It was 1972 and Mike Bradwell was a young firebrand. He would go on to become a lynchpin of modern British drama while running London’s Bush Theatre, but back then he was just an upstart who was in Hull ‘hiding’.
“We came to Hull because nobody could keep an eye on us there. We were all on the DHSS and we knew if we moved to Hull – because there were definitely no jobs in Hull – we’d be just left to it, to run a theatre company,” Bradwell told me when he returned to the city last year.
The director’s dream of a theatre company was realised when he placed an advert in Time Out magazine. The advert read ‘Half formed theatre company seeks other half’. Working out of the back of a truck, with Hull Truck Theatre Company (the creative brilliance was saved for the stage, not the company name) Bradwell found his other half and began creating work. The office was a telephone box at the bottom of the street. A white telephone box, obviously.
Hull Truck became world famous, going from touring productions out of the back of a truck, to touring around the world.
This story holds the key to why Hull was named yesterday as the UK’s next City of Culture.
One or two national media outlets were a little snotty about the news that in 2017 the East Yorkshire former home of Philip Larkin will be the UK’s City of Culture.
Indeed, almost all of them referenced Hull’s most famous librarian while searching for an answer as to why the East Yorkshire city gained the accolade. They should have looked a bit deeper – although they were playing to type.
In Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, the Headmaster reveals he studied in Hull, to which the automatic reply is ‘Oh, Larkin’. The Headmaster’s riposte is: “Everybody says that. ‘Hull? Oh, Larkin.’ I don’t know about the poetry...but as a librarian he was pitiless. The Himmler of the Accessions Desk.” Yes, Larkin is the oft quoted famous literary son of Hull.
But what about Anthony Minghella, who started his career in the city university and its famous drama department? What about Alan Plater who lived in Hull and shepherded Minghella through his early, pre-Oscar winning career? What about Barrie Rutter, who gave birth to his company Northern Broadsides in the city?
What about Martin Barrass, an actor who had audiences in the palm of his hand in One Man Two Guvnors at the National Theatre – and who learnt his pratfalls at the city’s theatre? What about the enterprising bunch including Andrew Pearson and Dave Windass who have set about turning the former fruit market by the docks into one of Yorkshire’s most exciting new art venues? What about Lucy Beaumont, recently crowned one of the best comedians of her generation and whose act is based around her skewed, Hull-inspired view of the world?
That’s before we mention Ferens Art Gallery, which packed people in to a David Hockney exhibition last year, and world famous playwright John Godber who toured his productions out of the city, on to the silver screen.
Bradwell, when he came to Hull in the early 1970s, discovered a city where arts folk didn’t ask permission – the outside world wasn’t watching so they just got on with it. It’s a proud tradition that has served Hull well. Artists of the future should continue staying true to that Hull attitude. Just know now that the world has found out the secret and is watching.