Dear Reader: The first-ever Harrogate movie tour + walking to heaven in the Dales

A personal column by the Harrogate Advertiser's Graham Chalmers

Friday, 15th March 2019, 2:06 pm
Updated Friday, 15th March 2019, 2:23 pm
Award-winning filmmaker Mark Cousins at Harrogate Film Festival in a Q& at Starling cafe with the Harrogate Advertiser's Graham Chalmers.

How did I come to find myself chauffeuring one of Britain’s leading filmmakers round Harrogate in my small car the other week?It’s a long story but, as the opportunity had arisen, I decided to take Mark Cousins, director of the Cannes Film Festival award-winning documentary The Eyes of Orson Welles, on a tour of the town’s little known movie history.

By that I don’t just mean the iconic Odeon cinema which has stood majestically on the corner of East Parade and Station Avenue since 1936.I mean locations in Harrogate where famous actors and directors and film crews have actually set foot to make famous movies.

Points deducted for anyone who thinks the story starts and finishes with Nidd Gorge's surprising appearance in Paddington 2 a couple of years ago.

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Anyway, there I was tootling round Harrogate town centre with my VIP passenger pointing out where Dustin Hoffman and Vanessa Redgrave stood on set at the Royal Baths for the movie Agatha in 1979 and explaining why the legendary film director Ken Russell showed up with a film crew at the Royal Hall in 1970.

Mark, who knows more about the history of cinema across the world than almost any man alive, seemed impressed enough by my impromptu cultural tour designed to kill time before he give a fascinating Q&A at this year’s Harrogate Film Festival run by the well-organised Adam Chandler.

He was especially pleased when I took him to Ashville College where in 1944 the head boy was the important figure behind Woodfall Film Productions which invented British kitchen sink drama on the big screen - Tony Richardson, the man who directed Look Back In Anger in 1959 with Richard Burton.

I may have pushed it too far, however, on one of my detours when I explained how Malcolm McLaren, the ex-manager of the Sex Pistols, had filmed the video for his hit single Madame Butterfly in 1984 at Harrogate's Turkish Baths.“Let’s have a look inside,” I said.

There we were, a bearded reporter and a genius of modern movie making, receiving puzzled looks as we wandered through part of Harrogate’s history from a time before movies were even invented.

I can always tell what sort of winter we’ve had in the Harrogate district by my occasional treks in the countryside.From the conditions I found walking between Hebden and Kettlewell and Grassington the other weekend, it’s been fairly mild, indeed.

The strolling was gentle amid the sheep and stiles, over the dry stone walls and into the patchwork quilt of fields, though the going did get heavier as I headed further uphill onto sodden moors and the debris of derelict lead mines.

As I reached the very top and made my way through that narrow envelope of light between the moor and dark clouds, the sky seemed so close I could almost touch it.It was a relief to come back down to earth and come across the man-made river paths linking Grassington to Burnsall and beyond.

So civilised was this new scene, people in walking boots and ruck sacks were outnumbered by parents pushing baby buggies.I was happy enough with this Victorian-style promenade.

No matter how much time I spend in the great outdoors I remain a ‘townie’ at heart.