Monday, 15 March 2010

Heads and Hudds

I'm just off to talk to the AGM of Huddersfield Civic Society, where I'll pass on a couple of gems from Phyllis Bentley (see post below). One is the brief observation of one of her characters in Quorum, a talented and sensitive teacher who has chosen to stay in the North in spite of tempting offers in London: "There is colourful truth about the West Riding textile industry as well as sombre truth." This hits precisely one of the nails which I have also tried to strike in True North, on the need for a wider picture of the industrial North than cliches about trouble at t'mill. As Bentley also describes well, every great industry had - still has - a fine artistic and design section, which has played a part in the flowering of art in the North, from the Gregory Fellows at Leeds Uni, to the Northern Arts Prize.
I knew a real-life Northerner who made the same choice as Bentley's fictional teacher - John Walker who died last year at the age of 97. After getting a sky-high degree at Cambridge, he was invited by Maynard Keynes to take a job in the Treasury, but returned instead to run the family blanket mill in Cleckheaton. He never regretted it, and enjoyed curious moments such as his return to the mill after presiding over the committal of the Yorkshire Ripper as a Dewsbury magistrate. "Before I give you any other information," he told the workforce, who were agog at a time when near-hysteria had gripped this part of the world, "Let me say first that the blanket covering Sutcliffe as he went into court was one of ours."
Bentley also makes a quite different observation, elsewhere in Quorum, which appeals to another of my lifelong campaigns. I've it tucked away in my folder entitled Those Were Not The Days/There's Little New Under The Sun: "Teachers nowadays had so many administrative tasks, so many forms to fill, so many responsibilities for the physical and economic welfare of their pupils, that they hardly had time to teach, much less to live any private and personal lives." That was in 1950! If you meet a teacher grumbling away in this vein, much as farmers do, read it to them.
Meanwhile, here's a puff for the current Headingley LitFest in which I'm playing a humble role - lots of draws including David Peace, excellent writer but sadly a King of Northern Noir, and Prof David Russell on Phyllis Bentley, yo!. I hope you can read the programme if you double click on the pic, but if not, check out Actually, my bit's a bit blurred due to my incompetence, but it's on Sat 20 March at the Yorkshire College of Music and Drama in Shire Oak Road at 3pm. As I mention far below, David Hall's Far Headingley, Weetwood and West Park (Headingley Village Society 2000) gives you an idea of the incredible amount of interest - people, places, history - to be found in this one suburb. And that covers only part of it...

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