When a life-size statue of Billy Casper, with a kestrel in his hand, is unveiled in its third and hopefully permanent location in Barnsley town centre on Thursday, it will be a fitting tribute to Barry Hines, the man as well as author whose 1968 novel A Kestrel for a Knave put the town on the map.
Turned into the film Kes a year later by Ken Loach, it is ranked one of the greatest British films ever made, managing to capture, in the words of one critic, the harsh reality of working-class life with “poetic beauty and heartfelt honesty”.
Mr Loach, along with Dai Bradley, who played Billy, along with the family of Barry Hines, will be among those at today’s unveiling. The idea of a memorial to Mr Hines, who died in 2016, came from Ronnie Steele, a former pupil at Longcar School in the 1960s.
“The aim was to give Barry Hines recognition, so I am just so delighted that we can say we achieved that aim. We have got the recognition that Barry deserves in his own town by his own people,” said Mr Steele, the chair of the Kes group, which raised over £60,000 in just 14 months for the sculpture.
“We all just absolutely worshipped him because he was different. The 60s were a tough time when they often never spared the child. That scene (in the film) when they all got the cane was a common occurrence.
“But Barry Hines never raised his voice, let alone threaten to physically hit anyone.”
The statue created in 2019 by Graham Ibbeson, who has also made statues of Fred Trueman, Eric Morecambe and Cary Grant, was previously in the Town Hall museum and the library, but will now go on a 3ft plinth, near Boots, at the end of the Alhambra shopping precinct.
It shows Billy, with a wistful gaze fixed firmly on the kestrel. Look closer and many growing up in the 1960s will recognise Casper’s clothes- from the elasticated “snake” belt to the slip on pumps. The kneeling pose chosen for the sculpture came from a still image showing Billy on a pile of coal.
“It’s about the aspirations of all the kids that there’s another world out there,” said Mr Ibbeson, the son of a Barnsley miner, who was brought up on a council housing estate, and had a similar background to that portrayed in the book.. “His whole world was focussed on the kestrel - that was his escape.
“The reason I wanted it in the town centre is because he was definitely a resident of the community. I wanted to make him life-size and vulnerable almost. I wanted to him to be elevated above so people can see him from a distance. I want them to relate to him directly.”
Mr Steele says few people have seen the statue so far because it has been indoors and believes it will be an attraction in its own right.
“We believe it will actually act like a magnet - literally attracting thousands of people spending money and enriching the local economy.”
The Kes group has also paid for a life-size replica of the statue made in fibreglass for Hoyland Library, near where Mr Hines lived.