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.

OUT NOW: Murder at Maddleskirk Abbey by Nicholas Rhea

Murder at Maddleskirk Abbey by Nicholas RheaWhen Constable Nick of Aidensfield retired from the Force, he was asked to advise the monks of Maddleskirk Abbey and its adjoining College about security. He suggested a small private police force of monks who would patrol in police uniform. With help from retired Sergeant Blaketon and ex-PC Alf Ventress, along with some practical input from Claude Jeremiah Greengrass, they trained the monkstables under the leadership of Prior Tuck.

But their litter-busting skills, car parking abilities and marshalling of visitors were set aside when a murdered man was found in a stone coffin in the crypt. Now they had to be real police officers as well as becoming detectives.

A murder team led by Detective Chief Superintendent ‘Nabber’ Napier
found themselves using the expertise and knowledge of the monkstables
particularly when an important pupil disappeared. And who was the sinister sculptor
who fled as the pressure intensified to find the killer and the missing boy?

Nicholas Rhea tells us, ‘Both York Minster and Salisbury Cathedral have their own private police forces who work with professional police officers when necessary. It seemed logical to create a small unit of trained constables to patrol a living abbey that is open to the public, especially as some of monks in my local abbey are trained fire officers who wear uniforms when tackling blazes.’

Murder at Maddleskirk Abbey by Nicholas Rhea is available to buy now with a limited time only discount of 30%.

Murder at Maddleskirk Abbey by Nicholas Rhea

Nicholas Rhea discusses his ‘Constable…’ series

constable on the hillNicholas Rhea is the pen-name for Peter N. Walker, formerly an inspector with the North Yorkshire Police and the creator of the Constable series, the inspiration for the long-running and critically acclaimed ITV drama series Heartbeat. As Peter N. Walker, he is the author of Portrait of the North York Moors and many murders and mysteries. He lives in North Yorkshire.

Here, he talks about the Constable books and where they all began.

Several years before ‘Constable on the Hill’ and the ensuing series featuring the work of a rural bobby, I wrote ‘Constable on the Town’ highlighting hilarious goings-on witnessed by police officers working night shifts. I offered it to several publishers one of whom rejected it with the comment, ‘There’s no market for Yorkshire humour.’ I put the book in the loft and forgot about it, continuing to write crime novels for Robert Hale.

Then early one evening, the landlord of the White Swan opposite my cottage asked if I could advise a customer about getting his book published. Off I went with the landlord (Brian) treating us to a pint apiece. When I asked the customer what sort of book he had written, he said it was about hilarious happenings to a country vet on the North York moors – including my village.

Considering myself very wise about reasons for rejecting humorous Yorkshire books, I told my new friend ‘There’s no market for Yorkshire humour’ but he went ahead anyway, using the pseudonym James Herriot. His success prompted me to write a similar series featuring a rural bobby. After all, I had been a village copper and called my book ‘Constable on the Hill’ because my police house was on a hill top.

The book proved very successful and so I unearthed my ‘Constable on the Town’ from its grave in the loft and re-wrote it as ‘Constable on the Prowl’, not then considering a rural series. ‘Prowl’ was set in a seaside town, but the success of ‘Hill’, especially its transformation into the hit ITV series ‘Heartbeat’, prompted me to continue the rural theme in thirty-six titles. In 2011 I brought the series to a close with ‘Constable over the Hill’ as I felt the books had run their course.

Nicholas RheaWriting them and then seeing my characters come to life on the TV screen was a wonderful experience as was my work with the cast and crew.

A couple of weeks before writing these notes, my wife and I were on holiday in North Wales when we met a couple from Australia – and they were still watching repeats of ‘Heartbeat’ back home, more than 20 years since the first episode in 1992.

However, some favourite characters from those books and ‘Heartbeat’ live on in a projected new series centred upon Maddleskirk Abbey and College with its team of monkstables – monks who work as policemen.


– Nicholas Rhea

Murder at Maddleskirk Abbey is published on 30 October 2013