Neil Dudgeon: My Yorkshire

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BORN and raised in Doncaster, Neil Dudgeon now plays the lead character in Midsomer Murders, Detective Chief Inspector John Barnaby. He is married to Mary and they have two children, Joseph, seven, and Greta, five.

What’s your first Yorkshire memory?

Sliding into a bog somewhere or other, at the age of about nine or so. Probably somewhere like Ilkley Moor. Being brought up in Intake in Doncaster, I wasn’t exactly acquainted with the countryside – the nearest we got were the trees on the racecourse and Sandal Beet Wood. I think that we must have been away on a trip and falling into a very mucky, muddy place, and losing a shoe.

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

I have wonderful memories of the old Doncaster Rovers football stadium, at Belle Vue, which is nothing more today than a few lumps of overgrown concrete. The action today is all at the Keepmoat. But for me, a Saturday afternoon at Belle Vue was 100 per cent bliss. My mates and I would go down, get a ticket for tuppence and one of us would get in, find a convenient place, and then pass the ticket down to the next one, and so on. I think of it as an early way of re-cycling. It was very much a family place back then, where you could go with your dad, or where your dad took you, and there was a camaraderie and a banter. What’s your idea of a perfect day, or a perfect weekend, out in Yorkshire?

Last year, Mary and I took the kids to Littondale. We stayed on a farm, walking a lot, enjoying some very good food, and absorbing some very fresh air. The youngsters loved feeding the lambs with a bottle, and we’d all like to go back sometime soon. We saw a lot of very strange birds, which I’d love to be able to identify. It was a revelation for the kids, and I couldn’t help thinking back to my own childhood, and that I’d never been in a position to experience all of that sort of thing.

Do you have a favourite walk – or view?

The walk would be from our old house in Intake, across the Town Field and over to the Keepmoat to watch a match, which the Rovers would win conclusively against some superior adversary, and then back again, with a few pints in The Lonsdale, and a good fish and chip supper with some really good crispy batter. A chip shop on Sandringham Road used to make it to perfection. I wonder if they are still there?

Which Yorkshire sportsman, past or present, would you like to take for lunch?

Can I take two? Mr F Truman, and Mr G Boycott, superstars and legends and famously not shy of coming forward and letting their views be known. Wind ’em up, and let ’em go!

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

I am going to be greedy here, and beg for a complete dinner party.

Around the table I’d sit Charles Laughton, Alan Bennett, Dame Judi Dench, Maureen Lipman, Ian Carmichael and James Mason – and I’d make sure that a tape was running so that all the stories would be recorded for posterity.

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

The White Swan pub, in Doncaster, which has the tallest bar in England and where I’d go in as a young lad and try to see over the top. It used to be said of Doncaster that it was a “calendar town” when it came to public houses – one for every day of the year.

Now, from what I’ve seen, it’s a calendar town for noisy bars and a rather strident (that’s an understatement) nightlife.

What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity?

It’s a combination of things, I feel. It’s that Wuthering Heights thing, of rugged identity, and the apparent dourness of the people on the outside which actually masks a genuine human kindness and warmth within.

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

I always look out and see how Yorkshire are doing during the cricket season and I still open the paper and look and see how the Rovers are faring.

Old habits die hard, but long gone are the days of my having a season ticket.

Do you have a favourite restaurant, or pub?

The Rockingham Arms on Bennetthorpe has a very special place in my heart – the pub where we’d pop in en route to a match, and on the way back from one, and even, Lord help me, during one. What football fan hasn’t stayed in the pub until after kick-off with the excuse that “no-one scores in the first 20 minutes”.

Do you have a favourite food shop?

I was always a big fan of Doncaster Market and I used to wonder at all the superb fresh food that they had on offer.

How do you think that Yorkshire has changed, for better or for worse, in the time that you’ve known it?

A lot of each, frankly. It’s good that there aren’t the dangerous, badly paid jobs that there were. How many lads really wanted to go down a pit? But then there just aren’t the jobs, either. There are an awful lot of call centres, I know, but where are the opportunities for the youngsters coming out of school? The environment is a lot cleaner, thank God, but when you hear of service cuts, and closing libraries… no wonder people of my age, and I’m only 50, hark on about the “golden days”.

Who is the Yorkshire person that you most admire?

The marvellous Mr Alan Bennett who is a superb and beautifully phrased writer and a consummate performer and commentator. I like everything about him – his modesty, his talent, and the way he has the knack of creating pictures with his prose. Nearly every play he writes becomes a classic and he is revered by us actors. More power to his creative elbow.

Has Yorkshire influenced your work?

I used to think not, but as the years go by, I see how much it has and how I’ve been offered parts which reflect the Yorkshireness inside me, and my accent – not as strong as it was, but still there, nonetheless. There was once perceived to be a great nobility to what is called “received pronunciation”. Nowadays it is recognised that us lads and lasses with accents can turn in some pretty good work as well. I used to think that my accent precluded me getting some jobs and maybe I was right, but at least it meant that I got to do some interesting stuff.

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

Barbara Hepworth would be one person I’d single out, for the range and quality of her magnificent sculpture works.