My Yorkshire: TV head teacher Jonny Mitchell

Jonny Mitchell, head teacher of Thornhill Community Academy, Thornhill, Dewsbury.
Jonny Mitchell, head teacher of Thornhill Community Academy, Thornhill, Dewsbury.
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Jonny Mitchell is the head of Thornhill Community Academy and became something of a TV heartthrob thanks to Educating Yorkshire. Born in Dewsbury in 1972 he now lives in Pontefract with his wife, Lisa, and their three girls, Ella, Lydia and Celia.

What’s your first memory of being outdoors?

I don’t have a great memory for such a long time ago, but I recall spending many weekends and school holidays taking walks with my parents and sisters around Hardcastle Crags and through Blake Dean and Greenwood Lee. We seemed to be there most of the time – perhaps because it was on the way to Burnley where my Dad’s family hailed from.

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

There’s so much of it to love – but if I were told I could only ever visit one place in Yorkshire for the rest of my life, it would have to be Whitby.

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

Nowadays, any time away is a huge bonus – if it involves sunshine and a light breeze, the weekend is almost perfect anyway; but late summer on the beach at Scarborough, fish and chips, a flask of coffee (or tea, of course) and the kids making loads of noise is difficult to beat.

Do you have a favourite walk, or view?

My favourite walk, which I now haven’t done for a while, starts out at the car park in Malham, takes in Janet’s Foss, climbs up Gordale Scar and treks up to the Tarn before heading back on the road to Malham. It is difficult to imagine something more spectacular than Malham Cove, to be fair, and I have spent time in the gorges of the Ardèche.

Which Yorkshire stage or screen star (past or present) would you like to take to lunch?

I think most of them would be taking me, to be honest… I love old movies, basically anything not in colour, just because of the darkness they invoke; 
James Mason springs to mind as a favourite of “the era”, but I would be equally at home with more contemporary artists, and certainly comedians. I never realised until recently that Vic Reeves 
was a Yorkie, so he’d be good value for a surreal chuckle, I guess. I recently had the pleasure of briefly meeting Leigh Francis (aka Keith Lemon) at a glitzy awards do; he even photo-bombed me, so I’d like to return the favour some time...

Do you find yourself ‘selling’ Yorkshire to non-believers? If so, how?

People have such a weird view of Yorkshire people as skinflints who speak their mind. As if that is all there is to us…to be honest I find myself selling my West-Yorkshireness to other people from other parts of Yorkshire more than selling Yorkshire itself. But I am fiercely proud of Yorkshire, and am more than prepared to get into some pretty mind-bending debate about why we are so much better than everyone else. Especially Lancastrians, of course.

Do you have a favourite restaurant or pub?

Again, I eat out very rarely; I have visited a number of cracking pubs and restaurants over the years, but I would just as happily sit down to a decent curry or Italian as traditional food. Anywhere that has liver and onions on the menu, and cooks it properly, is going to be an attractive proposition for me, though.

Do you have a favourite food shop?

If it sells food, it’s good. I am very run of the mill and certainly don’t have sophisticated tastes. The good old supermarket is good enough for me.

Who is the Yorkshire man or woman you most admire?

Tough one – Boycott has always been a bit of a hero... arrogant, obnoxious, opinionated, but true to his beliefs, even if others don’t think like him. And, apart from his catching and fielding, he had oodles of talent to back it up. Since he retired and took up TV work, he’s developed even more character and is genuinely funny. Not sure about his penchant for Katy Perry though...

How has living in Yorkshire influenced your work?

All bar one of the jobs I have done has been in Yorkshire – it was either Yorkshire or another country for me; and I’ve worked all over the county, really – in my job, it’s all about the kids; they make you laugh out loud, they make you cry, sometimes and there is always one that you always feel you could do more to help, and it is so difficult just going home at the end of a really emotional day. But you know they will be there the next day, and they will be ready to make you laugh and cry all over again.

If a stranger to Yorkshire had time to visit only one place, where would you send them?

My parents’ house. No word of a lie. We had foreign visitors staying with us since we were kids on school exchanges, rugby tours, work-swaps, internships, you name it. They still turn up to visit my parents 40 years later. If you live outside the UK and have not yet visited my parents, I would be very surprised. And they really do a mean fry-up. Sometimes, their own kids and grandkids cannot get in the house for visitors.

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

Barely anyone will know this chap – Fred Butler – he was my favourite teacher at high school, and he was the sort of bloke who could just conjure up tales and anecdotes and do daft voices all the time. He was an amazing teacher, with hands like shovels – he wrote three books about his schooldays, growing up as an outsider and struggling to be accepted – although his experiences were very different to mine because of the generations, the way he talks about the little things in life that really mattered is full of imagery and “Yorkshire-ness”. A cracking read, all three of them…

What are you working on at the moment?

Keeping sane... I’ve had an amazing couple of years, doing the job I love in a place that I love. I daresay other opportunities will come my way over time, but just now, I am really happy with my lot. I might write a book to keep me out of mischief. Not sure what about though.