Farewell to the Countryman

Peter Walker with his daughter Sarah

(This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 23rd June 2017, & the Malton Gazette & Herald on 21st June 2017)

I never imagined I’d be sitting here, in my dad Peter Walker’s chair, writing this column, the column that I grew up with week in week out for years. You don’t like to think about losing a parent, do you?

Dad was 80, and continued to write until a few weeks before he died. Even when he was no longer able to put finger to keyboard, he was writing tales in his head which he would share with those of us who were caring for him during his last days.

To Dad, writing was akin to breathing, he simply could not exist without it. He was also very determined, which was demonstrated early on. How many other budding writers would prevail after having 13 separate books rejected by publishers? But Dad did, and his first novel, Carnaby and the Hijackers, was finally published in 1967 (a very fortuitous year for him, as I was born that year too!).

Growing up, I just thought of it as his second job after a day’s work as a policeman. He’d come home, have his tea, then disappear into his study for two hours. He did this religiously, every night. I must mention my mum here, because she gave my dad the time to write by looking after us four children single-handedly for much of the time, which importantly meant he could earn extra money. Dad’s Catholic faith was very important to him, and he wanted to send his children to the top Catholic schools in the area, but a policeman’s salary would not support that, so he sought out opportunities to earn money from writing, and wrote and wrote and wrote, and ultimately achieved his goal.

I’m sure many of you know about his big break, which was having his Constable series of books picked up by Yorkshire TV to become Heartbeat, one of the most successful TV drama series ever screened. Dad was enormously proud, and its popularity was astonishing to him. I remember driving through Goathland (where the programme was filmed) and my jaw dropped on seeing the swarms of people walking around. Literally busloads of fans had descended on this once sleepy village. For some of the locals, it was an unwelcome intrusion, but for many more the TV series brought much-needed income and jobs to the area and it pinned the North York Moors to the tourist map. Since Dad’s death, we’ve received countless expressions of gratitude from people who own moor-based businesses saying they benefitted directly from Dad’s achievement.

And on that note, I’d like to say an enormous thank you for all the warm comments and tributes that we received since Dad died on 21st April. They really did help us get us through those very difficult first days and will continue to help us through more difficult days yet to come. What struck me most was how many people mentioned his humility and his kindness, and that was my dad through and through. He liked to make people happy.

So I am taking on his column, and what a daunting prospect that is, for they are very big shoes to fill. I appeal in advance for your understanding and forgiveness – I’m not my dad, and do not possess his encyclopedic knowledge of all things country, nor his expert Yorkshire knowledge, but I do have access to his huge archive, of which I intend to make very good use. And if I can in some way fill just the big toe of one of his considerable shoes, then I will be content.

Farewell Dad, I hope I make you as proud of me as I was of you.

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