Country of origin
No. of series
Final episode date
12 September 2010
Period crime drama
First episode date
10 April 1992
Keith RichardsonGerry Mill
"Heartbeat" performed by Nick Berry
Heartbeat is a British police drama series set in 1960s North Riding of Yorkshire and broadcast on ITV in 18 series between 1992 and 2010. It was made by ITV Studios (formerly Yorkshire Television) at the Leeds Studios and on location. Heartbeat first aired on Friday 10 April 1992 (it was later moved to Sunday evenings). The 372nd and final episode aired on Sunday 12 September 2010.
- First series
- Subsequent series
- Heartbeat around the world
- Special programmes
- The Royal
Heartbeat proved popular from the beginning, when early series consistently drew over 10 million viewers. In 2001, Heartbeat came sixth in the UK TV ratings list with a peak audience of 13.82 million, and it was sixth again in 2003, with 12.8 million viewers. In autumn 2008, typical viewing figures were around 6 million per episode.
Originally conceived as a vehicle for Nick Berry, on whom early series centred, the show has seen many characters come and go over the years. The final series starred Derek Fowlds, William Simons, Tricia Penrose, David Lonsdale, Peter Benson, Steven Blakeley, John Duttine, Gwen Taylor, Lisa Kay, Clare Wille, Joe McFadden, Rupert Ward-Lewis, and Nikki Sanderson. Derek Fowlds and William Simons were the only main-cast actors who remained with the show over its entire 18-series run.
Heartbeat is set in the 1960s. Although the specific timeframe is vague, various episodes appear to correspond to events between 1964 and 1969. The series initially revolves around the work of a group of police officers in the fictional town of Ashfordly and the village of Aidensfield in the North Riding of Yorkshire.
The series was originally based on the Constable books written by former policeman Peter Walker, under the pen-name Nicholas Rhea. The title Heartbeat was chosen to represent "the bobby's beat and the medical connotations of the word 'heart'" ("bobby" being British slang for a police officer (from Robert Peel), and "medical connotations" referring to the medical themes that have featured regularly in the show since its inception). The show was originally a starring vehicle for ex-EastEnders actor Nick Berry, cast as PC Nick Rowan, the Aidensfield policeman newly arrived from London with his wife Kate, a doctor. Berry also sings Heartbeat's theme song — the Buddy Holly song of the same name. Berry's recording reached number 2 on the UK singles chart in 1992.
In later series, the role of the village policeman continued to be central to the storyline but the main cast were listed in alphabetical order in the opening credits, reflecting the show's evolution into an ensemble drama. In the 2005 series no fewer than twelve regular actors had their names and faces included in the opening credits— at the time a record for any British series. In series 18 (2008–10) this had increased to thirteen. The record has since been broken by Holby City, which during the later stages of its 2009–10 series had sixteen regular actors appearing and listed in the opening credits.
The show rarely features political storylines, though occasional references to the counterculture movement are made during some episodes. Sixties pop music is prominent, forming the soundtrack to the show, as well as some 1950s records. Some 1970s records appear anachronistically, such as the Hollies' 1974 song "The Air That I Breathe". In an extreme example the closing scene of the series 17 episode "You Never Can Tell" is accompanied by the Flying Pickets' 1983 song "Only You", an episode which featured a guest appearance by the band's lead singer Brian Hibbard.
Although its storylines regularly involved serious crime and human tragedy, later series of Heartbeat dealt with these themes in a relatively cosy and comfortable manner compared to many modern TV police dramas, and much of the grittiness and social realism of the early series disappeared, though Episode 16.14 ("Another Little Piece Of My Heart") was preceded by a viewer discretion warning for "containing scenes of domestic violence".
The first series dealt mainly with the experiences of a young married couple, PC Nick Rowan and Doctor Kate Rowan, arriving in a small North Riding village after living in London. Both faced initial suspicion from the villagers, but over the course of the series came to be accepted as part of the community. The stories focused almost entirely on the experiences of the two main characters. The build-up to the wedding of Sandra and Alan, two youngsters from the village, provided a running thread through the first series. However, Sandra and Alan were never seen, or even mentioned, after the first series.
