VETERAN actor Bill Maynard may be about to sign for the BBC after finally leaving ITV's hit show Heartbeat.

Close friends say Maynard, who played Claude Greengrass, has had talks with a producer who is preparing a new series for the opposition.

Bill, 72, and still resting after a stroke in June, says: "When you are available, as I am, you get lots of calls from people in the business to ask if you are interested in playing a certain character.

" I'm now a free agent and I just tell them to let me see a script. Meanwhile, I'm enjoying my first real break for years."

Bill completed seven of the series' 24 episodes before he became ill. He returned to Yorkshire Television studios to complete four missing scenes for a special to be screened on Christmas Eve, his farewell to the show.

YTV insiders say they expect his departure to affect viewing figures, currently about 14 million on Sundays.

In the show, Greengrass leaves for Barbados where his widowed sister has won the lottery - and invited him to help her spend it.

A YTV spokesman said: "There are no plans to kill off Greengrass."

Greengrass will continue to live on in the Constable books, which inspired the Heartbeat series.

Author Peter Walker, a former North Yorkshire Police Inspector, said: "He's such a marvellous character for me.

"Bill Maynard has made him famous worldwide - and he'll be missed in the TV series."

The 22nd Constable book will be out in the new year.