HEARTBEAT was one of telly’s biggest success stories of the past 25 years – but ultimately it couldn’t compete with Simon Cowell.
The Sunday night drama ran for 18 years and was consistently one of the most watched shows on TV.
Yet it was dumped in favour of live talent shows X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, according to one of the longest-serving stars of the ’60s-set programme.
David Lonsdale played series favourite David Stockwell, who has returned to the role in a new stage version of Heartbeat, which comes to Glasgow later this month.
“ITV has to make decisions based on commerce and Heartbeat was getting in the way of a new view for Sunday nights,” the Lancashire actor explained.
“Simon Cowell wanted the space for his results shows, a phenomenon that’s since taken over and drama simply can’t compete with a phone-in.
“The cast was very upset at the time and there was uproar from viewers all over the world, but it was simply for commercial reasons.
“But if they had carried on promoting Heartbeat, I believe it still had legs.”
The stage version boasts a new script featuring the customary drama and comedic subplot, music and also the return of Steven Blakely as Younger.
“There is still so much interest in the show, even though there hasn’t been a new episode since 2010,” David said. “The amount of interest in it is phenomenal.
“The stage version isn’t like a play, it has short scenes and is very televisual. There’s lots of music, too.
“We had to re-cast the role of Gina, because although Tricia Penrose was interested, she has two young kids at home and couldn’t be away for four months. We’ve also re-cast Bernie Scripps, as
Peter Benson didn’t feel he could do the full tour.
“But the audience only takes a minute to accept the new actors.”
Birds Of A Feather made its return by first returning in stage form, with the live success leading to a TV comeback. So does David believe Heartbeat could follow suit?
“You never know. Things are cyclical.
“I see variety coming back with programmes such as Tonight At The London Palladium and Michael McIntyre’s show slowly replacing the talent shows, so maybe weekend drama will come back too. Never say never.”
Father-of-three David was a jobbing actor until Heartbeat.
His brief turn playing Peter Barlow in Coronation Street in the mid-’80s kicked off a run of telly work, including a guest role in Heartbeat.
“I played David in an episode and then a couple of years later I got the call asking me to come back.
“The reason it happened was out of sheer laziness.
“A similar character was written, so rather than re-cast they called me up and changed the name in the new script to David Stockwell – and all those years later I was still there.
“They teamed me up soon after with Bill Maynard, who played Greengrass.
“The reason they kept me on full-time was probably as a reward for being able to work with Bill!
“Not many could without wanting to strangle him!
“He was fastidious and wanted everything to be perfect, but that’s a good thing as it showed on screen.”
Since Heartbeat ended, David has kept busy with roles in Casualty, Hollyoaks, Doctors and as Kirsty’s father in Coronation Street, as well as lots of touring theatre work.
“Touring was something I tried to stay away from for a few years while the kids grew up – while I was filming Heartbeat I was gone from a Sunday night until Friday night.”
Heartbeat was based on The Constable series of novels by Nicholas Rhea and David says all of the elements that made the programme a success – the nostalgia of the music, fashion and cars, and the gentle storylines – are intact.
But another integral part of its success was the Yorkshire countryside – not so easy to replicate on stage.
“We have a revolving stage,” David continued.
“Most of the action takes place in the pub but we also have a set with a drystone wall and heather, with projections and sounds of countryside and trains.
“But we can’t bring all of Yorkshire to Glasgow, unfortunately!”
Heartbeat, Theatre Royal Glasgow, June 27-July 2
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