Constable on the Hill
Constable on the Hill
Constable on the Hill starts with PC Nick Rhea, his wife Mary and their three tiny children moving into the police house, high on a ridge overlooking the moors, on the edge of the village of Aidensfield - "probably the most beautiful site in the country". He soon gets to know all the characters on his beat, from his superior officer Sergeant Blaketon to Claude Jeremiah Greengrass, whose lurcher Alfred lands him with a summons for "allowing a dog to worry livestock on agricultural land"; the ever-resourceful Claude Jeremiah offers the defence that Alfred's victim, a budgerigar, cannot be described as livestock!
It was first published in 1979. Nicholas Rhea had already published a number of books, but this was a new venture for him. He explained:
"The concept of the Constable books arose because I wanted to write a book which showed that the police undertook much work which was not associated with crime or detective investigations. As I had served as a village constable in a delightful part of the North York Moors, it seemed logical to use that experience as a background to the stories, and to add a touch of humour which is always present in police work."
The book was a success, and many other Constable books followed it. One of their many admirers was the Head of Drama at Yorkshire Television. As his colleague, Carol Williams, explained in an interview:
"In the early 1980s, our then head of drama, David Cunliffe, was very keen on the series of Constable books written by Nicholas Rhea and bought the television rights from his agent. We held on to those rights for about ten years before being able to go ahead."
It was not until 1992 that the first episode of Heartbeat was screened. The early series not only used the location and many of the major characters of Nicholas Rhea's books, they also drew on his storylines. As series followed series and Heartbeat won popularity around the world, the connection between the books and the drama worked both ways: the TV series gave many of the characters a clear visual identity and the later Constable books were more strongly based on the characterisation of the TV series. Nicholas Rhea played an active part in the storyline process throughout the show's lifetime, and his advice on police procedure and Yorkshire life in the sixties was always highly appreciated by the programme makers.
The original edition of Constable on the Hill, published by Robert Hale, became a collectors item; and in 2004 it was reissued, thanks to Black Dagger Crime. The Black Dagger list was drawn up as a joint venture of Chivers Press (subsequently a division of BBC Audiobooks) and a sub-committee of The Crime Writers' Association. In their own words:
"It is designed to select outstanding examples of every type of crime and mystery story, so that enthusiasts will have the opportunity to read once more classics that have been scarce for years, while at the same time introducing them to a new generation who have not previously had the chance to enjoy them."
Constable on the Hill has been published in a number of editions, most of which are out of print, though collectors may be able to find copies in secondhand and specialist shops. The easiest way read the book is now in the new Kindle eBook format.