Is one of Britain’s last remaining Punch and Judy men. Now based in Bradford, the 45-year-old started in the business as a teenager, following in the steps of his father, who was a traditional beach entertainer from Lowestoft.
What’s your first Yorkshire memory?
I drove up to Yorkshire from East Anglia at the beginning of the 90s to see an old friend who lived an Menston – it was the first time that I’d made it this far north on my own. My friend was keen on puppeteering, and after talking the hind legs off each other, he took me for dinner to Harry Ramsden’s at Guiseley. I was working at Norwich Union and not long after they asked for volunteers to work in Sheffield on secondment. I put my hand up, got the placement and fell in love with the county. While financial management is still my day job, Punch and Judy is my passion, and I do it nearly every weekend, especially in the summer. What’s your favourite part of the county – and why?
The east coast, and especially Whitby. My wife Dawn and I love going up there, renting a cottage for the weekend, and taking our two dogs, George and Lucy, for a lot of long walks on the beach or in the hills behind the town. We actually rather like it all when it’s “out of season”, and a bit on the cold side – less people, and far more bracing. What’s your idea of a perfect day, or a perfect weekend, out in Yorkshire?
It’s that Whitby weekend... just doing things that we want to do, at our own pace, and in our own time. And the town has plenty of nice little cafés and pubs for us to enjoy. Do you have a favourite walk – or view?
The one from our bathroom window. We live in Odsal in Bradford, and it’s pretty high up there – about 1,000ft above sea level – and there, across the way, are the moors and the Emley Moor television and radio transmitter, and on a clear day, Huddersfield. It really is spectacular, and I love it. I also love the (rather appropriately named, for me) Judy Woods at Wibsey. Centuries ago it was a quarry, but it’s now lush with vegetation. Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, or past or present, would you like to take for dinner?
Brian Blessed, the Mexborough lad. I just love the stuff he’s done. A big, booming, brash Yorkshireman who is equally adept at Shakespeare as he is at doing voiceovers for advertisements. I saw him, not that many years ago, playing the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz at the Alhambra in Bradford, and it was a masterclass in how to grab the attention of the audience, and getting the right balance of laughs and the pathos. If you had to name your Yorkshire “hidden gem”, what would it be?
Bolton Abbey. I know it’s already a favourite of so many people, but I’ve only recently discovered it. I’m lucky enough to travel all over the place, and part of the joy of that is experiencing new places. I always think that the Japanese and American tourists who go to Bolton Abbey must have their eyes opened – it is the epitome of what Britain is all about. What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity?
The countryside, the attitude of the people. I’ve lived in London, and East Anglia, and believe me there is a very marked difference between them all. Coming here was a huge revelation for me – experiencing the frankness of people. You lot don’t take any nonsense, do you? But underneath is a real friendliness. Do you follow sport in the county, and if so, what?
In a way... our house in Odsal is not so far from the stadium, and on a big match day, I know exactly how it is going from the roars of the crowd. I have a brother-in-law who is a massive Bulls fan, and he manages to keep me up-to-date, and is always inviting me to matches, but weekends are when Punch and Judy take over my life. Do you have a favourite restaurant, or pub?
The Magpie Café in Whitby. If we go up for a few days, we might well be in there three or more times – lovely staff, nice atmosphere, and good value for money. I heartily recommend the halibut and chips. Do you have a favourite food shop?
Yes, Keelham Farm Shop in Thornton. It’s so far up the hillside that if there are a few flakes in Bradford, it’s like Antarctica when you get up there. A superb butchers, a huge range of incredible edibles, and everything, where possible, that is locally sourced. Nice knowledgeable people behind the counter, as well. How do you think that Yorkshire has changed, for better or for worse, in the time that you’ve known it?
For the better, I think... when I first came up here, Sheffield city centre was a mess, and if you went along the railway line towards Doncaster you strayed into a landscape that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Mad Max movie. Utter desolation. Now that’s all Meadowhall and love it or loathe it, at least it’s brought money into the area. We all want more jobs in the area, and a more buoyant economy, but things will get better, I think, with time. Who is the Yorkshire person that you most admire?
Brian Blessed again and another actor, the late Brian Glover, who illuminated everything that he did. Inspirational in that he could be in a wrestling ring one day, on stage playing Shakespeare the next, and in a recording studio later the same week being Mr Tetley Tea Bag. Not to mention his tour de force in Kes. Now that’s what I call range, and versatility. Has Yorkshire influenced your work?
A very great deal, yes. In that there is a wonderful tradition in Yorkshire for fetes and shows and galas, and that, over the years, they’ve pushed a lot of employment in my direction. Name your favourite Yorkshire book/ author/artist/CD/performer.
Dawn and I much admire David Hockney’s work, and we often go over to Salts Mill, Saltaire, to just stand in front of some of his canvases, which have great power and imagination. If a stranger to Yorkshire only had time to visit one place, it would be?
Either Whitby, or York. We had some Canadian friends over the other week, and we took them all over the place and it was such a joy to see them drinking in all the special places we have in this county.
PACKING A PUNCH: Tony Clarke still keeps the Punch and Judy tradition alive.