Off to School in a Heartbeat

(This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 10th August, & the Gazette & Herald on 8th August 2018)

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My dad failed his English so joined the police as a 16-year-old cadet

I was thrilled to learn that Heartbeat has been voted the greatest Yorkshire Television programme of all time by readers of The Dalesman magazine, which is fitting in the year that marks 50 years since YTV was born (It came third in the overall poll behind two wonderful rivals, Last of the Summer Wine (2nd) and All Creatures Great and Small (1st), both made by the BBC).

More than 3,000 people voted and, were he here, my dad would be amazed to know that the programme is still held in such high esteem more than 26 years after the first episode aired. Fans continue to visit Goathland, where the series was set, to rekindle their nostalgic memories about the lovable characters and beautiful locations featured in the show.

Heartbeat was based upon my dad’s Constable series of books in which he drew upon his 30 years’ experience as a rural policeman. He was born to write, and persisted despite a number of setbacks in the beginning. He didn’t do well in English at school and his teacher was less than encouraging about his writing abilities. But Dad possessed what you need if you are going to make it in the creative industries – a bucketload of self-belief. This took him far, including beyond his first 13 novel rejections. His inspiration was Major Jack Fairfax-Blakeborough, the highly successful author and Countryman’s Diary columnist who hailed from Westerdale on the North York Moors. In 1947, when Dad was just 10, the Major had presented him with one of his books, and I believe that was a turning point in Dad’s life as it made him realise that you could, in fact, earn a living through writing stories.

Dad used to say to me that if you were a male and came from the moors, you usually went in one of two directions, either into farming, or into the uniformed services. At first, Dad did try to buck the trend by asking for a job at the local paper, the Whitby Gazette, when he left school at 16. But they turned him down, and so, not knowing what else to do, he joined the police.

I think leaving school with few qualifications left a very deep impression on him as, after being rejected by the Gazette, and at first unable to immediately fulfil his ambition to write, he didn’t have many qualifications to fall back upon so had to do something ‘conventional’ to earn a living.

So I think it was that which made him believe that getting an education was highly important, and I now understand why he worked so hard to make sure we children went to good schools. In his column from 8th August 1978, he talks about the difficulty of motivating children from rural backgrounds to go to school before it was compulsory in the 19th century: “It must have been very difficult to encourage parents to send their youngsters to school when those same youngsters could be better employed in the house or fields working productively alongside their parents.”

It was only after the Agricultural Children’s Act of 1873 that things began to change, as it forbade children under the age of eight to work on a farm unless it was their own, which meant that children whose parents didn’t own a farm were free to attend school. Three years later, the law was changed again making it compulsory for children under 12 to attend school, with the exception of the six weeks during which the hay and corn needed to be gathered in, which is how the long summer school holidays covering July and August came about.

All working parents today will understand the mixed blessings of a long summer holiday. This year, for the first time in 18 years (thanks to my youngest finishing his GCSEs) I was able to plan and take a two-week holiday when most children were still at school. So by the last week of June, we were all free and hotfooted it to France while the going was so good.

While in France, like most of us Brits do, I worked very hard on my tan, only to come home and find I had no boasting rights to speak of as, thanks to this amazing spell of hot weather, everyone else was the same colour as me! Life just isn’t fair sometimes.

Visit my blog at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug.

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