What’s in a name?

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I often get asked how my dad came up with his pen name Nicholas Rhea

A question I am often asked is how my father came up with the pen name Nicholas Rhea. I respond that Nicholas is after the Martyr of the Moors, Father Nicholas Postgate, and Rhea was his mother’s family name. I’m so used to it that I tend to forget that he was writing for many years under alternative pseudonyms before he began to use Nicholas Rhea.

I’m sure Dad was asked the same question frequently, as demonstrated by a reader letter that I found in a folder in which Dad kept all his columns and reader correspondence from 1981. For the first time, I read Dad’s own words in the copy of his reply which confirmed the back story of his most famous pseudonym. He provides a little more history too, which I’d like to share here.

My dad writes: “I use the name Rhea because it is my maternal grandfather’s surname. Nicholas is taken from the martyr, Nicholas Postgate, who worked in the Egton Bridge/Glaisdale areas of Eskdale where I was born. I have been trying to trace the origin of the Rhea family, and it possibly comes from a cousin of the Duke of Argyll’s who fled from Scotland to Ireland in the fifteenth century in disgrace, and adopted the surname Rhea before marrying in Derry Cathedral. There is a Kyle Rhea on the West Coast of Scotland but I cannot find any trace in Scotland today – maybe the Campbells/Argylls do not wish their past to be known?”

He then goes on to explain why he uses pseudonyms: “I use the name because I have lots of other books published either as Peter N. Walker, or as Christopher Coram, and wanted a different name for a different sort of book (he was talking about his Constable series)…I also write a regular column as Nicholas Rhea in the Police Review, so the name is getting known!”

He couldn’t have realised back then that Nicholas Rhea would become the most well-known name he adopted, thanks to the success of his Constable books and subsequently of course, Heartbeat. In fact in one of his replies composed later in the year (September 1981) he writes: “Thank you for your interest in my Constable books…You might be interested to know that Yorkshire Television is to make a 13-part series based on those books. It might be two years or so before it gets onto the screen, but I understand it will be a sort of James Herriot of the police force, set in the North York Moors area.”

Little did Dad know, but it would be a full 11 years before the first episode of Heartbeat would make it to the TV screen. Further into the 1980s, Dad would drop all of his other pen names (which also included Andrew Arncliffe, Tom Ferris and James Ferguson) and for the rest of his writing life, would stick to Nicholas Rhea and Peter Walker.

I did notice that although most of the correspondence in the file came from the north east, he did get some letters from other parts of the country, including Nottinghamshire, Buckinghamshire and Surrey. I too get correspondence from various parts of the country, and thanks to having an online presence (www.countrymansdaughter.com) I am able to receive messages from just about anywhere in the world. Only this week I had a note from Gerry Jonsson in Canada who asked if Dad knew Alf White, who of course wrote under the very famous pseudonym of James Herriot.

I replied that they did know each other and Herriot’s success likely inspired my dad to keep trying to get his Constable books published. He first had the idea for a humorous book based on the life of a rural bobby back in 1969 but his agent turned it down saying there was no call for Yorkshire humour. When Alf White told him about an idea he had for a humorous book based the life of a rural vet, Dad passed on this sage piece of wisdom about Yorkshire humour. Obviously, Alf ignored it and went on to achieve huge success. It was another 10 years before Dad’s first Constable book was finally published and Heartbeat landed on TV in 1992.

So it proves that if you truly believe in something, you should never give up! I wish you all a very happy New Year.

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 31st and the Gazette & Herald on 29th December 2021

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