Widow of ITV Calendar presenter Austin MItchell, Linda McDougall, on how she fell in love with Yorkshire

New Zealand-born author and television producer, Linda McDougall, 83, has lived in Sowerby Bridge for more than 50 years. Her husband was the late Austin Mitchell, Calendar News presenter and Labour MP for Grimsby.

What is your first Yorkshire memory?

That would be meeting Austin, who was born in Shipley, in New Zealand. Yorkshire sounded the most wonderful place I’d missed when I’d been in Britain. All I knew about Yorkshire was what he told me. I do love Yorkshire and I’ve spent more of my life here than anywhere else. When Austin and I first came here, we lived in Shipley where his parents were, and then we moved to Sowerby Bridge in 1972 because it was halfway between Yorkshire Television in Leeds where he worked, and Manchester where I was working at Granada.

What is your favourite part of the county?

Linda McDougalLinda McDougal
Linda McDougal

I would say that it’s my house in Sowerby Bridge. Longfield, Dean Lane, West Yorkshire. It’s hidden away. I love it, it’s quiet, peaceful and not many people can find it. I’ve been there for over 50 years.

What is your favourite walk or view?

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That’s when I can see Stoodley Pike. It’s a 1,300-foot-high hill which dominates the moors in the Calder Valley and overlooks Todmorden. The monument was completed in 1856 and replaced one built in 1815 to mark the end of the Napoleonic wars. When I see it, I feel at home.

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

Sally Wainwright on the Red Carpet in the Piece Hall, Halifax, for the Premier Screening of th next series of Gentleman Jack.
29 March 2022.  Picture Bruce RollinsonSally Wainwright on the Red Carpet in the Piece Hall, Halifax, for the Premier Screening of th next series of Gentleman Jack.
29 March 2022.  Picture Bruce Rollinson
Sally Wainwright on the Red Carpet in the Piece Hall, Halifax, for the Premier Screening of th next series of Gentleman Jack. 29 March 2022. Picture Bruce Rollinson

I’m always tempted if someone suggests a trip to Whitby and I’d prefer not to go in the summer when it’s so busy. I love the fish and chips.

What is it that gives Yorkshire its unique identity?

You are going to be surprised because I think this is the opposite of what everyone thinks, and I’ve come to this view since I’ve written this book on Marcia Williams. It’s Yorkshire’s women. They are extraordinarily tough and straight forward, and this is one of the reasons why Yorkshire men are so good at what they do. They’ve always had women to help and support them, such as Harold Wilson’s mother. Her project was her son, and now, we are getting to a much better position where Yorkshire women are beginning to star in all sorts of fields. It’s fair to say that Yorkshire women have never been given the credit for the things they’ve done for their men.

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Which Yorkshire sportsman would you like to take out for lunch?

Adrian Moorhouse, the swimmer from Bradford who won a gold medal at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 and also won European and Commonwealth Games gold medals in the breaststroke.

Which Yorkshire stage or screen star would you like to take out for dinner?

This is the most important person that’s ever been in Sowerby Bridge. It’s Sally Wainwright, the television producer, writer and director. She’s made such a huge contribution to Yorkshire life. Just look at Happy Valley and Gentleman Jack. Every time I go the railway station in Sowerby Bridge, you can see a plaque that tells you about Sally Wainwright who was brought up there. I’d be honoured if Sally would even say hello, let alone share a meal.

Which part of Yorkshire would you like to own for the day?

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That’s easy. Salts Mill. It’s a wonderful place and I have been there often. I know David Hockney and am enormously enthusiastic about everything which is happening at Salts Mill. Every New Zealander who’s been to Yorkshire, we’ve taken to Salts Mill which is very important to us.

Who is the Yorkshire person you admire the most?

Rachel Reeves, the Leeds MP and Shadow Chancellor. I’ve known her since before she became an MP, and I remember filming with her. I’ve watched Rachel grow in confidence and authority.

Do you think Yorkshire has changed for the better or the worse?

For the worse. People are in such trouble and there’s so much poverty, and the reason for this is because governments of all stripes come along and say they’re going to level up. But it never happens. The infrastructure here is appalling. Look at the trains – if you can get one. Travel improvements have been given to the South, and governments of every shade have failed to help Yorkshire. I think Yorkshire people have become less privileged.

What would you change in Yorkshire?

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We need to be treated as THE important part of the country that we are. Most important of all, we need infrastructure so that we can get around Yorkshire.

How much influence has Yorkshire had on your career?

Enormous. A lot of my career has been spent here, and I wrote Marcia Williams The Life and Times of Baroness Falkender in Yorkshire.

Which is your favourite restaurant?

I can tell you I’m pretty keen on Salvo’s, the Italian restaurant on Otley Road at Headingley in Leeds. The food is excellent.

What is your favourite food shop?

Since the beginning of time, I’ve been loyal to Mark and Spencer which started in Leeds market. I’m really glad that M&S are on the way up because they are a big part of my life and I seem to spend an awful lot of my money with them.

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If a stranger came to Yorkshire and you had time to take that person to one place only, where would that be?

When Austin was writing his book on the author JB Priestley from Bradford, we went to Hubberholme at the head of Wharfedale. It’s very much off the beaten track, and when you go to the church of St Michael and All Angels, you will see a plaque commemorating JB Priestley whose ashes are buried somewhere there. We had a lovely day and I recall going to Hubberholme with Austin who was being interviewed by Harry Gration of BBC Look North about his book. Priestley himself described Hubberholme as the smallest, pleasantest place in the world.

Linda McDougall’s latest book is a biography of Marcia Williams, the powerful adviser to Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

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