Back to the beat: Constable Nick returns

Nicholas Rheaby Peter Walker

When ITV’s Heartbeat ended in 2009, I decided to bring a close to my series of Constable books upon which the TV drama was based. They chronicled the work of a village bobby in the North York Moors during the 1960s and the TV series became hugely popular in the UK and overseas – with repeats still being screened.

The first book was Constable on the Hill (1979); the last was, appropriately, Constable Over the Hill (2011) with 35 others in between. In transferring these to the small screen, I became the Heartbeat script consultant, attending planning meetings and production both on location and in the studio. What impressed me was the dedication of the cast and production teams and their attention to detail, which produced a response from a serving policeman who told me he had no idea that ITV made documentaries about the police (I had to tell him it was a drama, not a true story) and another policeman commented, “I wish we had a sergeant like Blaketon.”

This indicated the efforts made to produce a realistic police series. One surprising outcome was that applications to join the North Yorkshire Police soared, including some from urban officers who thought a transfer to such a rural spot would be most enjoyable.

After the series concluded, several viewers and readers told me how much they missed the exploits of Constable Nick, Sergeant Blaketon, PC Alf Ventress and a certain rustic rogue called Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. It seems they also enjoyed the countryside and rural atmosphere. After a time, I decided I could relate more tales, setting them several years before Nick became the village bobby at Aidensfield.

The new series of Constable stories begins with Constable on Trial. As it was the ambition of many young constables to work in the Criminal Investigation Department, I decided to transfer Nick into civilian clothes and have him working as an aide to CID. It transpired Nick had been selected as a potential aide after arresting a thief whom he had noticed wearing a raincoat that had been stolen two years earlier (this was a true tale, it was my own coat!).

In those days – the late 1950s/early 1960s, suitable young constables were offered a short attachment to their local CID, being perhaps a period of three or six months. They were known as aides to CID but their attachment was really a test to determine whether or not they were suitable for non-uniform duties. This provided me with the title of the first in this new series – Constable on Trial. The “trial” was Constable Nick’s test period as an aide.

However, working as a police officer in plain clothes differed greatly from patrolling in uniform. Constable Nick was investigating crimes, not only those occurring in Strensford, but others in the entire Strensford Division which included a large rural area with lots of villages, a coastline and some busy market towns.

Among the crimes Nick had to investigate as an aide were break-ins on an estate near the town centre; car crime which was becoming more prevalent as people regularly parked their vehicles overnight on the streets, often with valuables on display; a thief taking cash from collection plates in a church; a murder in far-off Leeds and the many vehicles that were taken without consent. There were secret files, too, most dating to World War II when traitors were operating in Strensford, and a serious complaint from a householder who claimed that one of his garden gnomes had been stolen. It was all in a day’s work for Detective Constable Nick.

9780719818141I hope to write more tales about Constable Nick’s work as an aide to CID as I enjoy producing them, but whether the yarns will attract interest from TV is not something I can answer. I know my agent will be offering the books to a range of markets in the UK and overseas, but like a detective keeping observations on a suspect criminal, all I can do is wait and see what happens….

Buy your copy of Constable on Trial here.

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