Heartbeat has been a TV success since it first appeared on our screens on the 10th April 1992. Heartbeat has a regular audience of around 16-17 million viewers each week and now has a fixed family slot each Sunday evening in the UK.
What is Heartbeat?
Heartbeat is a television drama series made here in the UK by Yorkshire Television. It is set in the 1960's and follows the day to day lives of the North Riding Police Force in and around the rural and beautiful fictional village of Aidensfield in the North Yorkshire Moors.
Heartbeat was first screened on Friday 10th April 1992. It was an instant success and over 12 million people tuned in for the first episode. And now nearly a decade later Heartbeat is still going strong with a regular audience of around 13-14 million people watching it each week. To date there have been Ten Series of Heartbeat broadcasted, the Tenth Series is currently being shown here in the UK. And after the UK soaps Eastenders and Coronation Street, Heartbeat is the UK's most popular television series, and without doubt was the most popular drama series on British television during the 1990's.
So why do people watch Heartbeat? and why is it so popular?
People like Heartbeat because they like to escape from the modern and busy world of today and for an hour each Sunday evening they want to sit down, relax and enjoy the magical atmosphere of Heartbeat. They enjoy hearing the 60's music again, seeing the scenery, the old fashions and haircuts, the old cars and of course they enjoy the great stories that make Heartbeat the great entertaining series it is. Its a show that the whole family can sit down and watch knowing there will be no bad language, sex or violence in it. Heartbeat is not only popular here in the UK, it also has a massive following overseas, but especially in countries like Australia, Canada Sweden and Denmark.
SO WHO IS IT ABOUT?
When Heartbeat first started, it followed the lives of PC Nick Rowan (Nick Berry) and his wife Kate (Niamh Cusack) who moved from the busy streets of London for the more quiet and rural surroundings of Aidensfield in the North Yorkshire Moors. Nick became the new village bobby and Kate eventually became the new village GP with Dr Ferrenby's (Frank Middlemass) Practice.
Kate later became pregnant, but sadly had Leukaemia and tragically died soon after the birth of their daughter, Katie.
Nick had to carry on, not only as a single parent, but also as the village bobby. Eventually Nick met the new village schoolteacher, Jo Weston (Juliette Gruber) and later he married her.
Soon after this Nick and Jo decided to emigrate to Canada where Nick joined the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Force.
But how did it all begin ?
It began in 1979 when the TV company Yorkshire Television bought the rights to a little known series of books written by a former rural policeman called Peter N Walker (left) - under the pen-name of Nicholas Rhea.
Yorkshire decided they wanted to make a new drama series set in their own area, and Rhea's novels (the first of which was called 'Constable on the Hill') which told the story of a young village policeman stationed in the Heart of the North Yorkshire Moors seemed to be just the sort of thing Yorkshire was looking for.
Walker went to meetings with Yorkshire Television to talk about the possibility of making a TV series based upon his books, it looked as if it would happen - but it didn't. According to Keith Richardson, Yorkshire's head of Drama and Heartbeat Executive producer (left) - 'It was just one of those projects that never quite got off the ground'. One of the reasons for this was down to the BBC's own successful series All Creatures Great and Small which was a huge success at the time. In many ways it was a very similar show to what Yorkshire had in mind and was also set in the beautiful surroundings of Yorkshire. That was based around the lives of 3 country vets between the 1930's- 1950's.
Yorkshire Television however still played an annual sum of money for the rights to Rhea's books for a further three years and then abandoned the project. Walker remembers that he was 'terribly disappointed' at the time. Walker continued to write - and in 1988 Yorkshire took up a second option on his Constable books, but decided they wanted to make some changes to the story details of Rhea's original stories before producing a TV series. In the original books PC Nick Rowan is a young man married to his wife - Mary (who would become Kate in the series). Mary was a traditional police wife who didn't work and devoted her life to looking after her children and backing up her husband. Yorkshire felt this should be changed and that an extra element would be needed to enhance the stories and make it more appealing to a large television audience.
