On The Manor: What has happened to stars of popular TV show about life on Sheffield estate 36 years on?
But 36 years after On The Manor first aired, what has happened to the much-loved characters it made famous, how has life on the estate changed and how well has the four-part Yorkshire Television documentary which aired in 1987 stood the test of time?
Filmed on Sheffield’s Manor estate amid the decline of the steel industry and high unemployment during the Thatcher era, the series shows ordinary Sheffielders trying to get by as best they can while what was at the time the nation’s largest council house rebuilding project takes place around them.
Brent Woods, director at the Yorkshire and North East Film Archives, reunited some of the residents who featured, and their families, for a special anniversary screening at Sheffield’s Showroom Cinema shortly before Christmas. He described it as a special evening, which was a ‘celebration’ of both the Manor estate and the documentary series itself, directed and produced by the late Peter Gordon.
On The Manor showed the ‘resilience’ of people living on Sheffield estate
He said: “On The Manor was filmed at a really challenging time for people on the Manor estate and it’s about living in poverty conditions…and feeling like the community has been let down by the Government. It was made more than 35 years ago but the details of trying to afford energy bills and work out how to make do with what you still resonate. So many of the conversations you hear in the documentary you can hear being spoken today.”
Brent says Peter did a ‘beautiful job’ of allowing people to ‘speak their lives’, without sensationalisation or judgement, which is why it is held in such high regard by the majority of the people on the estate as an accurate portrayal of the shift from the ‘old Manor’ to the ‘new’.
“We wanted to bring people from the Manor together for an evening to celebrate the resilience of the Manor, their resilience and how people lived in 1987,” he adds. “The Manor is a proud working class community and it was lovely to be part of that community for one evening.”
One of those guests for the special screening was Terry Ashton, better known as Troggy, who was among the men depicted in On The Manor scavenging from derelict houses on the estate, pushing his wheelbarrow loaded with wood and other scrap materials. He is so popular there is even a Troggy on the Manor (Appreciation Group) on Facebook which has nearly 2,000 members.
People were chanting Troggy’s name at special screening of On The Manor TV show
Brent was thrilled ‘Troggy’ could be there. He said: “He doesn’t feature in the film that much but he’s such a famous character from the Manor community and people were amazed he came along for the screening. He’s a pretty shy guy but he managed a few well-meaning expletives and people loved it and were chanting his name.” Brent explained how Terry has moved to Barnsley but still returns to the Manor every now and then and had ‘loved his moment in the spotlight’.
Other memorable characters from the show include the Sheffield Wednesday legend Mel Sterland, who is seen driving round the estate in his VW Golf and explains how he graduated to the Owls after playing for a pub team called The Three Feathers; Eric ‘Mal’ Middleton, an unemployed worker trying to forge a career as a writer; and Terry Neilson, who is shown cycling to a new job where he is paid just £80 a week – a sum he would never previously have accepted but which he is now left with little choice but to take.
Another notable figure from the show was was Betty Houlden, who has sadly died since the documentary was made but whose daughter Darrell Ann Longden was able to attend the special screening. Darrell described how her mother had run the tenants’ association on the Manor for about 20 years, along with the Claimants’ Union which helped people get the benefits to which they were entitled.
“When the houses were starting to come down Mum was helping people get the properties they wanted, because the council was just trying to put them anywhere,” said Darrell. “For the last 20 years of her life that was all she did – helping other people. She did so much for people on the Manor.”
Darrell explained how it was a personal tragedy which inspired her mum to dedicate her life to helping others. Betty had worked for Footprint Tools, she said, but was on strike at the time her husband Ted was dying of cancer.
Betty Houlden ‘made it her mission’ to help people on Sheffield’s Manor estate
“Mum wanted Dad at home and at the time we had a coal fire so she asked the council for some help to get a gas fire fitted to make it more comfortable for him but they turned round and said they didn’t help strikers,” said Darrell. “She said it was for a man who’d worked all his life and had never claimed benefits but they didn’t listen. From that day on, Mum made it her mission to get help for people who couldn’t get it themselves.”
Darrell told how her mum was only just out of hospital when she was interviewed for On The Manor, having had a lung removed following a cancer diagnosis, but she still carried on helping people from her home. Betty sadly died just five years later, in 1992, aged 66, having worked until the week before her death.
“Mum used to buy groceries for people who couldn’t afford them, out of her own pocket,” said Darrell. “Each Christmas, she would get three or four hampers delivered and split the contents to give away to people she knew wouldn’t have enough. She never wanted things for herself, she just wanted to help others. Mum was so well respected that at her funeral people had to stand outside on City Road because there wasn’t room for everyone inside.”
Darrell added that her mum had always asked the council to turn the garden of their Fretson Road home into a playground, which they never did while she lived there. But when the house was eventually demolished they did build a playground where it had stood, which would have made her mum happy.
Darrell describes On The Manor as ‘very honest’, adding that ‘it’s all true what people went through and how badly they were treated’.
“I don’t know what Mum would think about the world as it is today. I think it’s worse now than when my mum was fighting for people’s rights,” she said. “I just think there should be more programmes like that made today because it gives you an insight into how people live on estates like the Manor.”
Darrell today lives in Halfway but says the community spirit on the Manor, where ‘everybody would help each other’, couldn’t be beaten. “I’ve lived here for about eight years and I could count on one hand how many times I’ve spoken to my neighbours,” she adds. “On the Manor everybody knew one another.”
The special screening of On The Manor was organised by the Yorkshire and North East Film Archives as part of its TV Time Machine project, funded by BFI and Film Hub North, with the support of the ITV Archives. On The Manor is available to watch online at: https://www.yfanefa.com.