They’re best known for their roles presenting two of the region’s rival news programmes. But now former BBC Look North broadcaster Harry Gration and Christine Talbot, who presented her last ever ITV Calendar programme last year, are joining forces for a show celebrating some of the best of God’s Own Country.
When they host A Grand Yorkshire Night Out at two theatres in the region over the coming weeks, it will be one of the few times the pair have presented together.
But as they visit York Theatre Royal together, there’s a natural ease between them, no doubt owing to their many years of friendship.
“People have often said to me ‘who would you have liked to have had the chance to work with?’ and the answer really is Christine,” muses Gration.
“We’ve been friends for a long time, rivals yeah, but we’ve always been friends and I think it’s a natural affinity for us to come together.”
There was one particularly notable occasion when Gration and Talbot broadcast jointly. Calendar and Look North came together for the first time in 49 years in 2017 for a special programme on the first anniversary of the murder of Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox.
“It was in line with Jo’s mantra that we have more in common than that which divides us,” says Talbot. “That was obviously news style and a serious subject but we have said since how we’d like to do things together. The nice thing is this time around it’s a much more relaxed format and we can have a bit of fun as well.”
The pair will be chatting about their own careers and the stories they have covered. “But that’s just a small part of the evening,” Talbot says. “It’s a two-hour show and we have some very special guests.”
They will be delving into one of the golden eras for television in Yorkshire, bringing members of the production team behind the original All Creatures Great and Small series together on stage for the first time. “They’ll be talking about how they filmed it, the disasters when working with animals, and all the rest,” Talbot enthuses.
Julian Norton, of The Yorkshire Vet, will also join the presenters for the show, recounting his tales of being a vet today. “It’s worth remembering that audience figures for the first series of All Creatures Great and Small were extraordinary,” says Gration. “It had a cult following. Julian Norton gained his passion to be a vet watching the original series.”
As well as the chats, there will be musical performances including from Bradford indie band Scars on 45 and Gration’s son Harrison, who is training to be an opera singer at the Royal Academy of Music in London and will be performing songs from musicals.
The audience will also be given the chance to join in with their own questions and, for meet and greet ticket holders, there will be an opportunity to mix over cheese and wine after the show.
Years in television
Between them, Talbot and Gration have racked up around seven decades in television. Talbot’s first TV job was with BBC North West Tonight in Manchester, but she moved over the Pennines to join Calendar in 1993.
Between 1996 and 2000, she hosted the ITV magazine programme Tonight before returning to Calendar in 2001, where she was joined by co-host Duncan Wood two years later. She presented her final Calendar programme in June last year.
Gration began filing match reports for the BBC while working as a history teacher in the mid-1970s and during his career has covered nine Olympic Games. He joined the BBC in 1978 and first presented Look North in 1982.
A teatime friend for viewers for almost 40 years, he worked alongside the likes of Christa Ackroyd, Judith Stamper and more recently, Amy Garcia. Gration did his last programme in 2020, a day before his 70th birthday.
In A Grand Yorkshire Night Out, the pair will be looking back at the memorable stories they have covered across the county and the people they have met, with a mention or two of some of the more eccentric things they have done, such as tandem rides, a sofa push and, for Gration, being literally tied to weather presenter Paul Hudson for days on end for a three-legged challenge for Sports Relief.
“I’ve always been a person who has been affected by news, emotionally affected,” Gration says. He points to the murder of Jo Cox as being a particularly difficult story to cover.
“That one really did affect me as I got to know Jo’s family really well, Kim (Leadbeater – Jo’s sister) in particular and her mum and dad. But to see the way that something good emerged out of something so bad was the reason we did our joint programme really to show that there really is so much in common.
“We’ve also had storms, floods, Hillsborough, Bradford City (stadium fire), so many stories that are very, very sad. But they have shown a grittiness and determination on behalf of Yorkshire folk to try to build something out of something so bad.”
“Yorkshire’s a very strong news patch and there’s a lot of stories to tell,” Talbot adds.
Turning to Gration, she says: “You’ve got many great friends who are real icons of the region like Sir Michael Parkinson, Sir Geoffrey Boycott.”
One of the people Talbot got to know well was Hannah Hauxwell, a Yorkshire Dales farmer known as “the daughter of the Dales”.
“I became really good friends with her. I was one of the last people to see her actually in a nursing home. I remember teaching her how to take a selfie on my iPhone and I’ve got that to this day.”
Another stand-out moment was her involvement in a Calendar investigation into whether Yorkshire Ripper had begun his killing spree by attacking men. “It ended up with me receiving a letter from Peter Sutcliffe… It was one of the first times he ever admitted any culpability. He actually put in the letter to me, on the back of this investigation we were doing, ‘yes I did some bad things’.
“Richard McCann, the son of his first victim, Wilma McCann, said to me in a way it’s the first time I’ve had any sense that he actually admitted anything. And it was a sort of closure for him. That’s something I’ll probably chat a bit about.”
The stage format for A Grand Yorkshire Night Out is quite different from the pair’s experiences in front of the camera. “I think we’re both in the frame of mind, with not working every day any more, of being open to new experiences and having a bit of fun,” Talbot says.
“It might be exactly as it is today with us looking out to a view with nobody there,” Gration jokes. “My mum might come,” adds Talbot, laughing. “No, ticket sales are going pretty well. We just want people to come along and have a nice evening and celebrate all that is Yorkshire.”
A Grand Yorkshire Night Out is coming to Scarborough Spa on March 19 and York Theatre Royal on April 11. Visit www.scarboroughspa.co.uk and www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk for tickets.
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