The bald truth about Patrick Stewart

When you think that David Niven, James Mason, Ronnie Barker, Arthur Lowe and Powell and Pressburger among many others failed to receive state honours, you’ll concede that a knighthood was wasted on Patrick Stewart, even if for 12 years he was chancellor of Huddersfield University. I mean no disparagement by this. I’m happy for him. But why not Sir Timothy Spall or Sir Timothy West? Stewart, whose grandmother was Stan Laurel’s babysitter, is a middle-ranking mime with a gurgling bass-baritone. He is chiefly famous for the X-Men franchise and for playing Captain Jean-Luc Picard in 178 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, plus the numerous feature film spin-offs in

Who needed who most? The complex bond between Vera Brittain and Winifred Holtby

These letters between Vera Brittain and Winifred Holtby cover 15 years of a remarkable friendship that began at Somerville College, Oxford in 1919 and ended only with Holtby’s premature death from kidney failure in 1935. Brittain went up to Oxford in 1914, but left to serve as a nurse in the first world war. She returned freighted with tragic experience, having lost both her lover and her brother and tended the wounds of horribly injured soldiers close to the front. She disconcerted younger undergraduates with her fiercely competitive and forthright views combined with fragile looks and a general air of suppressed trauma. Holtby, five years her junior, had also interrupted

All Creatures Great and Small: how to explore the Yorkshire Dales

James Herriot’s story about a country vet, with scene-stealing backdrops and a coterie of country characters first instilled the Yorkshire Dales into the popular imagination back in 1972. The beauty of Yorkshire wasn’t lost on Herriot, whose real name was Alf Wright: ‘At times it seemed unfair that I should be paid for my work,’ he writes in All Creatures Great and Small, ‘for driving out in the early morning with the fields glittering under the first pale sunshine and the wisps of mist still hanging on the high tops.’ And it seems millions of others are now discovering the joys of this landscape too. The revised TV adaptation of this book, about the

On the cowboy’s trail: Powder Smoke, by Andrew Martin, reviewed

Detective Inspector Jim Stringer is back. This is a York novel, or rather a Yorkshire crime novel. The LNER railway policeman investigates a supposed double murder, tracing a young fairground sharpshooter, Kid Durrant, through the Yorkshire countryside. The action takes place over five days in early December 1925, but is interspersed with flashbacks to the previous summer. At the York Gala, Stringer sees Durrant perform his fairground act, quick on the draw and deadly accurate with his pistol and rifle-shooting. His entertainment persona is a Wild West cowboy, presented with appropriate Western colloquialisms, spoken with an American accent acquired by way of Sheffield. The gala is observed by a rare

Northern noir: The Mating Habits of Stags, by Ray Robinson, reviewed

It is winter in north Yorkshire. On the brink of New Year, Jake, a laconic, isolated former farmhand in his seventies, stands alone on the moors with no idea where to go or what to do. Traumatised by the death of his wife and consumed by thoughts of a child he knows cannot be his, he is a beleaguered man. He is also in flight from the law, following the murder of an elderly resident in a local care home. With nowhere to turn, he falls back on an old friend, Sheila, for sanctuary and solace. In The Mating Habits of Stags, Ray Robinson describes Jake’s attempts to make sense

Our flood defences aren’t fit for the climate we have now

This week’s political fuss over whether the floods in Yorkshire constitute a ‘national emergency’ misses the point. It is too easy to declare an emergency for political purposes, to give the impression that the government is taking an issue seriously. It’s quite obvious that the scenes we have seen this week represent an emergency — the question is whether, once the helicopter visits and photo opportunities have ceased, all is forgotten and the political world moves on to the next emergency. What has happened in Yorkshire over the past week is a symptom of chronic failure to manage the threat of flooding. We keep suffering these events. In 2015, it