Yorkshire started to think what they could do to give the stories that extra bit needed and they decided to give it a hospitals and medicine side, this had already been proven to be a popular subject in TV shows like the BBC's 'Casualty' series set in a modern casualty department. Mary then became Dr Kate Rowan who would be a newly qualified doctor. It was felt that the series would be more appealing this way and would create more stories of interest.
With the basic structure of the series finalized - It being set in the Yorkshire moors during the now very nostalgic 1960's and following the day to day lives of the young PC Nick Rowan and his newly qualified GP wife Kate. The problem now was what to actually call the show itself. Originally it was given the name - Country Constable, but it was thought that made it sound like an art programme. After thinking about it someone suggested Heartbeat. The idea being that HEART represented the medical side of the show with Kate and BEAT representing the police side and referring to a policeman's beat. This was then given the green light and the show was titled - HEARTBEAT.
Richardson and his team, with casting directors started to look for the actors who could play the leading characters in the show. Whoever would play Nick Rowan had to be someone young and already known - someone people knew and would take to easily. Actor Nick Berry (left) was very well known at the time for playing Simon Wicks (or Wicksy) in BBC 1's soap opera Eastenders. He had become very popular because of this and always seemed to be the most likely candidate to play Rowan. Richardson felt Berry was right for the part as soon as he meet him - Berry had only recently left the soap to pursue over work different to Eastenders, Heartbeat would be nothing like Eastenders and Berry was decided upon to play Rowan.
Now an actress was needed to play Kate Rowan - and actress Niamh Cusack (right), the daughter of the famous actor Cyril Cusack seemed the perfect choice. Everyone felt that Berry and Cusack looked right together and they got on well also. So now the main characters where out of the way.
Other supporting Characters such as Claude Greengrass and Sgt Oscar Blaketon (both in the original Constable stories) where to be played by actors Bill Maynard and Derek Fowlds. Both were known for their TV work over the years and also seemed perfect. The show was really beginning to take shape now and an image was beginning to form of what we all know as Heartbeat today.
It almost seems strange how Yorkshire chose the title of the show to be Heartbeat and that 1950's Rock and Roll star, the late Buddy Holly did a classic song titled Heartbeat. So it's not surprising that when someone suggested this be the theme tune to the show that everyone agreed. It's as if the song was made for the series. Nick Berry having had some success with a music career during his time on Eastenders with the song 'Every Loser Wins' (above left) in 1986 was then asked to record a cover version of Holly's song which became the theme tune for the show. A video to accompany the song was also produced showing Nick, dressed in ' Fab' sixties gear doing his washing at a Launderette and driving around the Yorkshire moors with a woman by his side.
The show's first series (10 episodes in all) was screened in 1992 in a post-watershed time slot and was laced with nudity and swearing, but proved to be the immediate success Yorkshire had hoped it would be. A second series was then commissioned by ITV to be shown in early 1993. However for the second series some alterations where made.
The show was toned down and the nudity and swearing was dropped in order for the show to be screened in a pre- watershed slot, it was re-scheduled from it's Friday night slot to Sunday evenings around 8.00pm. The Maskell family were dropped. The changes made Heartbeat an even greater success and a third series was screened later that same year. Then a fourth series was screened in 1994 and the number of episodes produced was then increased from 10 to 16 which included a special Christmas episode - A Winter's Tale.
Nick and Niamh worked together on Heartbeat for four and a bit Series - but then Niamh Cusack became pregnant and decided she wanted to leave the show. Yorkshire had a bit of a headache at first because they were unsure how to write Kate out of the series. Nick and Kate's relationship was so strong that it was very unlikely that one or the other would leave and go off with someone else or anything like that - so it was eventually decided that the best way for Kate to exit the series was for her to be killed off.
Because Cusack was pregnant in real life - Kate had to become pregnant in series 4 and she has her and Nick's first child - Sarah at the start of series 5. But Kate is diagnosed with acute Leukaemia and in the third episode of Series 5 - Thief in the night (right) she passes away. This was the first big change for Heartbeat and Yorkshire must have worried how the show's regular 17 million viewers would react to such a change. Luckily however the viewers stayed loyal to the show and it continued to bring in high rating figures.
