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A Visit to the Studios

Nicholas Rhea describes a recent visit to the Heartbeat studios:

During the summer, I paid a visit to the Heartbeat studios which are inside a disused mill on the outskirts of Leeds. The entire building has been converted into a remarkable Heartbeat centre and it comprises a control unit with cameras, sound and lighting, along with the specially constructed sets we see on our screens.

Filming in the bar of the Aidensfield Arms

Filming in the Aidensfield Arms. At the bar, from left to right:

These have been copied from the original interiors of buildings used regularly in the programme - for example, one of the sets depicts the inside of the Aidensfield Arms. There is the bar, the snug and the kitchen, all faithfully recreated so that when they appear on screen, you'd never believe they were only copies of the genuine village pub which featured in the earlier years of Heartbeat.

Nicholas Rhea on the Heartbeat set - in the Sergeant's officeAmong the other sets are the duty room in Ashfordly police station, the sergeant's office, the interview room and the cells; there is also the inside of the police house at Aidensfield, Vernon's kitchen and the doctor's surgery, waiting room and dispensary. Because medical stories are often featured, there is also a hospital ward, waiting room and receptionist's desk, all waiting to be brought into action when the scripts feature these places.

The reason for building the sets is a matter of economics and feasibility - it enables shooting to continue without external interference and it is cheaper than transporting the entire cast, crew and support vehicles more than fifty miles from Leeds to the North York Moors to shoot internal scenes.

Imagine, for example, that Heartbeat wanted to use the bar of the real pub which doubles as the Aidensfield Arms on the same day a wedding party had booked in! Or think about shooting a scene in Vernon's house on the moors when there was a noisy low flying exercise by modern RAF jets! It's not merely a case of using a real pub bar either - all premises must be dressed to look as they would have done in the late 1960s; those period artefacts have to be transported to the scene ready for shooting. Period costumes must be found for the cast and extras too; it's much easier and much more efficient to have them available in a custom-built studio. Studio sets enable such problems to be avoided and greatly help the smooth production of each episode. In addition, of course, the former mill contains offices, a security desk, a canteen and plenty of parking space for technical and support vehicles.

Nicholas Rhea on set with David Lonsdale (David Stockwell)I was invited to watch scenes from Episode 8 (titled Outward Bound) which will probably be screened in late October (I do not know the exact date so check TV listings). Luckily, most of the regular cast were in the studio - ex-Sergeant Blaketon, PC Ventress, Sergeant Merton, a very pregnant Gina, PC Steve Crane, PC Phil Bellamy, Bernie, Vernon, David, Lord Ashfordly, Dr Merrick, Jenny, her receptionist and PC Crane's mum, Babs.

Having previously met most of the artistes who play these characters, my visit was something of a re-union but I was most impressed by the utter dedication of all the cast and crew, and their remarkable patience in producing faultless scenes for a programme which is enjoyed by so many people around the world. Having watched them all in action, I can understand why Heartbeat continues to be extremely popular in so many countries.

Read about a more recent visit to the studios or return to the Heartbeat main page