Inside the unassuming house where the Brontës’ creativity thrived

‘Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless?’ Jane Eyre asks Mr Rochester in Charlotte Brontë’s most famous novel. What is true of Brontë’s heroine is equally true of her Yorkshire home: plain in every sense of the word and yet perennially mysterious. The muted colour palette of the house reflect the rain-soaked moors surrounding it in a pleasing way. Tucked up a cobbled lane behind Haworth’s church, you would easily pass by without stopping to notice it, were you not aware of its former inhabitants. Much like Jane, Charlotte Brontë believed herself to be physically unremarkable. Even after the success of

The wonder of Whitby

The 199 steps up to the ruins of Whitby Abbey are a pilgrimage; they always have been. And any good pilgrimage takes effort. Count Dracula (also acquainted with the north Yorkshire town) cheated — he climbed the steps in the guise of a black hound. These days, with its new £1.6 million museum and visitor centre, our vampire friend would find a ground-floor café and gift shop. Knowing English Heritage, there is probably a bowl of water for dogs, which would have kept the Count happy. Whitby is a surprise, with a history that puts it at the heart of Britain’s spiritual and literary life. It’s also a vibrant fishing

Hebden Bridge

Bernard Ingham once told a story about a reporter from the Financial Times who went to cover an election in Ingham’s hometown of Hebden Bridge. The reporter went into a café and ordered a cappuccino. ‘Nay lad,’ said the waitress. ‘You’ll have to go to Leeds for that.’ Ingham told that story to illustrate the no-nonsense attitudes of the rugged town he grew up in — attitudes that shaped the man who became Margaret Thatcher’s muscular press secretary. So it’s wonderfully ironic that Hebden Bridge is now full of fair trade craft shops and vegan cafés. Nowadays you’ll have no trouble ordering a cappuccino — so long as you like

The turf | 31 August 2017

I guess his mother may have called him Patrick, or even, when he was in trouble, ‘Patrick Joseph’, but in the racing world, like the great McCoy, the Yorkshire-based jockey P.J. McDonald is known simply by his initials. It is proving to be a very good year for ‘P.J.’ and those initials are becoming steadily more familiar to southern as well as northern racegoers. He won the National Stakes at Sandown and the Molecomb Stakes at Glorious Goodwood on Karl Burke’s Havana Grey, and as I write he is firmly ensconced in the top ten riders’ table with nearly 80 winners. ‘I’d love to get the hundred up this season,’

Hepworth Wakefield’s latest show is grossly irresponsible – the museum doesn’t deserve any sort of prize

Last week the exhibition Painting India by the late Howard Hodgkin opened at the Hepworth Wakefield. Hodgkin started collecting Indian miniatures as a schoolboy at Eton and first visited the subcontinent in 1964, travelling with Robert Skelton, the then assistant keeper of the Indian collection at the V&A. Hodgkin would return there many times during his life. He would later say to David Sylvester ‘I think my main reason for going back to India is because it is somewhere else.’ The exhibition at the Hepworth features over 35 works by Hodgkin which take their cue from his visits. The promotional text on the museum’s website notes that the exhibition ‘takes

Thoroughly bewitching

Angela Carter was a seminal, a watershed novelist: perhaps one of the last generation of novelists to change both the art she practised and the world. Reading this splendid biography, it is hard to avoid the false conclusion that she always knew exactly what she was doing. Her life, in its swerves and unexpected corners, always turns out to be contributing to her work; how clever of her, one starts to think, to get a job on a local news-paper, to go to Japan, to have an array of dotty, oppressive or plain witchy aunts, mother and grandmother…. Of course it was not like that. Carter’s life seems rich and

Martin Vander Weyer

Denis Healey was one of the most entertaining lunch guests I’ve ever had

Denis Healey and my father Deryk Vander Weyer — a big cheese at Barclays and spokesman for the high-street banks during Healey’s chancellorship — had a lot in common. Both were clever, cultured, iconoclastic products of good Yorkshire grammar schools; both wartime majors and post-war socialists (my father finally turned right when he began to appreciate the merits of Margaret Thatcher); both formidable in argument. ‘Now then, young Deryk,’ the then chancellor used to say, only half joking, ‘You’re the man to run the state bank for us after you’re all nationalised.’ Thirty years later, the mellower Healey of old age came north to Helmsley to give a talk about

