GLOBAL warming or not, if it’s September, it must be time for a new series of Heartbeat.
Back on screen from the end of next month, this is series 16 of the sixties drama the TV critics love to hate.
But what do they know? It may be undemanding, easy viewing but Heartbeat is still one of the most popular shows on the box, a perfect fit for the 8pm Sunday slot.
And you do wonder if those who find it so easy to criticise the Aidensfield Arms regulars ever actually bother to watch the programme before spouting their views.
A huge amount of skill goes into making the ITV1 drama and keeping it fresh year after year, with storylines viewers can relate to and actors they welcome into their homes week after week.
I’ve lost count of the number of Heartbeat new series launches I’ve attended, but they always result in lots of feature material and plenty of smiles.
After a relatively recent spell of annual trips to Bettys Café Tea Rooms in York to interview the cast, they now gather in London to meet the press.
Earlier this week we saw the first episode of the new series, followed by clips from later stories, before chatting to over a dozen stars of the show.
The opening scenes feature an old friend of the series – one of the resident steam engines on the picturesque North Yorkshire Moors Railway. It’s bringing Pc Rob Walker (Jonathan Kerrigan) back to Aidensfield after two months in Ireland recovering from the tragic death of his wife Helen (Sophie Ward).
That first episode sees a new face on screen – district nurse Carol Cassidy, played by Lisa Kay. She’s joined in episode two by another new regular cast member – Det Sgt Rachel Dawson, played by Cheshire-raised Clare Wille.
Aidensfield also plays host to the usual wide range of guest stars, including Lancashire-born impressionist Jon Culshaw, former top umpire Dickie Bird, along with cricket legends Ray Illingworth and Brian Close.
And the big news for Heartbeat fans is that barmaid Gina Ward (Tricia Penrose) – pictured right – and old flame Pc Phil Bellamy (Mark Jordon) – pictured at the top of the page with Gina – are getting back together again. Though don’t expect it to be straightforward. The new series is, after all, 25 episodes long.
Cheshire-based Tricia took full advantage of Dead Ringers star Jon Culshaw’s appearance as a salesman with big dreams. “Now I’ve got his Ozzy Osbourne as my answerphone message,” she said.
There’s also a spot of drama for Gina in episode six, as you can read here in today’s MEN feature. There will be more when the series returns.