That Time Heartbeat Did An Alien Abduction

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Even today, ITV’s Heartbeat is so bonded to its placement dead-centre of Sunday Night Dread, that on hearing its theme tune, I instinctively started getting a tummy ache in creeping fear of school tomorrow. A partial cover of Buddy Holly’s song of the same name, Nick Berry’s version includes the grossest phrase ever, “a love kiss,” but not Holly’s inexplicable reference to a “piddly pat,” which sounds like a Garbage Pail Kid that’s spraying wild arcs of frothy piss into its own face.

Heartbeat‘s fictional village of Aidensfield in Yorkshire occupies a strange hinterlands. Originally set in 1964, the show ran for 18 years, and with its whole appeal resting on the sights and soundtracks of a particular decade it was unwilling to leave, eventually, it became stuck in 1969. With about a dozen Christmas specials set in that year, its cast of ghouls remained trapped in limbo, in a world where the Beatles stayed together, Pelé never lifted the World Cup, and where they were doomed never to see Star Wars, The Godfather, or the works of Cannon and Ball. At least it functions as a nice metaphor for people who harp on about how much better the olden days were, consequently trapping themselves in the past as the world around them moves on.

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Aside from its snowglobe reality, perhaps the oddest thing about the show is how the existence of aliens is confirmed canon, following an episode which, depending on what you believe, could have been tagged with ‘based on a true story’. Despite its Sunday evening placement betwixt Antiques Roadshow and your weekly bath, Heartbeat‘s setting of a group of bobbies working the wacky cases of local weirdos in the grim expanse of Yorkshire’s Dales was the perfect place to retell the tale of Britain’s most famous alien abductee, PC Alan Godfrey.

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Godfrey’s trippy tale began some months prior to his more famous incident, when he found himself at the centre of another well-known case. In June of 1980, Zigmund Adamski, a 56-year-old miner, was reported missing by his family. Five days later, his body was found some 20 miles from home, precariously dumped on top of a huge pile of coal. Covered in unexplained chemical burns, and missing his shirt (though still wearing a jacket), everybody jumped to the obvious conclusion that he’d been dropped there by the aliens who’d murdered him. Alan Godfrey was the first officer on the scene, and three months after discovering Adamski’s body, he underwent a close encounter all of his own, which Heartbeat would use as the basis for a plot, with Godfrey himself acting as script advisor.

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In much the same way as the BBC’s Ghostwatch mirroring the story of the Enfield Poltergeist, Heartbeat‘s Gone Tomorrow, airing on 22nd October 1995, follows the main beats of the case pretty closely, albeit filtered through the cosy, tea-time veneer. There’s a charming naffness to its opening scene, which establishes a terrible electric storm hitting the village. Loose horses run wild (with a single ‘whinnying’ SFX repeating four times in quick succession); a secret lover falls from a bedroom window into some milk churns; a lightning strike plunges the pub into darkness, the cover of which is immediately used by a patron to grope a barmaid. While there was no storm on the night Godfrey had his encounter, he was out in search of a herd of cows, who’d escaped from their field to roam the Yorkshire market town of Todmorden.

Heartbeat’s Alan Godfrey stand-in, PC Alf Ventress, finds himself out in the storm, giving colleague Nick Berry a lift. Awaiting his return, the car’s illuminated by a bright light from above, inciting a “flamin’ nora!” as he gazes up in terror, and in a panic, reverses into a wall at about 2mph. Oddly, as he crashes, it’s no longer raining. Godfrey’s reported experience differed slightly, driving upon what he initially thought to be a double-decker bus, but soon realised was a large, diamond-shaped object, hovering over the surface of the road and rapidly rotating, before vanishing in a flash of light.

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Like Godfrey, Alf finds his watch now half-an-hour ahead, remembering nothing of the unaccounted-for period besides being dazzled by a bright light. As the coppers drive away, the camera pans up to a nearby field bearing a large, triangular burn mark, soundtracked by the opening chords to Space Oddity. The period soundtrack is really where Heartbeat excels, with ‘say what you see’ music choices underpinning every visual cue with the subtlety of a postman pushing the letters in with his dick. When a character tries flogging cut-price tickets for a cruise, it’s Cliff’s Summer Holiday; when he’s out in a boat getting accustomed to the water, his seasick vomiting’s backed by the theme from Captain Pugwash. A quick sojourn to the local under-21 sheepdog trials? The Rolling Stones’ Walking the Dog. God knows what you’d be seeing onscreen if Willie and the Hand Jive started blasting out of the speakers.

Clearly suffering with PTSD, a distracted Alf’s back at work, drawing UFO shapes in his notebook, and playing with his food like Richard Dreyfuss, unable to understand, or even remember, what he’s been through. The main crux of Gone Tomorrow is the clash between Alf and his boss, who wants him to keep a lid on his mad story, which is making them all look bad, and drawing unwanted attention from on high. So too, Alan Godfrey’s experience was viewed with contempt by his bosses, and as a joke by colleagues, one of whom went to the papers, putting his story on the front page, from where it made the leap to the nationals. In Heartbeat, it’s star witness Claude Jeremiah Greengrass, a slovenly bumpkin rogue, seen blinking and wiping his nose with a ratty pair of fingerless gloves in the opening credits, who ends up in the headlines, with his story where “this great big beam came down, sucked up this herd of cows and dropped ’em in the school classroom.

