Leeds's True North TV company weathers pandemic with hit show Devon and Cornwall

Like most independent television producers, staff at Leeds-based True North had cause for concern as 2020 unfolded.

The screen industry - one which has been growing in Yorkshire for years now - was one of those that came to an abrupt stop.

But the company has managed to weather the storm of the pandemic thanks to a television hit and a number of hopeful prospects in the coming months.

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One of the company's shows, Devon and Cornwall, was C4’s highest new non-Bake Off 8pm series for three years and regularly attracted more than two million viewers - nearly double the average figure for that slot.

Andrew Sheldon of TV company True North, pictured on Ilkley Moor. Picture: Tony Johnson.Andrew Sheldon of TV company True North, pictured on Ilkley Moor. Picture: Tony Johnson.
Andrew Sheldon of TV company True North, pictured on Ilkley Moor. Picture: Tony Johnson.

It was created following the company's success with The Yorkshire Dales and the Lakes.

Andrew Sheldon, founder and creative director, said the company had thought about where else it could film a programme that had "a lovely landscape and, essentially, nice characters" like Yorkshire.

As it happened, there was an appetite for such viewing when the pandemic hit.

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Mr Sheldon said: "It was always programming that people could turn to and enjoy and maybe put to the side their concerns about the wider world.

"It was a place of refuge for a lot of people. With Covid happening, it's escalated that."

The four episodes of the second series take viewers through the seasons in Devon and Cornwall.

Initially it aired on the More4 channel, but with the need for more content during the production halt in lockdown, Channel 4 gave it a run on the main station.

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Mr Sheldon, of Ilkley, said "it's far and away" the channel's biggest original series this year.

Next up, the company's A New Life In The Sun: Road Trip will be hitting screens, but unlike its sister show A New Life In The Sun, it will go out prime time.

The show - voiced by Fred Sirieix of First Dates fame - was made in lockdown using material the company had already shot, which was re-edited and re-formatted.

Mr Sheldon said: "It's a really lovely-looking show. We think it's going to go out on prime time on Channel 4.

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"I think that will also do very well. It's a chance for people to get abroad this summer to spend an hour in the sun."

The company is also working on a show about Scottish islands with ballet star and former Strictly Come Dancing judge Darcey Bussell.

Mr Sheldon praised the work of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP), which alongside Screen Yorkshire, made £200,000 of grants available during lockdown through its Indie TV and Film Development Fund.

The regional screen industry's association with the LEP came about through partnership work in the run-up to Leeds being chosen as the base for Channel 4's new headquarters.

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True North says it is one of the fastest growing television and media producers in the UK.

With bases in Leeds and Manchester, it makes content in almost every territory in the world.

True North was also named one of the 2018 Broadcast Best Places to Work, and won a coveted Top 10 placing in Broadcast’s Peer Poll.