Once the characters had settled in, subsequent series focused more on criminal and medical storylines, with a greater role for the other policemen at the Ashfordly station, who had appeared in the first series but only as quite minor supporting characters. Various new characters were introduced along the way, such as Gina Ward (played by Tricia Penrose), who would eventually become landlady of the Aidensfield Arms village pub, Bernie Scripps (Peter Benson), undertaker and proprietor of the Aidensfield Garage, and David Stockwell (David Lonsdale), hired hand and taxi/lorry driver. During the filming of series 4 Niamh Cusack, who played Nick's wife, became pregnant with her first and only child. In attempts to keep her to continue with the series the show's producers offered to write a new child character into the Rowan's storyline. Before filming for series 5 began Cusack decided that the prospect of motherhood meant it was time for her to leave the cast of Heartbeat and hence her character was "killed off" in 1995. After Kate's death from leukaemia (in series 5), Nick Rowan gained a new love interest, teacher Jo Weston Juliette Gruber. The two married and emigrated to Canada, and the central role of local Aidensfield bobby subsequently changed hands several times—as did the role of Aidensfield doctor. These and numerous other changes to the cast that took place over eighteen series are detailed at List of Heartbeat characters.
Two regular characters survived from the first series right through to the 18th and final series: police-sergeant-turned-pub-owner Oscar Blaketon (played by Derek Fowlds) and police constable Alf Ventress (William Simons). Constable Phil Bellamy (Mark Jordon), another original, was written out of the show in Series 17 (at his own request) after he was shot dead. The recurring character of local landowner Lord Ashfordly (Rupert Vansittart) lasted through all 18 series, and Gina Ward (Tricia Penrose), who was introduced early in the second series, was also present until the end.
Most episodes from later series follow a fairly similar structure. The main storylines are generally to do with criminal activity and related medical matters, and personal traumas. Typically one or more crimes take place, which are investigated by the Aidensfield police and the other policemen from the Ashfordly Police Station. The villains are almost always apprehended by the end of the episode, and usually appear for one episode only.
In the intro to series 18 David is shown driving his lorry as a left-hand drive vehicle with the number plate in mirror form. Obviously the film is reversed.
In parallel, the regular "lovable rogue" character of the day—a role originally filled by Claude Greengrass, played by Bill Maynard—drives a sub-plot which acts as light (and sometimes comic) relief. Typically this sub-plot involves a doomed money-making scheme, or a business venture that falls foul of the law. Other regular local characters get involved in the main plot or sub-plot in one way or another, with the Aidensfield Arms and Aidensfield Garage featuring prominently. The character of Greengrass remained in the show from its inception until December 2000, when Maynard was forced to leave because of poor health (though he would later return in the first series of spin-off, The Royal, in 2003). The role of "lovable rogue" was then taken over by Vernon Scripps, played by Geoffrey Hughes, from January 2001 until March 2005, and finally by Peggy Armstrong (Gwen Taylor).
Storylines are mostly self-contained and usually resolved within the episode, but character and relationship development can take place over several episodes and series.
The series was filmed at various locations around North Yorkshire. Exterior scenes of Aidensfield are filmed in the village of Goathland in North Yorkshire, with the village's railway station also appearing occasionally. Other prominent filming locations include Whitby, Otley and Scarborough. The "Heartbeat: Changing Places" special includes location filming in Canada and two series 18 episodes were filmed on location in Australia.
When real-life maps are shown, the town of Ashfordly appears to correspond to the location of Grosmont, approximately 6 miles (10 km) southwest of Whitby.
When Heartbeat first began on 10 April 1992 it aired on Fridays at 9.00 pm (on the ITV Network) but from series 2 it was moved to Sunday evenings in the 7.00 pm or 8.00 pm timeslot. All Heartbeat episodes are around 42–51 minutes long (one hour with adverts). The opening episode of Series 11 was planned to be the show's first two-hour episode, but it was eventually split into a two-part story, "Sweet Sixteen" and "She's Leaving Home". In 1994 a one-off feature-length episode was filmed, starring Lloyd Owen as constable Tom Merriweather.
Heartbeat repeats have appeared on ITV during the summer months (often billed on-screen as "Classic Heartbeat"), typically at 5.00 pm or, in 2006, at 4.00 pm. In 2006, episodes from the first few series were repeated again. Most of the swearing ("bloody", "bastard", etc.) and violence that was present in the early episodes was edited out for these daytime broadcasts.
For several years (as of 2012) Heartbeat reruns from various series have shown on ITV3, formerly in the original two-commercial-break format and latterly with three breaks. These repeats run daily each weekday lunchtime, with a second airing in an early-evening timeslot. Episodes from different series are shown on ITV3 at weekends.
