Sean Bean's role in BBC's Time cements him as the greatest Yorkshireman - Anthony Clavane

According to an important poll carried out in 2018, Sir Michael Palin topped the list as the Greatest Ever Yorkshireman. With all due respect to Sir Mike, we was robbed.

Sean Bean. Photo: ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images.
Sean Bean. Photo: ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images.

When I say “we”, of course, I’m referring to those of us who belong to the Sean Bean Appreciation Society.

Never mind re-running the referendums on Scottish independence and the European Union. There should be a new GEY vote.

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Things have changed in the past three years. True, Bean came second to the Monty Python actor last time around. This time, however, I’m sure he’d win hands down.

What has changed, exactly? Oh, so many things. Where to begin?

Bean has become master of the meme. He’s achieved cult status as a result of Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones and his amusing screen swearing. Also, as a result of his frequent screen deaths: his characters have been killed off on more than 20 occasions.

And, most importantly of all for those emotionally connected to God’s Own Country, he has made some top ads for Yorkshire Tea.

In the past week, the 62-year-old legend’s status as GEY was cemented by an astonishing performance in Jimmy McGovern’s new drama Time. Last Sunday’s opening episode showcased his often-overlooked versatility as an actor.

I binged all three episodes on BBC iPlayer and I can unhesitatingly predict that Bean’s brilliant portrayal of a middle class, middle aged Yorkshireman tormented by

the crime that has landed him a four-year prison sentence will win him the best actor award at next year’s BAFTAs.

It really was that good a performance.

In a career spanning five decades he’s been a sex symbol lauded for his rugged good looks (one profile of him was headlined Why Sean Bean is the Manliest Man on

Earth), a Bond villain (and countless other ruthless baddies) and an internationally renowned star of The Lord of the Rings and other big Hollywood movies.

But his raw, sensitive and nuanced depiction of the meek, haunted, vulnerable ex-teacher Mark Cobden – in McGovern’s harrowing but riveting mini-series – tops the lot.

I read an article in The Conversation last month about something called the “Phil Collins Effect”.

Academics are, apparently, using the phrase to describe how once-popular artists can go out of fashion – but then become popular again when they are rediscovered by a new generation.

The former Genesis frontman’s commercial and critical success in the 1970s was followed by a long period of naffness. Then, last year, thanks to a YouTube reaction video featuring two young men listening to his iconic song In The Air Tonight for the first time – “I ain’t never seen anyone drop a beat three minutes into a song” one of them marvels – Collins became cool again.

Other figures to have experienced their own Phil Collins Effect include the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, the former US president George “Dubya” Bush and The Bee Gees.

Sean has never, in any of his five decades at the top, been anything other than cool.

Perhaps academics should write about the “Sean Bean Effect”. This, I have just decided, describes how popular actors, businessmen, musicians and politicians can stay in fashion throughout their career – and then become even more popular when they are rediscovered by a new generation.

I have been a fan of Bean ever since I saw him as the Napoleonic hero in Sharpe and the street fighting man in Derek Jarman’s arthouse film Caravaggio back in the day.

I still cannot believe that he was once scandalously beaten to the role of James Bond by Timothy Dalton. Allegedly, this was because an American audience wouldn’t understand his Yorkshire accent.

Born and raised in Sheffield, he was the ideal bloke to send up his image in those funny TV adverts for Yorkshire Tea. He is a big Sheffield United fan and has a tattoo on his left shoulder sporting the legend “100% Blade”.

He is a true star, one of the country’s most unassuming celebrities and one of Yorkshire’s biggest exports.

And, as anyone who saw him in his latest TV role will surely agree, he is an actor at the very top of his game.