Brought to book

Dad signing copies of his first ‘Constable’ book at Grover’s of Northallerton on 24th May 1979. This was the series of books that led to Yorkshire TV making Heartbeat.

As I have mentioned before, one of the most exciting times in our family story is when we heard that Dad’s Constable series of books was going to be made into a TV programme by Yorkshire Television. I could be wrong, but I imagine that it is many a writer’s dream to have someone decide that your stories and characters are worthy of the money, time and effort it takes to create a popular TV show.

And what a good job they did, with Heartbeat becoming instantly popular and attracting millions of viewers per episode. When my dad first had the idea to write some stories about the life of a country bobby, I can’t imagine that he had a notion of what it would eventually lead to.

Having said that, he was well acquainted with a certain local vet who had found success with his books and TV shows. Alf Wight, otherwise known as James Herriot, had in fact asked my dad for advice when they had been in the same pub together in the late 1960s. He’d explained to Dad that he had written a collection of funny stories based on his experiences as a vet and, as Dad was already a published author, wondered what he thought.

Dad had recently had the idea for some lighthearted books based on his life as a country bobby, but it was rejected by publishers declaring, “There’s no call for Yorkshire humour.”

So he passed on this sage piece of wisdom to Alf White who, thankfully, ignored it and his first book, If Only They Could Talk, hit the shelves in 1970. And the rest, as they say, is history.

So it must have been a very proud day indeed when those humorous tales that Dad had dreamed of publishing finally came to fruition on May 24th 1979 with the publication of Constable on the Hill, the first of what would become a series of 37 books.

Dad informs us, in a column that was published just two days after publication, that extracts of his new book had been already featured in the Sunday Express, and his publisher said it was destined to be a bestseller.

“For a rural columnist like myself, this is very exciting, and regular readers of this page might recognise some of the yarns, and indeed, some of the characters,” he writes.

I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to read the words he wrote all those years ago, and feel the sense of excitement he must have experienced at the time. Knowing as I do just how hard he worked, the sense of accomplishment must have been great. However, it would be another 13 years before Heartbeat would hit the screens, and that brought a whole other new exciting world into our lives.

As I think it is today, author signing events were quite common to help promote a new book. According to the column, his first ever signing session for Constable on the Hill was on the afternoon of May 26th 1979 at Grovers Bookshop in Northallerton. I believe Grovers is still there, but their website does not mention anything about books, so I wonder, do they still stock them? Perhaps someone reading this will know, and might also be able to remember meeting my dad at the book signing.

It always delights me when I hear from people who were fans of Dad’s books. I was recently contacted by Gurli Svith from Denmark who has copies of almost all of his books and only needs one more, Siege for Panda One, to have the full collection. Unfortunately, she has been looking for a copy for some years and has not found one. So if you happen to have one gathering dust on your shelves, do get in touch with me. Another lady, Ruth Pollard, is also very keen to get hold of my dad’s collection of crime books, most notably, The Sniper, which I mentioned a few weeks back, and also his Carnaby series. Again, if you can be of help, do get in touch.

In the meantime, I should get back to working on that novel that I’m half way through. And if one day I achieve just a tiny modicum of the success of my dad then I will be mightily chuffed.

Read more at Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 24th May and the Gazette & Herald on 22nd May 2019

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