As of Autumn 2015, series 1–10 is being aired on the new ITV Encore channel, which is only available on the Sky TV platform. These episodes were broadcast at a time when ITV had two commercial breaks and therefore have a running time of around 50 minutes. However ITV Encore has 60 minute programme slots which include three commercial breaks, so some scenes are edited or have been completely removed, purely for timing reasons. An example of this was the series 7 episode 22 "Unconsidered Trifles", in which the scene with PC Mike Bradley and Bernie Scripps herding cows back into the farm shed was completely omitted.
Ratings slowly declined after series 12, when the schedule was split in half to incorporate the launch of The Royal. Series 1 and 2 (1992-1993) aired between April and June, Series 3-6 (1993-1996) moved to the autumn schedule between September and December when there were either 10 or 16 episodes per series. Series 7–11 (1997-2002), comprising 24 episodes, aired between September and March.
Heartbeat around the world
The show has, at various times, been seen in the following countries:
When the episodes are aired or repeated abroad, some tracks have been replaced from the original UK episodes; this is due to either copyright or clearance issues from the various record companies.
This is very noticeable in Series 7 Episode 20 "Local Knowledge", in which Nick, Jo, and Katie leave for Canada. In the original UK TV version broadcast in January 1998 (and the November 2015 repeat on ITV Encore), the last scene at the railway station featured the 1966 John Denver Track "Leaving on a Jet Plane", although the 1969 version by Peter, Paul and Mary was used. However, on foreign broadcasts and DVD releases this is replaced with the 1964 Gerry and the Pacemakers hit "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying". Even though this was done for copyright reasons the scene does have a different tone depending on which version is viewed.
On 5 June 2001, ITV planned cutbacks for dramas such as London's Burning, Heartbeat and Peak Practice to make room for new commissions. A spokesman said "The temptation is to just cancel long running shows. But if you do that you can spend years trying to find replacements that achieve the same viewing figures."
Kathleen Beedles, the new producer as of series 18, originally said Heartbeat was expected to continue until at least series 20 (at the time scheduled for 2010–11). However, it was announced on 28 January 2009 that production of both Heartbeat and its spin off show The Royal would be suspended for an unspecified period of time so that a large backlog of unbroadcast episodes could be cleared. Some newspaper reports interpreted this as meaning the show would be permanently cancelled. Further reports in early March 2009 stated that Heartbeat along with The Royal and several other ITV shows had been axed owing to budgetary cuts necessitated by falling advertising revenues. A report in The Telegraph suggested Heartbeat may return in "a new lower budget form".
In March 2009 a meeting to discuss the future of the show took place between ITV bosses and Heartbeat cast and crew members. The mood after the meeting was reportedly pessimistic about the show's long-term survival. Actor Steven Blakeley, who plays PC Younger, said the cast were to be released after series 18, indicating the show had been cancelled and filming had finished.
News of the show's alleged cancellation prompted protests from Heartbeat fans around the world as well as from communities in the Yorkshire Television region where the series was filmed and where the Heartbeat-themed tourist trade is seen as an important part of the local economy.
In January 2010, rumours were published that Sky might buy Heartbeat from ITV and take over its production. In February 2010, it was reported that Adam Crozier, the newly appointed ITV chief executive, would be responsible for making the decision about the future of the show. In March 2010, a survey was carried out by the Whitby Gazette, a newspaper local to the area in which the show is set, asking "Do you think that popular ITV show Heartbeat should be axed after 16 years?" 71% of respondents voted "No", 19% voted "Yes" and 10% voted "Don't Care".
Series 18 was unusually protracted. Filming ran from May 2008 to May 2009. It premiered on 12 October 2008 and took a break after the sixth episode, then continued from 19 April 2009 to 14 June 2009. The last nine episodes were shown between 18 July 2010 and 12 September 2010 in the UK, but in Sweden on TV4 from 25 August 2009 to 4 September 2009, and in Denmark on TV2 Charlie from 16 December 2009 to 24 December 2009.
During the period of uncertainty about the show's future, ITV continued to maintain that reports of the show being "axed" were untrue, saying that production was "taking a rest" so that stockpiled episodes could be aired. However, on 25 June 2010, ITV finally confirmed that the show would be cancelled after series 18, with a spokesman saying "Heartbeat has been an important part of the television landscape over the last 18 years and we are incredibly proud of what it achieved in its heyday as one of ITV1's top rated dramas".
The ITV medical drama series The Royal was originally a spin-off from Heartbeat, with the twelfth-series Heartbeat episode "Out of the Blue" serving as an introductory pilot for the show, with the Aidensfield police officers conducting parts of their investigations in "The Royal" hospital. The series initially had close ties with Heartbeat, and several Heartbeat characters made an appearance. Over time, however, the crossovers were dropped and The Royal developed its own identity.