Another glorious year of County Championship cricket; another glorious failure for Somerset

Nearly fifty years ago, CR Poole published a short work entitled ‘The Customs, Superstitions, and Legends of the County of Somerset’. Inexplicably, he omitted the foremost of these customs: Somerset will never, ever, win the County Championship. For a while this week, I and many others dared to dream this year might be different. This could be the week, the day, the moment, history might be made. Somerset have been tilting for the championship since 1891 and only rarely been in with a chance of glory on the final day of the season. More often, as a dozen wooden spoon finishes attests, the situation has been hopeless but never serious. Today

Tragedy trumped by porn

Big fuss about Cleansed at the Dorfman. Talk of nauseous punters rushing for the gangways may have perversely delighted the show’s creators but I’m firmly with the exiteers. This is barely a play and more a thin, vicious pantomime with an Isis-video aesthetic. The minuscule plot follows Grace (Michelle Terry) as she visits a prison hospital to receive news of a tortured relative. She’s immediately roped in as a victim and we’re treated to a sequence of gougings, knifings, electrocutions, rectal penetrations and tongue extractions which are bizarrely interspersed with scenes of lustful romance. Alex Eales’s design stands out. The duck-egg blue paint of the smashed-up hospital peels away to

Radio is flowering because it’s so much more potent than TV

Who would have thought in this visually obsessed age of YouTube, selfies and Instagram that radio, pure audio, no images attached, nothing to hold on to but a voice, a tune, a blast of birdsong, could not only survive the arrival of the new image-making and digital technologies but experience an extraordinary flowering of talent and expression. Thousands of radio stations are popping up right across the globe, ready for you to tap into via your smartphone or tablet, taking you straight from SW9 or NE69 to Chicago, Cape Town, Lviv or Marrakech. The quality of the sound produced by these stations is less important than an ability to draw

Diary – 6 August 2015

My Cambodian daughter and her husband have just got married again. Wedding One was a Buddhist affair in our drawing room, complete with monks, temple dancer, gold umbrellas, brass gongs, three changes of costume and a lot of delicious Cambodian food. That was family only, so this time she had the works: the full meringue, 200 guests, village church (she sees no conflict between Buddhism and Christianity), marquee, fireworks. Time was when wedding guests were the parents’ chums and the bride and groom went off as soon as the cake was cut and the bouquet thrown. Now the parents’ friends don’t get a look in. Not on day two either,

Contagion of a different kind as Greece wriggles off the hook

The clear winner in the Greek crisis is the author of The Little Book of Negotiating Clichés, whose royalties must have been pouring in as the clock ticked towards midnight while European leaders took positive steps back from the brink and found themselves speaking the same language, perhaps because they were reading from the same page. But assuming this predictable dance results in terms that Prime Minister Tsipras can persuade his comrades to accept before the IMF’s default deadline and the moment when the Greek banking system can no longer seek life-support from the European Central Bank — which is all still quite a big assumption — who will be

Is suicide bombing now a Yorkshire tradition?

Where would you rather live, Dewsbury or Bradford? I ask because it seems that there are probably some good property deals to be had in this particular corner of West Yorkshire right now, as a consequence of half the population decamping to Syria in order to blow themselves up. I mean, property was pretty cheap already — in Savile Town, Dewsbury, right in the heart of the Muslim ghetto, you can buy a nice grey stone cottage for not much more than fifty grand. Two beds, back yard, only a stone’s throw from the local sharia court and that vast mosque run by those jovial extremists Tablighi Jamaat. But it’ll be

Which behaved worse: callous Thomas Cook or cynical Barclays?

Which is worse, morally and reputationally — to be Thomas Cook, shamed by its refusal to show proper human concern, for fear of being taken to admit responsibility, over the death of two children by carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty boiler while on holiday in Corfu; or to be Barclays, fined almost $2.4 billion (heading a list of banks fined more than $9 billion between them for similar offences) for conspiring to manipulate the foreign exchange market over a five-year period? Ethicists could agonise over that one for weeks. But in terms of customer response, it’s clear that the travel agent — whose mistake was not to reject legal advice