Why the Harry Potter film franchise remains a cultural phenomenon 20 years on - Anthony Clavane

Leeds-born actor Matthew Lewis played Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter films. (Bruce Rollinson).Leeds-born actor Matthew Lewis played Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter films. (Bruce Rollinson).
Leeds-born actor Matthew Lewis played Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter films. (Bruce Rollinson).
It was very comforting, whilst perusing the internet the other day, to spot a holiday home in the North York Moors named Hagrid’s Hut.

It was not the price (£495 for two nights) that was particularly comforting, mind. It was the fact that a replica of the Harry Potter character’s iconic cottage had been located in God’s Own County.

For it was 20 years ago, almost to the day, that I was accused by my children of deceiving them about Hagrid’s birthplace.

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Back in November 2001, we all went to see Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first film in the eight-part franchise, and they were shocked to hear the groundskeeper, as played

by Robbie Coltrane, sporting a thick West Country accent.

I had been reading them J K Rowling’s novels since the first Potter’s release in 1997. Doing the accents was all part of the fun.

When Hagrid said to Harry “I got summat for yeh here” I naturally assumed he was a Yorkshireman.

Summat is a Yorkshire word, right? Did not the Bard of Barnsley, Ian McMillan, write a book entitled Neither Nowt Nor Summat? When the half-giant is offered a cup of tea, he replies: “I’d not say no ter summat stronger if yeh’ve got it, mind.”

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As my children, alas, were not born in my home county, I would be impertinently asked for a translation. So it became: “I would like to have something stronger, if you don’t mind.”

Once they heard Coltrane’s Gloucestershire tones, my services as a Harry Potter reader were no longer required.

Anyway, it’s 20 years ago (almost to the day) that Rowling taught the band to play.

On Tuesday, to continue with this theme, the actor Matt Lewis posted: “This New Year’s Day...we’re putting the band back together.”

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Apparently, the cast members will be reunited for a retrospective special entitled Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return To Hogwarts.

I feel obliged to point out here that Lewis is Yorkshire born and bred. And his character, Neville Longbottom, sports a Yorkshire, rather than a West Country, accent.

A proud son of Horsforth, Matt might currently reside in Florida, but his heart is firmly in the white rose county. Indeed, as a devoted Leeds United fan, I listen every week to his podcast Doing a Leeds with Jermaine Beckford, Emma Jones and Elland Road striker Patrick Bamford.

I’m also obliged to point out that Neville was written as something of a Yorkshire stereotype. He “spoke funny” and was a stammering, bumbling and altogether hapless schoolboy.

At least he didn’t own a whippet.

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This is only pointed out slightly tongue in cheek. For Rowling has been called out for a lack of diversity when it comes to her characters in the books.

The majority of students, and teachers, at Hogwarts are white. Some critics have interpreted the goblins as upholders of anti-semitic stereotypes.

All the most powerful characters, whether they are good or evil, are male.

Only Hermione seems to view enslaving house elves to be a problem. And yet the Potter series remains, like James Bond, an extraordinary film franchise, a cultural phenomenon, and still speaks to a generation raised on enchanting creatures, dazzling spells and a less complicated era when brave young wizards fought injustice, bigotry and He Who Must Not Be Named.

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A lot has happened in the world in the 20 years since Coltrane mistakenly adopted a West Country accent in the first movie. They were heady days, indeed, before Brexit, Trump and Covid-19.

There were long queues outside bookshops the night before book launches and millions of youngsters were converted to the joys of fiction.

So, bring on the reunion, I say. It will be, I’m sure, a nostalgic spectacular. God bless Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, Emma Watson as Hermione and Rupert Grint as Ron.

And, not forgetting, Matt Lewis as Neville. Whilst perusing the internet, after spotting Hagrid’s Hut, I came across a website from a self-confessed Potterhead.

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It concluded with this statement: “I love and support Neville Longbottom having a Yorkshire accent because I, too, have a Yorkshire accent. And his, in the films, means so much to me. He’s our boy. Go on lad!”

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