My Yorkshire: Peter Firth

Film and television actor Peter Firth, who stars as spymaster Harry Pearce in the BBC series, Spooks, was born in Bradford and educated at Hanson School. His parents ran the Waterloo Inn, Pudsey, Leeds. A successful child actor, he worked on Broadway and was nominated for an Oscar for the film version of Equus with Richard Burton. Last year he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Bradford University.

What's your first memory of Yorkshire?

The thing that springs to mind, and it's quite a nice image actually, was at infants' school in Eccleshill in Bradford. We used to have milk delivered in third of a pint bottles. I remember being a milk monitor at some point and in the winter the milk was frozen solid because it was outside in the playground and it was bursting out of the foil tops and then in the summer the birds would peck the foil and drink off the cream. I think that's my earliest memory.

What's your favourite part of the county and why?

It's the North York Moors National Park. It's the wildness of it really. There are lots of lovely areas of Yorkshire, but the moors are my favourite from that other-worldly aspect, the geography is so extraordinarily different from anywhere else. Runswick Bay, the charming little natural cove just north of Whitby, is a favourite place too.

What's your idea of a perfect weekend/day out in Yorkshire?

I'm spoiled for choice, but it would have to be what I did this summer, which was skinny-dipping in the River Wharfe at Burnsall followed by dinner at the Red Lion.

Do you have a favourite walk, or view?

I really enjoy walking when I do it, but I'm a little bit lazy. My favourite is the Cleveland Way along the highest cliffs in England at Boulby, up from Staithes, and they are 666ft high. From there I think you can look out across the North Sea and discern the curve of the earth. Some people say that's an optical illusion, but there's a definite curve from the top of the cliffs.

Which Yorkshire sportsman/woman (past or present) would you like to take for lunch?

Brian Clough, although he was born in Middlesbrough, he's known for managing Leeds United. I'd like to have that conversation with him about what it's like to be constantly at odds with those people who are supposed to be your masters. I find him an interesting character and if I have to have a sportsman then Brian's top of the list.

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

The great Charles Laughton from Scarborough. He was such a fabulous actor; everything I see him in is completely and utterly memorable. You can only count great actors on one hand and he was one of them.

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

I shouldn't expose this gem, but the crypt of St Mary's Church at Lastingham in Ryedale. There was a monastery on the site, founded by St Cedd, the early missionary, and then a church built in the 11th century, on the ruins, but they kept the crypt. It's still open and it's dripping in atmosphere and history. Ley-line researchers have done a lot of examination of it. It's a highly active spot in terms of all that: lots of energy lines cross, there, apparently. I find it a calming place and there's a nice little pub, the Blacksmiths Arms, over the road.

What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity?

I've got no real answer to that. I'm not a professional Yorkshireman and people are often surprised to find that I am from here as I don't feel it's part of my personality. Yorkshire's sheer size and diversity make it special. It's so varied that in a day you can drive through so many geographical landscapes.

Do you follow sport in the county, and if so what?

I'm a big football fan but I support Middlesbrough and I used to watch Bradford City. But I find the lower divisions lacking in excitement.

What about Yorkshire's cultural life?

It would be presumptuous to comment, as I don't live here any more. But I was working in Beverley and Leeds in August and September and I hadn't been for years. The culture seems to be flourishing with Opera North and the West Yorkshire Playhouse and the arts have a higher profile than I remember.

Do you have a favourite restaurant or pub?

My mum lives in Whitby and The Magpie Caf is great with a fantastic value menu for that part of the world. You always have to queue, but you don't have to wait long. The crab is my favourite and I like crab salad but with a portion of amazing

chips. I like seafood so another favourite

is an Italian restaurant in Scarborough called La Lanterna, where they have a great catch of the day straight from the fishing boats.

Do you have a favourite food shop?

I love Asian stores, but not one in particular. I go to Radford's, the fabulous butcher in Sleights, for local meat like Yorkshire lamb and great ham they smoke themselves. Then in Great Ayton there's Petch's the butchers for pork pies – they're the best.

How do you think Yorkshire has changed in the time you've known it?

I left Yorkshire when I was 18, so I noticed when I was in Leeds how it's changed dramatically from the run-down Victorian city that I last saw. There are bold statements in the architecture with lots of glass and what used to be the grotty old canal is now a leisure facility with lots

of street cafs. I stayed in the city centre and I was trying to find somewhere quiet. At night Leeds rocks, but I wasn't tempted to go out and join in. I'm impressed with the Victoria Quarter and the way it is juxtaposed with Kirkgate market and the Corn Exchange, another lovely building.

Are those changes for the better?

Unquestionably, yes.

Who is the Yorkshire man or woman you most admire?

Captain James Cook RN. He was my boyhood hero. I read his Explorations of Captain James Cook in the Pacific and found it enormously inspirational. In those days you didn't know if you would be sailing to the ends of the earth. He had an adventurous spirit, which I share.

How has Yorkshire influenced your work?

No idea. But it launched me as an actor. I didn't know what I was going to do. I only went to the drama club at Bradford Playhouse because it was where the best-looking girls went. But from there I got an agent and TV work. I was in the children's series The Flaxton Boys, which was filmed at Ripley Castle. I went back in September and it was lovely, a completion of sorts, as I hadn't been there for 40 years.

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

My book has to be the Explorations of Captain James Cook in the Pacific, 1768 –1779, written by Cook and Sir Arthur Grenfell Price. I'm a bit torn about the artist, but I'll go for the sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. The CD would be by Joe Cocker, as he's a favourite and from Sheffield and my performer is singer Lesley Garrett. I'm not really into opera, but I like to see it and she can just turn it on.

Where is the one place you would recommend as a must see for a first-time visitor to Yorkshire?

We would have to go to the Dales as they encapsulate what Yorkshire is about. Again they are very varied, but they tick all the boxes for scenery and charm. I'd like to take my visitors on the road between Appletreewick and Pateley Bridge in a Land Rover, which would be good.

Peter Firth stars in the new BBC drama South Riding, based on the Winifred Holtby novel, in January.

YP MAG 20/11/10