A new character, District Nurse Maggie Bolton (played by actress Kazia Pelka - right) was bought in two continue the medical theme of the show and for a time it was hinted that Nick and Maggie would become more than just friends. But the show didn't head in that direction and instead Nick fell for the new School teacher, Jo Weston played by actress Juliette Gruber (below left). Gruber made her Heartbeat debut in the final episode of Series 5 - Blood Sports. Throughout the next too series Nick and Jo's relationship developed and in the series 7 episode Affairs of the Heart they married.
By this time however Nick Berry had decided he wanted to leave the show also, he felt he wanted to spend more time with his family and Heartbeat's filming required him staying in Yorkshire most of the time, especially as there were now 24 episodes to a Series being made. Gruber also wanted to leave the show and it was decided that Nick and Jo would emigrate to Canada where Nick was offered a new job as a Canadian Mounted Police Officer.
This was the BIG question time - would people stay loyal to Heartbeat even without Nick Berry in it? Nick was originally chosen for the part because of his popularity, so would Heartbeat survive without it's main star - only time would tell. On screen Nick Berry left the show on 25th January 1998 in the episode 'Local Knowledge'. It was the end of a era for Heartbeat. Well not quite - Yorkshire decided to go to Canada and film a special one-off episode of the show called Changing Places which showed us how Nick and Jo with little Katie settled down to life in Canada. The episode was initially only available on video and wasn't broadcast until 13th June 1999. Despite the fact the video had been on sale for well over a year by this time, the episode still achieved an audience of just over 11 million viewers. Nick Berry has since done other work and is currently doing a second series of his new show Harbour Lights for BBC 1 where he plays a Harbour Master called Mike Nicholls.
Just before Nick Berry's departure a new Constable was introduced to the show called Mike Bradley played by actor Jason Durr (right). At first to viewers his arrival must have seemed unpopular because no one it was thought could ever replace Nick Berry. Also at this time other major changes were happening to the show such as Derek Fowlds' character Oscar Blaketon had a heart attack was retired off from the police force and went on to run the post office in Aidensfield.
Maggie Bolton's Doctor husband Neil was introduced as a regular character, and to replace Blaketon as the Sgt at Ashfordly - the new character called Sgt Raymond Craddock was also introduced. But the show has survived all this change and is as strong as it ever was. Durr's now every bit as popular as Nick Berry was and the ever important viewing figures remain high.
The show in a way has now returned to it's roots with the two main characters of Mike and Jackie Bradley (a local Solicitor played by actress Fiona Dolman -left) married and because of their professional lives - their relationship sometimes suffers due to their differences in opinions - just the way Nick and Kate's did at the beginning.
As the tenth series of Heartbeat hit the screens in October 2000, this marked the 10 anniversary of the shows production. It was 10 years since Yorkshire Television after years of hesitation finally made Rhea's books into a drama series. However things were quite different in Yorkshire Televisions Aidensfield from how it was then. In the year 2000 while making the 10th series, show favourite - Bill Maynard suffered a serious stroke and was forced to quite the show. However the choice of casting actor, Geoffrey Hughes (left) as Vernon Scripps to fill Maynard's place in the series was an ideal choice and I think Heartbeat will recover from Maynard's absence very well as a result. Hughes has proved already by playing beer drinking slob - Onslow in the Comedy 'Keeping up Appearances' that he is quite capable of stepping into Maynard's shoes and taking over the mantle of being Aidensfield's new rogue. Hughes has the natural ability as an actor to do what Maynard has done since Heartbeat -day one, and that is to make people laugh.
However since Maynard's forced departure, other top characters have also left the show. Kazia Pelka left the show in August 2000 to move on and do other things and then Fiona Dolman also decided to leave in 2001 when her character walked out on Mike after she fell for a wealthy businessman who she represented in court. However despite all these departures, Heartbeat is still bringing in the audiences. series 10 on average bought in 13 million viewers each week, keeping it well and truly in the TV charts top ten shows, so its future is still very strong.
As the shows eleventh series stated to be screened in October 2001, heartbeats popularity was confirmed when Yorkshire Television announced that Heartbeat would be getting it's very own spin-off series - The Royal in 2003 which would feature the much welcomed return of Bill Maynard as Claude Greengrass as well as current Heartbeat regulars making appearances.
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