Remembering Peter Walker - the man behind the television hit, Heartbeat
PUBLISHED: 00:00 24 May 2017
Peter Walker, otherwise known as author Nicholas Rhea, was the inspiration behind a programme ratings success that put Yorkshire on the TV map, says Tony Greenway.
Someone, I can’t remember who now, told me that I would love meeting author Peter Walker. ‘He’s a lovely man,’ they said. And he was, too: polite, hospitable and unfailingly modest. I interviewed Peter for Yorkshire Life back in 2008. He died in April this year aged 80.
He and his wife Rhoda and their daughter Tricia (also an author) welcomed myself and photographer Andy Bulmer into their North Yorkshire home, sat us down, made us tea and broke out the biscuits.
It turned out that Peter’s idea of an interview was simply to chat about everything and anything and, after half an hour, I realised that I hadn’t actually asked him any questions. When I did finally manage to get him to talk about himself and his writing career, his extraordinary achievements began to stack up.
Under the pseudonym Nicholas Rhea, Peter created the popular Constable series of books which became the inspiration for Heartbeat, ITV’s Sunday teatime ratings phenomenon. It ran for an incredible 18 seasons between 1992 and 2010, and was sold to 41 countries. ‘I’ve been very fortunate,’ Peter said. ‘I was a former policeman, just like the main character in the books. So I’ve struck a seam which I know a lot about.’
Peter was also tenacious. Before he found success as an author, he wrote 13 manuscripts, all of which were rejected by publishers yet he wasn’t deterred. ‘I knew that if I wanted to be a writer I had to sit down and apply myself,’ he said. In 1967, while still working as a policeman, Peter’s first book, Carnaby and the Hijackers, was published.
Encouraged by Rhoda, he kept on writing and, in 1979, produced his first Constable novel, Constable on the Hill (the final book in the series, Constable Over the Hill, was published in 2011). He later became a consultant on the Heartbeat series, reading all the scripts.
The impact of Heartbeat on Yorkshire’s tourist industry can’t be overstated. Fans from across the globe still travel to Goathland, which became the fictional village of Aidensfield in the series. ‘The show’s huge success meant images of our wonderful county were beamed into living rooms across the world,’ said Sir Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, noting that Peter had been a great ambassador for Yorkshire.
In all — and in between raising four children — Peter wrote 130 books under various pseudonyms, including a number of Emmerdale novels, the Pemberton series (featuring Detective Superintendent Mark Pemberton) and the Montague Pluke crime series. In 2007 he was given the Crime Writers’ Association’s John Creasey Award.
Writing was obviously a compulsion for Peter. He did it for love, not money.
‘The chances of becoming a millionaire through writing are a bit like winning the lottery,’ he said.
‘You’ve got to be JK Rowling, I think. I was quite realistic about embarking on this career, but I’ve enjoyed every moment of it. I’ve no regrets at all.’