Dear Reader: No texts please we're British + Harrogate Theatre's success

A personal column by the Harrogate Advertiser's Graham Chalmers

Harrogate Theatre panto legend Tim Steadman with co-star Maisey Bawden.
Harrogate Theatre panto legend Tim Steadman with co-star Maisey Bawden.

I heard a story recently about a group of young children sitting in a row in a Harrogate church.They weren’t any trouble. They weren’t in any way discourteous or disruptive during the service.They just sat there, not talking to each other.What they were doing side-by-side the whole time was texting each other, phones superglued to their fingers.I had no reason not to believe the story was true but it did set a train of thought running.

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Just what is the particular itch that a mobile phone scratches so well?The first thing is privacy. Only the recipient knows what you’ve written.This makes it safe to express amusement – or alarm - about something or someone.How handy is that? A secret friend on your side in any situation. And no one else knows,Of course, there are horror stories out there about the use and misuse of mobile phones, many of them involving youngsters.I suppose like anything, the good never comes without the bad.Personally, I am not absorped 24/7 in the world of texts and Tweets and posts.I like to say occasionally - with a bit of a self-satisfied tone in my voice - that I visit the digital world rather than living there. As the years tick by, how long before that boast sounds as hollow as someone determined to stick to the idea that the earth is flat?

I finally saw the second half of this year’s Harrogate panto last week.Don’t ask. It’s a long story.The occasion was a party to mark the 118th year of Harrogate Theatre.Unusually in these tough times for the arts, it’s prospering almost entirely on its own steam without public funding – a mere seven per cent of its annual budget comes that way.If you judge the theatre’s good health purely by its popularity and its ability to attract talented and well-known people, nothing much has changed since it first opened in the heyday of Victorian elegance and glamour.Glasses chinked as the assembled guests rubbed shoulders with the likes of Porl Cooper, the programmer for cutting edge drama in the theatre’s studio, and board members like Joyce Branagh, (Kennneth’s sister, I’ll have you know) and departing stalwarts like Di Burton.There was plenty of mingling with the panto’s cast and crew, the brilliant Tim Stedman, the show’s co-writer David Bown and its director Phil Lowe.Chairman Jim Clark gave a typically dignified speech in a gallant fashion after recent health troubles.He talked not only of this wonderful arts hub’s past successes but also of plans for an even better future with a lengthy list of improvements such as a lift, very useful in this rabbit warren of a building designed by famed architect Frank Tugwell.No. Nothing much has changed at Harrogate Theatre in 118 years.It still knows that standing still is not really an option.