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Alf’s told, in the firmest of terms, to put a stop to all the “science fiction rumours,” and shoved on sick leave to stop him from talking. In an effort to discover what happened in those missing thirty minutes, and to hopefully convince the Sergeant he’s not had a psychotic breakdown, he undergoes hypnotic regression. In wildly incongruous tone to Heartbeat‘s usual content; where not minutes before, a puff-cheeked farmer was running over garden gnomes in a tractor; a terrified Alf revisits his trauma, in an oddly-lit scene bathed in lurid red light, like a 1970’s Italian horror. Almost as afraid as when Linda Lusardi had plague boils on her fanny, he relives the ordeal of being paralysed and pulled inside a spacecraft, shrieking “my face is on fire!” before being snapped out of the trance, open-mouthed and locked in a silent scream.

The real tapes of Alan Godfrey’s hypnotic regression are genuinely unsettling, eyes closed, head lolling, and describing in somnambulistic tones being prodded by little robots, lead by a man in biblical dress with a beard and giant dog. “They’re ‘orrible…” he says, recoiling at their disgusting touch, “they’ve got heads like a lamp…

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Alf’s hypnosis further raises the ire of the men at the top, and suspecting they’re trying to suppress the UFO talk by getting rid of him, he’s ordered by headquarters to attend a psyche evaluation. Regarding all the alien-waffle as evidence of mental instability, the psychiatrist gives him the choice of dropping it, or being sectioned. Nick Berry blackmails the doctor, threatening to go to the press about police intimidation, and Alf keeps his job. The episode ends with Alf gazing at the night sky, as Berry tells him that he believes him, and with a lightning strike out to sea, we hear the five-note sting from Close Encounters. This is one deviation from the real story that’s understandable, as Alan Godfrey retired early from the force, after being assaulted while taking three wanted men into custody, resulting in one bollock getting kicked up inside him, and the other booted right off altogether. After leaving, no longer beholden to the constabulary, Godfrey felt able to discuss events more freely, and to this day, can be heard doing the rounds on various radio shows, podcasts and conventions, promoting his book, WHO or WHAT were THEY?

What’s most jarring about Heartbeat‘s use of Godfrey’s story is that, like the Waltons‘ poltergeist, there’s no alternative explanation offered, and what we see is definitely an alien spaceship, leaving viewers of more normal episodes to watch scenes of Alf retrieving a chicken from a vicarage roof or chasing down a stolen bucket while knowing he’s had an alien’s finger up his bottom. Aside from the Todmorden abduction, there’s a possible hat-tip to the Broad Haven UFO sighting; a 1977 incident where a group of schoolchildren saw a landed craft in a field beside the playground; in the scene when a teacher’s excitedly dragged to a locked classroom containing a herd of (well, two) confused cows.

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Alongside from the alien stuff, there’s an astonishing amount of story stuffed into its fifty minutes, with sub-plots of a Romeo and Juliet affair between teenage children of two neighbours warring over a planning application for a barn extension, and a spinster stealing from the church charity to fund running away with a married local councillor on discounted cruise tickets Greengrass won in a raffle. Phew! I did enjoy the detail of what was on villager’s TVs before the storm knocked the signal out; the 1968 documentary, Alan Whicker Meets the Cats’ Eyes Man. The director of Gone Tomorrow, Graeme Harper, best known for his work on Doctor Who, went onto direct a bunch of shows, like Inside No 9, including Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room, one of the finest half hours of television ever produced.

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Although, with further examination, perhaps Heartbeat‘s spacemen wasn’t so out of character, going particularly spookified in its 1998 season, which seems to have been exec-produced by Charles Fort, with one episode on witches, two about ghosts — including the synopsis “David sees a car that appears to be driving by itself with no one at the wheel” — and a sequel to the episode I’ve been discussing. Perhaps mercifully for myself, I couldn’t track it down, but an episode guide tells me Easy Rider featured a spate of UFO sightings and a cyclist who’s found dead on the moor in mysterious circumstances. Like Gone Tomorrow, its plot involving lights in the sky was taken from a case in UFO researcher Jenny Randles’ 1983 book, The Pennine UFO Mystery. But as for the mysterious death of a cyclist, might this have been a slight nod to the Adamski case? Without watching, it’s impossible to say. Let’s examine the rest of the episode guide for clues.

Greengrass has thought up a new get-very-rich very-quick scheme. Garden gnomes! Only, much to his surprise, his garden gnomes do not look very much like gnomes. More like Chairman Mao!

I guess this will remain a mystery.

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~ by Stuart on June 27, 2019.

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