Good riddance to Ashfordly – where it’s been the 1960s for 18 years
The end of an error is upon us. One of Britain’s cosiest Sunday night habits has, as they say, been “axed”. This coming Sunday sees the beginning of the final series of Heartbeat, a programme described variously as a ‘1960s rural police drama’, a ‘nostalgic drama’ and, most damning of all, a ‘cosy drama’. Of course, it traditionally contained very little drama, being more of a whimsical period soap opera, but that didn’t stop millions of saps tuning in of a Sunday evening to have their brains turned to sloppy meringue at cocoa time, just in time for the working week to begin. At last, Britain’s woolliest police force have gone into cardiac arrest after nearly two decades in a coma.
Officially, ITV has cancelled it because it wants to concentrate on “new and varied drama commissions”, a laudable enough aspiration, and good luck to them, especially if they’ve realised that chasing an intelligent, discerning audience can be profitable too. But, really, Heartbeat‘s continued, mirthless existence exposed two decades of ITV’s gutless commissioning and scheduling. It had to go, it’s been hobbling on its useless, nostalgic limbs for a staggering 18 years, as dull and starchy as old, zombified offerings like Peak Practice and London’s Burning.
Never mind that Heartbeat was based on the Constable books of Nicholas Rhea, the pen name of real-life rural polis Peter Walker, ITV originally devised it as a commercial vehicle for Nick Berry, seen as a coup at the time due to his popularity on EastEnders and also in the pop charts. Naturally, he was allowed to murder the Buddy Holly song of the same name to use as the theme tune.
Of course a whole lot has changed since then: the lead character has changed several times and cast regulars have come and gone but essentially it’s still the same old sleepy, gentle, cosy, nostalgic nonsense it always was.
Naturally, I don’t expect there to be an earth-shattering climax to the whole thing but there is one thing I hope they explain – how has the town of Ashfordly mysteriously remained in the 1960s for 18 years? Surely the heroic Derek Fowlds of Yes, Minister and The Basil Brush Show fame, who has played Oscar Blaketon since Heartbeat began, holds the key? Will someone (probably some bubble head from another soap opera) finally point out no one could have aged that much within a decade? Or will there just be the mysteries of a break-in at the local haberdasher, a stolen doorknob and a lost dog to solve?