It has been a difficult week for Goathland, the picturesque North York Moors village known to millions as Aidensfield, home of the nostalgic ITV1 series Heartbeat.
On Tuesday five people had to be taken to hospital after a tractor accident on the set of the long-running police drama. Two days later it was announced that filming of both Heartbeat and its spin-off hospital series, The Royal, have been suspended indefinitely because of a backlog of shows.
Now a new fear is stalking this small community of honey-coloured cottages set high in the glorious heather landscape. A fear that the failure of Heartbeat to return to our screens could signal the death of the lucrative tourist trade that has grown up around the programme.
In 1992, following the arrival in the moors of fresh-faced London copper Nick Rowan (then played by EastEnders' heartthrob Nick Berry) the number of people visiting Goathland soared to a peak of 1.2 million a year. Companies now advertise day-trips for pilgrims eager to catch a glimpse of the familiar places frequented by characters such as loveable rogue Claude Greengrass or saintly district nurse Maggie Bolton. But yesterday many in the village were looking to the future with a growing sense of uncertainty.
A woman working at the post office and souvenir shop, who asked only to be identified as Ann, said she feared some might stop coming. "Goathland is not just known for Heartbeat, but what we might lose are the coachloads of day-trippers who come for a short time, spend their money and go home. It is because of the summer that we survive here in the winter," she said.
Keith Richardson, who for 24 years has run the Goathland Hotel (better known to viewers as the Aidensfield Arms) said he would wait and see. "It has been a tourist village since before Heartbeat. We have heard this sort of thing over the previous years about contracts not being signed and so on, so we don't take much notice. I'll wait for the proper announcement."
Emma Bruce, who runs Rose Cottage bed and breakfast with her partner, said the village would still be able to fall back on its other attractions – the superb walking and the ever popular North York Moors steam railway. "Our guests come for many different reasons. A lot come for the railway so unless they close that down we will be all right," she said.
At its peak in the 1990s more than 15 million people tuned in every week to watch the dramatisation of Nicholas Rhea's Constable novels.
Despite being set in the 1960s, the summer of love and the sexual revolution only occasionally punctured the Aidensfield idyll. But that was how the fans liked it, and Heartbeat's blend of gentle nostalgia and stunning scenery became one of the biggest hits of recent decades, running for 18 series so far. Recent ratings have slipped to below six million, and production is now being halted amid crumbling advertising revenues, though ITV insists it is not axing the show just yet.
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