The Royal

Set in a busy hospital in a seaside resort in 1960s Yorkshire, The Royal is a period medical drama. It was originally created as a spin-off of Heartbeat, the long-running ITV period drama about a rural police station and the inhabitants of the surrounding village.

Both shows were a big success, thanks to their mix of a one-off plot each week revolving around guest stars, the ongoing dramas in the regular characters' personal life and a lively soundtrack of 1960s music that reflected the action.

How The Royal began

Back in April 1992, ITV launched its flagship Sunday night drama series, Heartbeat, set in the North Riding of Yorkshire and based on a series of novels written by former policeman, Nicholas Rhea. It ran for 18 series between 1992 and 2010, originally starring former EastEnders actor Nick Berry as PC Nick Rowan.

During season 12 of Heartbeat, in an episode called Out of the Blue, The Royal hospital was first introduced. Heartbeat was set in the fictional village of Aidensfield and St Aidan's Royal Free Hospital (more commonly known as The Royal) served the area, based in the seaside resort of Elsinby.

It rose to prominence in Heartbeat after several regular characters were treated there, including wheeler-dealer Claude Greengrass (played by Bill Maynard) and PC Alf Ventress (played by William Simons).

The Royal became a series in its own right in 2003, although it maintained links with Heartbeat and there were crossover plots between the two shows for the first three series. After this, the links were severed and both series continued independently.

The plot

Most of the plots in the Royal focused on medical emergencies, usually with a self-contained plot each week with guest stars - although some themes ran for longer. The storyline often featured the moral dilemmas created by the cases, with additional stories including staff members' personal problems.

There were also occasional side-stories with a more light-hearted theme, in a similar vein to Heartbeat. The show normally avoided political topics, focusing instead on the social and ethical challenges faced by staff in the era and the conflict between the old conservative and modern progressive ideas.

The show is set some two decades after the launch of the National Health Service and an ongoing theme is the previously independent hospital's efforts to preserve its methods while battling a new, bureaucratic system.

Main characters

The regular characters included Dr David Cheriton (played by Julian Ovenden), a GP and the show's original male star. The first episode begins with the newly-qualified doctor arriving at St Aidan's for a job interview, only to find the hospital isn't even expecting him!

Ian Carmichael (the veteran English actor famous for 1950s films Private's Progress and I'm All Right Jack) returned to the small screen as hospital secretary and chairman of the Middleditch Trust, TJ Middleditch.

Another veteran actor, Wendy Craig, had a leading role as matron, with her stern exterior hiding a heart of gold. She was furious when colleagues found out her youthful nickname was Toffee - thanks to her old boyfriend turning up at the hospital!

More light-hearted plots often centred on hospital porter Ken Hopkirk, played by former Brookside star Michael Starke. Robert Daws played Dr Gordon Ormerod in all eight series of The Royal, alongside Amy Robbins as Dr Jill Weatherill, who was a champion of maternity care.

Another stalwart of all eight series was Linda Armstrong as Sister Brigid. She was also a nun, but had difficulty in following her vocation as the series progressed and some viewers hoped she would find romance with Dr Ormerod.

Receptionist Lizzie Hopkirk also appeared in all eight series. She later went on to play vet Vanessa Woodfield in ITV soap Emmerdale.

Social drama

Some of the most gripping storylines reflected the social problems of the era. An episode called Sisters of Mercy saw Sister Bridget finding an abandoned baby on the hospital steps. This is linked to a young girl's disappearance two days earlier and hospital staff inform her parents she has given birth.

There was more social stigma attached to being an unmarried young mum 50 years ago. Often, pregnant teens were confined in secrecy until they had given birth and the baby would be adopted against their will.

In the UK in the 1960s, more than 16,000 British newborns were put up for adoption. Abandoning a baby at a hospital was a way for a frightened teenage girl to avoid the shame of an accidental pregnancy.

Famous scenes

Many plots were filled with drama and life-threatening situations: a serious coach crash causes chaos at the hospital, a young boy falls off a cliff, a boating accident has tragic consequences and a man admitted with a gunshot wound leads to a dangerous standoff at the hospital with armed police.

In fact, when The Royal ended its eight-year run in 2011, the final episode was filled with drama after Dr Ormerod was stabbed with a surgical instrument during a scuffle in the operating theatre and required emergency surgery!


The theme song of The Royal was Somebody Help Me by The Spencer Davis Group, played over exterior shots of a vintage ambulance and interior scenes of staff going about their duties. The interior shots were filmed at the ITV studios in Leeds and at St Luke's Hospital in Bradford.

The exterior scenes used the Red Court apartments building on Holbeck Road in Scarborough, the nearby park and Holbeck Clock Tower. Other outdoor scenes were shot at various locations across the North Riding of Yorkshire, such as Whitby.

Broadcast for the final time in 2011 after ITV cancelled the show, many disappointed viewers protested to the network, but their pleas fell on deaf ears and it never returned.

Hospital security

Back in the 1960s, hospitals like The Royal didn't have the benefits of today's state-of-the-art time, attendance and access control solutions, such as those provided by ISGUS UK.

Our access control terminals are suitable for monitoring doors, elevator control and recording employees' and visitors' access.

Please contact us for information on our wide range of products and services suitable for hospitals and other public buildings.