The Royal, ITV1

by | Jan 19, 2003 | All, Reviews

If you like Heartbeat, you’ll like this – probably. The Royal is ITV’s Heartbeat spin-off, set in a seaside cottage hospital 10 miles or so from Aidensfield. The late-1960s period is the same, and so is the formula of comedy-tinged drama overlaid with pop hits of the time. It’s even got some of the same characters, with Heartbeat faces popping up here and there, and a regular slot for the parent show’s one-time resident rogue, Claude Jeremiah Greengrass.

The set-up at the Royal is roughly what you’d expect. There’s a starchy-but-humane matron, an arrogant-but-skilled surgeon, a feisty female doctor and a suave administrator. There’s also a firm-but-fair sister, a gaggle of doctor-hungry nurses and a cuddly, workshy caretaker for the light relief. The casting is top-quality, from Wendy Craig and Ian Carmichael (both big stars in the real 1960s) to Mickey Starke, formerly Brookside’s cuddly, workshy Sinbad (guess which role), and Julian Ovenden (Foyle’s War) as the requisite young heart-throb doctor. The period detail is excellent, too, from walnut-panelled TV sets that receive “both” channels to lessons in old money (“How much? That’s nearly 50 bob!”).

The Heartbeat tie-in is a valuable in generating interest for the new show, although those 10 miles could yet prove handy if it needs to be uncoupled later. This week’s episode saw a brief cameo by Aidensfield pub landlady Gina, with a longer stint by PC Phil Bellamy. This kind of crossover hasn’t worked well in the BBC’s Casualty/Holby City, and didn’t look promising here; taken out of their usual context, the “visiting” characters seemed incongruous, and to overcome that would mean so much cross-fertilisation that the two series would effectively become one.

As it is, The Royal managed quite well on its own, giving us a well-drawn picture of the NHS in an era when surgeons still smoked their pipes in the operating theatre, and visiting doctors could act as stand-in anaesthetists without checking the health authority’s liability insurance first. But that might not be enough. Heartbeat is basically a cop show, which mixes its warm-glow nostalgia with the timeless appeal of crime and detection. Lacking that, and the high-tech glamour of modern medical dramas, The Royal could be seen as Heartbeat without the heart, which is just slightly how it seemed this week. A good start, but it’ll need to work hard.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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