Hartley Calling Juliet Bravo

Back in the early 80s, one of the most popular Saturday night TV shows on the BBC was Juliet Bravo. The programme regularly attracted 20 million viewers, as the nations families sat down on their brown three piece suites and allowed a very Northern drama to unfold in their front rooms.

The popular characters from Hartley police station dealt with many crimes of varying seriousness throughout the six series that were broadcast between 1980 to 1985. As a young boy, I connected with the show because it was the first TV series that I was allowed to stay up late to watch, and mainly because it looked like it was made down the bottom of our street.

Juliet Bravo was as Northern as a pie butty. Without fail, each episode celebrated the regions industrial landscape with many crimes taking place down by the canal, in a disused cotton mill or at the allotments. Many a petty criminal was chased along the cobbled streets before having their collar felt by Sergeant Beck. My wife bought me a DVD box set of Juliet Bravo, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the nostalgic trip back to 1981 in the North of England. So have my kids. Looking back at the programmes today, the landscape of Hartley has moved on quite dramatically. In fact, Juliet Bravo was filmed during a time of huge regeneration in Lancashire and Yorkshire.

Many of the endless streets of slum housing were in the process of being knocked down, gigantic Mills were being deleted from the horizon, old Victorian schools were making way for modern structures and Fred Dibnah was kept in steady work pulling the giant chimney stacks down. Whoever chose Juliet Bravo’s filming locations was obviously keen to include the run down scenery just before it was bulldozed away for good.

Hartley was of course a fictional town, and the programmes external shots were filmed all over Lancashire and West Yorkshire. Sharp eyed viewers from Bacup were quick to notice that Hartley police station was actually their very own local police station on Bank Street in the Town Centre, which is just about still in operation today.

Over the course of 88 episodes, many small industrial towns were used for filming the series. Burnley, Colne, Accrington, Nelson, Hebden Bridge, Todmorden, and parts of the Ribble Valley featured regularly, painting a very picturesque, but tough image of Hartley. The town had a bustling shopping centre called “the Arndale,” rows upon rows of back to back terraces, breathtaking countryside, plenty of factories and a couple of rough council estates.

Its not hard to understand why Juliet Bravo was such a smash hit, dominating the winter Saturday night schedules on BBC TV. Of course this was a time when choice was limited. We only had 3 television channels in 1981, Channel 4 came on air the following year, greeted with huge expectation from an enthusiastic public.

The basic premise of Juliet Bravo was to follow the newly appointed top cop at Hartley police station, Inspector Jean Darbley (played by Stephanie Turner, above)) who happened to be female, and as a result struggled initially to gain acceptance and respect from her junior male colleagues. From series 3 – 6 Inspector Darblay was replaced by Inspector Kate Longton (played by Anna Carteret, below.)

Juliet Bravo was created to highlight the difficulties that female officers faced in a chauvinistic world dominated by the old boys of the Constabulary. Nowadays its common place to have female police Inspectors. Indeed female officers have risen to the very top job of Chief Constable within many police forces in the UK. The Juliet Bravo TV show can take a lot of credit for this, along with many other social changes that have happened since it went on air.

In 1981 a prime time TV show was capable of educating as well as entertaining its audience, changing social stigmas and challenging established opinions. Many social problems and taboos were dealt with by this programme, offering positive and reassuring advice and guidance to the viewers through the stories that were told.

Nowadays, we are all aware of the facts regarding depression and mental health problems. In 1981, with less understanding and acceptance, problems such as this were not for up for discussion. In one famous episode of Juliet Bravo, a desperate young mother who was suffering from post natal depression convinced the Hartley officers that she had harmed her baby. It was a desperate attempt by her to get help, and it worked. This was the first time that this sensitive subject had been covered in such an emotive and reassuring way. Without doubt, this episode opened the door to a new way of thinking about these types of problems that had previously caused shame and embarrassment for those suffering. The episode had such an impact in challenging stereotypes about depression, a similar story was covered a few series later. It told the viewers that this was normal, and was nothing to feel ashamed about.

Juliet Bravo highlighted and educated its viewers on many crimes and modern problems of the day. No other TV show could manage to tell 20 million viewers of the deadly dangers of glue sniffing, how to deal with rogue callers and show vulnerable women that domestic abuse was not acceptable. It was done with great Northern charm and style, and genuinely helped to change opinion.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom in Hartley. In fact, there wasn’t very much gloom at all. Juliet Bravo consistently provided a conveyer belt of loveable rogues, rotten scoundrels, feckless thieves and denim wearing punks. There were serious crimes such as child abuse, rape and murder, and some not so serious. One episode centred round a young lads bike being nicked. In another, the local chip shop owner was in trouble for keeping a bear in his shed. It was never dull, it was always thought provoking and delightfully gritty.

If you have fond memories of the programme, and you love 1980s nostalgia, the DVD sets are a real treat. Wander down the North’s cobbled streets to a time when community spirit was stronger, when a pot of tea and a chat could solve many of the country’s problems and the Austin Maestro was a dream car.

Let’s raise a northern toast to Juliet Bravo. Put your pie down and raise your brew to one of our finest TV programmes, and the wonderful town of Hartley.

This article first appeared in Northern Life Magazine, June 2011, written by Steve Suttie.

CLICK HERE to read about Steve’s debut Novel, The Clitheroe Prime Minister


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Author of The Clitheroe Prime Minister, and columnist in Northern Life magazine.

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