editors to cut their teeth,” said one respondent.

An ITV spokesman said it would continue to invest in new drama. “This ongoing commitment not only represents an opportunity for those currently working in the production industry but also for those who are keen to embark on a career in television,” he added.