Mark Jordan and Tricia Penrose are better-known to millions of Sunday night TV fans as PC Phil Bellamy and barmaid Gina. The actors talk to Steve Pratt about the 13-year appeal of Hearbeat and why they'll stay to the end.

TRICIA Penrose is looking different at the launch of the 14th series of ITV1's top-rated drama Heartbeat to what she did at last year's gathering to mark the start of the previous series.

She was heavily pregnant then, giving birth to son Jake only a week later. Now she's enjoying combining being a mum with continuing to play barmaid Gina in the top-rated 1960s-set series filmed in Yorkshire.

As the series approaches its 250th episode, she's sharing the interview with co-star Mark Jordon, alias PC Phil Bellamy. He's actually appeared in more episodes over the past 13 series than anyone else.

The new series sees Bellamy and Gina starting again, having split up following the death of their son Daniel. As a mother herself, playing those scenes was difficult for Penrose. "It was hard to film because my son was five or six weeks old at the time," she says. "It was dead emotional but he was there on the set and we could have a little cuddle in between scenes."

She welcomed the chance to show another, more downbeat side of Gina. "She was always bright and breezy, so it was nice to go to the other end and be really down," she says. "Now it's just getting her back to being happy again. But she's still not herself. It's good to have a different way to play her."

Both she and Jordon hope to stay in Heartbeat until the series ends, producers permitting of course. Not that there's any sign of the Sunday night drama being axed. This is in marked contrast to the early days, when the series starred Nick Berry and Niamh Cusack, when Jordon didn't think the series would last.

"Thirteen years down the line I would be lost as to what to do without Heartbeat. As parents, it's good to have a regular pay packet coming in. It's kind of unheard of for an actor to have a one-year contract. It's a very lucky position to be in," he admits.

When the end does come, they'd both like the last episode to be the wedding of Gina and Bellamy.

"I would like to stay until it ends," says Penrose. "I'm dead happy. It's filmed close to where I live so I can get home most nights. My mum looks after Jake and I've not had that much storyline going on in the new series, so I've only working three days out of ten. I only had two days on the last episode so I had a whole week off."

She'd like more children sooner rather than later, but doubts that another pregnancy for Gina would be written into the storyline as her first one was. "It would be asking a bit too much for them to do it again. They'd have to disguise I was pregnant this time," she says.

As ITV is repeating old Heartbeat episodes, the pair have had to chance to re-evaluate their performances. Penrose admits she cringes when she watches, saying: "I think I've improved and got a bit better". Jordon has let his children, Joseph and Poppy, see him on screen as Bellamy but they weren't impressed. "They were so bored and asked, 'where's the cartoon channel?'. They come to the set and were kind of born into what we do and assume every dad dresses up like a policeman," he says.

The 250th episode sees the arrival of a new PC, Rob Walker, played by former Casualty and Merseybeat star Jonathan Kerrigan. He's been drafted in to replace James Carlton's PC Steve Crane who died at the end of the last series. Bellamy let go of his hand as Crane dangled over a cliff. "It's great to do something like that. When I watched I was highly impressed," says Jordon.

"We did two series at once and shot Jonathan's first ever episode before we did the death scene. I had no idea I was going to let go of my best friend.."

At first, Bellamy is wary of new boy Walker, whose father was a well-known Aidensfield criminal and clashed with ex-copper Oscar. "Bellamy wants to draw his own opinion rather than be swayed by what Oscar says. He's a bit under-impressed by the fact that this new guy is brighter than him, but they do start to bond. Their relationship is very honest rather than getting on immediately. Halfway through the series you see why they get to be friends," explains Jordon.

* The new series of Heartbeat begins on ITV1 in September. Re-runs of previous series continue on ITV1 at 5pm Monday to Friday

Published: 05/08/2004