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Derek Fowlds plays Oscar Blaketon

Oscar Blaketon at the Yorkshire Life Food and Wine AwardsDerek Fowlds as Oscar BlaketonThere was a surprise for Derek Fowlds at the Yorkshire Life Food and Wine Awards in October 2003; he had agreed to present the awards, but found himself (or maybe his alter ego) winning an prize as well! Oscar Blaketon of the Aidensfield Arms, seen (left) with Elaine Lemm, Food and Wine Editor of Yorkshire Life, and Peter Bourhill, was presented with the award for Pub Landlord of the Year 2003 - "and we hope," says Yorkshire Life, "it will soon take pride of place behind the bar of the Aidensfield Arms."

Derek Fowlds has played the role of Oscar Blaketon, one of the characters from the original novels on which Heartbeat is based, since the first series in 1991. He gave this interview as the tenth series was about to be broadcast.

"The offer of the role came as a bit of a surprise", he recalls. "I'd been getting back into drama again after my years in Yes Minister and had been in a film in Australia with Olympia Dukakis and then I'd been in Yorkshire for the first time in my life doing The Darling Buds of May. The scripts came for this new series Heartbeat and I read them thinking 'God, I'm a bit old to play Nick Rowan', the one Southern character in the piece. When I found out they wanted me to do the sergeant I wondered why - as there must have been many wonderful Yorkshire actors who could have done it. I nearly talked myself out of a job but I'm glad I didn't as nine years on I'm still here."

Derek had a very clear idea from the start how to approach the role.

"I based him on my drill instructor, because I was in the RAF for national service", he says. "I just cut my hair shorter, slicked it back and shouted a lot and Oscar was born."

Looking back on the last nine series Derek can't recall when they knew they were on to a long running hit.

"It started off as six months work," he remembers. "About halfway through the first series noises were being made that we had a hit on our hands. Not only did they do a second series they did a second and third series back to back. And it took off."

Over the years Blaketon has had several major life changes.

"He had to take early retirement from the force" says Derek. "He didn't want to but he had a heart attack and that was that. He then took over the post office for a year which he disliked and then he came into some money and bought the pub and he's been running it ever since."

Rhea comments on ex-Sergeant Blaketon...:

"Derek Fowlds portrayed Sergeant Blaketon exactly as I imagined him. The police service had lots of men like Blaketon, good, solid and dependable characters who ran their little police stations with fierce efficiency but who, under a tough exterior, possessed warmth, generosity and kindness. Now, I get calls from serving policemen who wish their sergeants were as reliable and inspiring as Blaketon!"

...and his successor at the police station:

"There was a time it seemed impossible that anyone could replace the bluff Sergeant Blaketon but, according to the last episode of series 7, Sergeant Craddock seems to establish himself as a major player in Ashfordly Police Station. Although he makes sure Bellamy parades on time, Bradley does not wear white socks with his uniform and Ventress doesn't smoke in the office, he does emerge as a most interesting fellow. He adds a new dimension to the work of the constables of the North York Moors..."

Derek doesn't think it's the end of the line for Oscar however.

"I don't think he's finally settled", he comments. "He really misses the police station and longs to get more involved again with the police. Although I love him I think he's quite sad. He has very little in his life at the moment. He hasn't seen his son for four years - he doesn't know where his wife is and there certainly hasn't been a woman in his life for some time. This compounds his need to get back in to the business of solving crimes. Even though he is involved with the community as a local councillor I think he'd love to set up his own private detective agency. Once a copper always a copper."

There are moments in the new series when Oscar helps solve one or two crimes.

"I do get a bit of snooping in," he laughs. "I help Ventress out and help to solve the case of Jackie's stalker. I also have a nasty moment when I'm threatened at gun point by a rather unpleasant journalist".

Oscar certainly doesn't have much time for his successor Sergeant Craddock. "He thinks he's a wimp!". He does like to go back and visit his 'boys'.

"Oscar thinks Bellamy should be a sarge by now," says Derek. "And he thinks poor old Ventress should have packed it in years ago. He told him the other day that he thinks that post office is still up for sale".

When asked if there's any romance in store for Oscar this series Derek sighs wistfully.

"If only..." he comments. "I think he looks for it every day in the pub. A blast from the past does crop up this series in the form of Ursula played by the wonderful Sharon Maughan. She doesn't hold a candle for Oscar unfortunately but another resident and she's back for revenge. But he's been remarkably short of female company - he just plays his Shirley Bassey records and gets on with it."

Like many of the regular cast Derek finds it hard to define what it is that makes Heartbeat so enduringly popular.

"I've been asked this hundreds of times and can never really put my finger on it." he says. "It's a phenomenon really and the root of its success has to be nostalgia. It's the only show that takes place in the wonderful decade of the sixties - and it captures those years so wonderfully with the vintage cars, the fashions and of course the music of the era. It's also probably one of the only programmes on telly where you can sit down with the whole family because the fans of Heartbeat are aged right the way from 5 to 85. How many programmes can cover that age range?"

When asked which is his favourite Heartbeat moment, Derek is very quick to respond.

"Undoubtedly when Oscar had an affair with a Detective Sergeant's wife in Whitby", he grins. "He got into a lot of hot water on that occasion but thankfully his old pal Ventress managed to get him off the hook."

Derek Fowlds is one of Britain's most popular television actors. His credits include Inspector Morse, The Darling Buds of May, Perfect Scoundrels, Rules of Engagement and Bernard Wooley in Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister, a series which was included last year on the BFI list of the top one hundred programmes ever made.

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