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Johnny Byrne

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Johnny Byrne was the creator of TV’s Heartbeat and a much respected scriptwriter for many popular series including All Creatures Great and Small and Doctor Who.

Born in 1935 in Dublin he grew up in Liverpool where in the late fifties he became an integral part of the jazz and poetry scene along with such writers as Brian Patten, Adrian Henri and Roger McGough. He performed at poetry readings around the UK and eventually moved to London where he worked as a teacher. He set up his own small press, writing and editing literary magazines. In 1969 he co-wrote the hugely popular ‘underground’ novel Groupie, with Jenny Fabian which became a cult bestseller.

In 1972 he scripted the Spike Milligan film comedy Adolf Hitler – My Part in his Downfall. This established his reputation as a screenwriter and he went on to write a host of drama series for television including Space 1999, Tales of the Unexpected, Noah’s Ark and Love Hurts.

In 1992 he created Heartbeat for Yorkshire Television. The series was originally based on the Constable novels by Nicholas Rhea, the pen-name of Yorkshire policeman Peter Walker. With it use of contemporary pop songs and period sets, the nostalgic drama became one of TV’s biggest hits. In 2003, a spin-off series, The Royal, was launched by ITV1.

Despite the success of Heartbeat, Byrne regarded All Creatures Great and Small as his best work. The BBC vet series. set in the Yorkshire Dales, ran from 1978-1990 and starred Christopher Timothy and Robert Hardy. Byrne was story consultant for the series and scripted more than 30 episodes.

In 1975 he met and married Sandy Carrington-Mail and the couple moved to Norfolk where Byrne continued to write prolifically. He had been suffering from cancer and died on April 2, aged 72.

Patrick Newley

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