What’s your first Yorkshire memory? As a native of Normanton ALL my first memories are Yorkshire ones. I was born at home, the son of a miner and a nurse, in a two-up two-down, which we lived in until I was seven. In my mind’s eye, I can still walk around the old house, the back streets and the fields, and see it all as vividly as I did then, some 50 years on. Happy days!
What’s your favourite part of the county and why? As a kid I used to spend nearly all my holidays on the North Yorkshire coast with the rocks, coves and caves of Thornwick Bay and the nooks and crannies of Staithes and Whitby acting as my playground. Nowadays, every February half-term, my son and I have a boy’s day out in Whitby – football on the beach, a walk along the harbour wall, a couple of quid each in the amusements, fish ’n’ chips, the 199 steps up to the Abbey and back. How do you beat that?
What’s your idea of a perfect weekend/day out in Yorkshire? Nothing fancy, but it would have to include my two favourite things – time with my family and going to watch my beloved Huddersfield Town. My dad has taken me to see The Terriers since December 16, 1967 (we lost 3-0 at home to Bristol City) and I’ve barely been away from the place since.
Do you have a favourite walk, or view? Having lived in London for nearly a quarter of a century, my wife and I returned to Yorkshire some 16 years ago, with our newborn daughter, and were fortunate enough to live in a converted barn high above Lindley Wood Reservoir and the Washburn Valley. From our vantage point, we were able to enjoy some of the most glorious big skies and sunsets you could ever wish to see.
Which Yorkshire stage or screen star (past or present) would you like to take for lunch, and why? So many to choose from, but Michael Palin would take some beating. He’s worn the tag of “the nicest man in show-business” for many years… and for good reason. As a young actor, I had the pleasure of working with him in Alan Bennett’s film A Private Function where he proved to be just as warm, genial and funny as his on-screen persona suggests.
If you had to name your Yorkshire ‘hidden gem’, what or where would it be? See the Washburn Valley above and the Half Moon pub below.
What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity? As already mentioned, the sheer variety of its natural beauty – it’s not called God’s Own County for nothing! As for the people, their wit, their candour, their indefatigable fighting spirit and their glorious bloody-mindedness.
How do you immerse yourself in Yorkshire’s cultural life? I was privileged to be asked to perform in the very first production at the West Yorkshire Playhouse when it opened in 1990. Subsequently, I played some of the most fantastic roles imaginable, there. Recently, the brilliant artistic director James Brining invited me to become their first (actor) associate artist – something of which I am enormously proud.
Do you have a favourite restaurant or pub? I have two – both pubs that also do excellent grub. One is the Coach and Horses in Harrogate where, every couple of months, my team of equally ill-informed, cerebrally-challenged, bunch of no-hoper friends fail miserably in the pub quiz. The other is a glorious little free house, down by the river in Knaresborough, called the Half Moon. A lovingly renovated, out of the way, warm and welcoming gem of a place.
Do you have a favourite food shop? Harrogate, where we now live, has a plethora of fine food shops, cafes etc, so I’d best leave it at that lest I upset any of them by not giving them a mention. A friend of mine, however, having grown somewhat tired of the inevitable cry of “Oh, yes… Bettys!” whenever he mentions that he lives in Harrogate, now replies, “Bettys, Bettys? No… never heard of it!”
Do you ever find yourself ‘selling’ Yorkshire to others? Not particularly. I find all the best things tend to sell themselves.
Who is the Yorkshire man or woman you most admire, and why? Parents aside, Dean Hoyle (the Huddersfield Town chairman and owner) for having dragged himself up by his bootstraps to become a hugely successful businessman, and then ploughing most of his hard-earned cash into an oft-ignored and much under-fancied, sleeping giant of a football club, and managing to do for them what he did for his original business.
How has Yorkshire influenced your work? In as much as “you can take the boy out of Yorkshire, but you can’t take Yorkshire out of the boy”. I have been fortunate enough to have worked in film, theatre and television for some 37 years now, and played a rich variety of characters from all walks of life, with hugely different backgrounds to my own. However, at the heart of every single one of them, I guess there’s always a lad from Normanton.
Name your favourite Yorkshire author/artist/performer. I’ll go for Alan Bennett. A couple of years back I had the honour of playing the great man on stage in his autobiographical piece Untold Stories. To portray Alan you have to be given the royal seal of approval. Luckily, I already knew him from my days on A Private Function and managed to get the nod. He didn’t know it, but he then travelled around with me in my car for some three months as I listened to nearly every single recording he had ever made in order to get the voice right.
What are you working on at the moment? I’ve just finished directing a drama (a relatively recent new string to my bow) in the Jimmy McGovern lead series Moving On for BBC1. Next up, I’ll be playing Halvard Solness in Ibsen’s The Master Builder at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in a new and bold adaptation by Zinnie Harris. I’m enormously excited!