My Yorkshire: Keith Barron

Actor Keith Barron was born in Mexborough, South Yorkshire, and learned his craft at the old Sheffield Playhouse, where he met his wife, the stage designer Mary Pickard. The couple now live in London and their son, James, is also an actor.

Keith Barron and Gwen Taylor in The Last Of The Duty free
Keith Barron and Gwen Taylor in The Last Of The Duty free

What’s your first Yorkshire memory?

I must have been about four or five. My mum and dad had saved up to get us some tickets for Sheffield Lyceum’s Christmas pantomime. The big day came along, we all got dressed up, and off we went. We got into the auditorium, managed to find our seats – and there was someone in them. My father checked our tickets, and to his horror, he found that he’d brought us a week early. Apparently I was inconsolable.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

What’s your favourite part of the county – and why?

The east coast, from sweeping cliffs in the north to the great long stretch of sand and shingle that is Spurn Point in the south. My parents moved to live near Bridlington after living in South Yorkshire for many years, and whenever I get over there I think of them, and how happy they were in their later years.

What’s your idea of a perfect day, or a perfect weekend, out in Yorkshire?

It would have to be one day furtling about aimlessly in York, where you can walk around a corner and find something that you’ve never seen before. The Sunday would be spent in Whitby, a fish and chip lunch, a stroll out along the breakwater pier, and a climb up to the Abbey, to drink in the magnificent views.

Do you have a favourite walk – or view?

We are back at the coast again, and we are on top of Bempton Cliffs, looking out to sea and watching the waves crash below. You’ll not be able to hear the waves, because they are drowned out by the cries of the millions of seabirds.

Which Yorkshire sportsman, past or present, would you like to take for lunch?

If I took anyone, it would be a group of the sporting pioneers – the lads and lasses who set the ground rules and who broke taboos. Someone, maybe, like Arthur Wharton, who was the first black professional footballer, at the turn of the last century. He’s buried in Edlington, not many miles from where I was born.

Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, past or present, would you like to take for dinner?

James Mason, an absolutely brilliant actor, who left Huddersfield to become one of the biggest names in Hollywood. Best of all, I’d love to be able to ask him what it was like working with Miss Judy Garland on A Star is Born. That film is a classic – but what did he have to go through to make it?

If you had to name your Yorkshire ‘hidden gem’, what would it be?

It would be the town of Beverley. With great respect to the Minster, which is a beautiful building, I love the “other end” of the town, around St Mary’s Church, which is an architectural masterpiece.

What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity?

Well, we have a bit of everything, from the remote moors to bustling communities, from beaches to cliffs, from the rolling dales to the flatlands of the south-east. A huge diversity of cultures and, of course, the people. Good, solid, open, but – unlike one or two who have moved away – I hope that I am not that dreaded thing, a “professional Yorkshireman”, because, frankly, they bore the backside off me.

Do you have a favourite restaurant, or pub?

It’s the North Star at Flamborough Head. A lovely little cosy place, with a warm welcome and terrifically friendly staff. Mary and I have had some of the best crab and lobster of our lives in there.

Do you have a favourite food shop?

When I’m on tour, it’s the one that is conveniently nearest to the stage door. And if it is a deli, with a little area outside where I can have a coffee and watch the world go by, so much the better. I am an unashamed people watcher.

How do you think that Yorkshire has changed, for better or for worse, in the time that you’ve known it?

The geographical changes have happened in places where there was once heavy industry – pits and factories, where now you’ll often find landscaped hills and mounds. I always remember that stretch of railway line that runs from Doncaster through to Sheffield – there were so many ironworks and furnaces alongside at one time that it was nicknamed “Hades”. Nearly all gone now.

If you had to change one thing in, or about Yorkshire, what would that be?

Very little. With all its imperfections (and there are many) it’s still the place where I was born and raised, and started learning my trade. And where I met my wife. I remember that when I left drama school – where they’d tried to drum any regional accents out of us – I met my first agent, and after talking to him for a bit he said: “Young Barron, I do think that you might be offered a few more parts if you reverted to talking naturally, and you dropped the ‘bay window’ from your voice.” So I did, and he was right. I’ve hardly stopped working since.

Who is the Yorkshire person that you most admire?

Alan Bennett, because he’s a wonderful writer, and is so accurate in his observations of the social scene. Oddly, I’ve never ever appeared in one of his plays, so here is a shamelessly “big ask” directed at him, pleading for him to write something for this elderly actor while my legs are still working.

Has Yorkshire influenced your work?

Greatly. I have used it so much in my work, and my association with the county has been very useful. But if you are lucky enough to be born here, it’s just part of you, isn’t it?

Name your favourite Yorkshire book/author/artist/CD/performer.

Like many thousands of others, I have a fascination with the Brontës, and how those remarkable women could be so inventive and imaginative given the place that they came from. On a bad weather day it’s bleak and horrible – perhaps that made them want to escape into literature? Mary and I also love the work of the Brighouse artist Peter Brook, who created the most wonderful landscape paintings, and we have a modest collection of them at home.

If a stranger to Yorkshire only had time to visit one place, it would be?

Whitby. Any town with all that history, with its welcoming tolerance towards incoming hordes of tourists, with its acceptance of the Goth fraternity, and which can inspire Bram Stoker to create the legend that is Dracula, gets my vote.

• Keith Barron is appearing in Last of the Duty Free, at the Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, from Monday, June 16.