Jess Fowle is co-founder and creative director of True North, the largest independent factual television production company outside London. A Leeds University graduate, she lives in Hebden Bridge with her family – and her bikes.
What’s your first memory of being outdoors? I came to Yorkshire as a 19-year-old student, whose only experience of the North was north London, and it was the first time I’d spent any real time in the countryside. My then boyfriend Jonathan (now husband) took me mountain biking near Harewood House and we ended up in a field with some cows. I’d never seen real cows before. I was terrified.
What’s your favourite part of the county and why? It wouldn’t be top of everyone’s list – but, in my eyes, you simply can’t beat Calderdale. I love the extreme beauty and the hard grit. I love the overwhelming sense of very recent history that’s shaped not just the architecture but the land itself – with packhorse routes and water that’s been put hard to work.
What’s your idea of a perfect weekend/day out in Yorkshire? Despite my deep loyalty to Calderdale, if you gave me a whole weekend I’d spend it in the Dales. I’d wake at The Priory B&B to the clip clop of the trainers gently trotting their horses out of Middleham. Then I’d ride my road bike over Coverdale, to the top of Wharfedale, up Langstrothdale, to Hawes and then replace all those lost calories with a gorgeous meal and well deserved sleep at the lovely Yorebridge House hotel in Bainbridge. The next morning would be both sunny and frosty (has to be both) as we’d obliterate a slight hangover with a fry-up overlooking the hotel gardens before riding part of the way home.
Do you have a favourite walk, or view? My favourite isn’t a walk. It’s a bike ride. I was given a book of Ted Hughes’ poetry – with accompanying grainy black and white pictures of the rough Calderdale landscape – and I came across the line ‘where the mothers gallop their souls’. Well, that’s what me and my friends do at the weekend. We gallop our souls, ‘on the tops’ above Hebden Bridge, Haworth, Todmorden and Mytholmroyd.
How do you immerse yourself in Yorkshire’s cultural life? Yorkshire has so much to offer culturally but I tend to get my fill in Hebden Bridge. The Trades Club is unique – an amazing historic building, regularly attracts massive names (Patti Smith, Richard Hawley, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry) who wouldn’t dream of playing similar size venues in other small towns. It’s the heart and soul of our community – and saved the day by providing hot food and a place of soggy refuge during the 2015 floods. Or I head to the majestic Hebden Bridge Picture House. The problem is that there’s so much leg room and the tea and cake is so good that I often doze off and only wake as the credits roll. I’ve even started taking my slippers with me.
Do you find yourself ‘selling’ Yorkshire to non-believers? If so, how? I never feel I have to say anything to sell Yorkshire. The fact that my work takes me on a regular 400 mile commute to London and back, but I still choose Yorkshire as my home, speaks for itself.
Do you have a favourite restaurant or pub? Gimbals in Sowerby Bridge isn’t just my favourite restaurant in Yorkshire. In my opinion it’s the best restaurant in the whole world. There is nowhere that compares with the warmth of welcome, quality of cooking and the imagination and inventiveness shown in the Gimbals menu. Janet and Simon Baker have been dreaming up amazing food at Gimbals for 20 years and their passion smacks you in the face the moment you walk through the door.
Who is the Yorkshire man or woman you most admire? I have a huge amount of admiration for Mary Clear and Gig Nilavongse who are putting Todmorden (yes, it is in Yorkshire despite the Oldham postcode) on the map – not only as an unexpected culinary and cultural hotspot but as a town where small acts of kindness have become the town’s calling card. There’s even a huge white ‘KINDNESS” Hollywood-style sign on the way into town.
How has living in Yorkshire influenced your work? My office is often a train table on the East Coast line between Leeds and London. Living where I do has allowed me to see what’s on our TV screens from a non-metropolitan perspective (which so few of the media decision makers are able to do from their London bubble) and that’s made me approach my work from a much broader perspective.
If a stranger to Yorkshire had time to visit only one place, where would you send them? When my parents first visited me in Yorkshire, I took them to Saltaire for its magnificent lily-scented mix of industrial heritage and vivid Hockney LA swimming pools. Plus they do a brilliant burger in the diner. And, since then, we must have been 50 times or more.
If you had to name Yorkshire’s hidden gem, what would it be? I love the Georgian Piece Hall in Halifax. It’s a genuinely stunning piece of architecture with a fascinating history that’s all about real people rather than clergy, royalty or noblemen. It’s bang in the middle of straight-talking Halifax though it does have Haworth pretty much on the doorstep for people wanting a bit more cultural bang for their buck. The Piece Hall has had a tumultuous time recently and it’s a miracle it’s survived. Hopefully the new plan to reinvent it as a cultural and culinary centre will pay off and bring in enough footfall to see it thrive.
What do you think gives Yorkshire’s its unique identity? From the highest peaks of the Dales to the rolling hills of the Wolds, the genteel charm of Harrogate to the gritty staying power of the former mill towns, the madness of the M62 to the remoteness of Tan Hill – Yorkshire has got everything and, for me, it’s these intense contrasts that give Yorkshire its unique identity.
What are you working on at the moment? A children’s series featuring some of the UK’s most charismatic vets, a documentary series about Brits starting new lives in Europe, series six-10 of Building the Dream – our escapist show about people building dream homes on a budget. And I’m always developing new work to keep people occupied across our two bases in Leeds and Manchester.