The Time and the Place

kna  Colin Philpott with his book A Place in History.  (121022M1)
kna Colin Philpott with his book A Place in History. (121022M1)

Knaresborough man Colin Philpott knows a good story when he see’s one, and he has turned his critical eye over some of the most important news stories of the last century, resulting in a book entitled A Place in History.

A career spanning almost quarter of a century at the BBC, including seven years as Head of BBC Yorkshire, finely tuned Mr Philpott’s eye for a good news story,and made him quite a formidable interview for a journalist.

Mr Philpott left university in 1980 and began working at the BBC, in his 24 years with the corpororation he worked on a number of news, current affairs and documentary programmes.

In 2004 he took a position as Director of the National Media Museum, where he remained until April of this year, and it was this analytical environment which encouraged him to start working on the book idea he had always had in the back of his mind.

“I’ve always been interested in the idea that news stories are just one off events that happen in places, and a lot of the time once the stories finished they just have to try and return to normality.”

He said: “It’s interesting to see what happens when the news crews move on leaving the community to deal with the aftermath of the events.”

This curiosity about the impact of news stories was amplified when aged 29, Mr Philpott was on board a train from London to Manchester which crashed head on at Colwich Junction.

The Colwich Junction rail crash was one of 1986’s biggest news stories. Mr Philpott said: “After the impact I used the first few minutes to get to safety and start helping other people on board the train.

“After a while my journalistic instinct kicked in and I found a phone box and started reporting on the accident I had just been in.”

“This put me in the unusual position of both being part of and reporting on a major news story.”

The scene of The Colwich Junction rail crash was not included in the 90 locations Mr Philpott investigated for the book.

He said: “I started with over 1,000 places I was interested in, but with the publisher’s help I narrowed it down to 90.

“I wanted to use stories that were in living memory, though the earliest is 1903 so I might be stretching that a bit. I avoided any stories after the turn of the century as I felt it would be too soon.”

One of the locations that made the final cut is The Old Swan Hotel, Harrogate, the scene of Agatha Christie’s 11 day disappearance in 1926.

Mr Philpott said: “It was a major news stories, more than a thousand police and press were searching for her before she was discovered hiding out at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel.

“Can you imagine if that happened now? With the advent of twitter and the internet it would be impossible to stay undetected for so long.”

A Place in History toes the line between a history book and current affairs, covering a variety of places that witnessed stories from the quirky, such as the spot where Pickles the dog found the stolen world cup, to the life-changing, including the Lockerbie plane crash and Bradford City Inferno.

BBC Radio 4’s Edward Stourton said: “This book reminds us that the past is always alive – and that the news happens to real people in real places, not just on the television you watch in the gym.”