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Things I Have Learned

Tony Christie On Yorkshire: The People, Places, Puddings & Pints
Luke Turner , November 19th, 2008 06:01

As Tony Christie's Made In Sheffield is released, Luke Turner caught up with him to talk about Yorkshire, the county of his birth

Tony Christie

The people of Yorkshire get a bad press

The perception of Yorkshire people is of the loud, brash, thick in arm, thick in head stereotype. And there are those people in every county. But Yorkshire people get on with it and do it, a bit like the cricketers I suppose, although Freddie Truman wasn't behind the door at coming forward, was he? Particularly down south they tend to think 'thick Yorkshireman'. I suppose it's the same with Lancashire, if you hear a thick Bolton or Burnley accent, you might think they're thick, but far from it. I think it's a north / south divide, though there is always that rivalry between Yorkshire and Lancashire that goes back to the War of the Roses and is played out in the cricket now, I suppose.

Yorkshire's landscape is one of great beauty and contrast

I was born in Conisbrough, which is nestled right in the mining area. I was surrounded by coalfields, dozens of them, around that Rotherham, Doncaster, Wentworth area. It was all coal mines, a lot of the countryside was spoiled by the pitheads and all that kind of thing, but I could get on my bike and cycle, and in ten or fifteen minutes you're in the most beautiful countryside. You might as well have gone into Austria.

Yorkshire's Ridings all have their own identities

It could have been three different counties, couldn't it? You go East and they are a different mindset. Now, what I used to think of as Yorkshire is actually Lincolnshire, Cleethorpes, Grimsby and that. I do think they've got their little differences; if you go up towards Thirsk and that way, they seem to be more farming-type thinkers. It was no different going up that way than it was to go out to Cambridge or Ely, that sort of area. [Laughs] Not interbred, but when I first went to Ely and that area it was a foreign land to me. That's the good thing about the UK, it's the diversity of the people. You go up to Geordieland and you could be in a completely different country again, and that's interesting I think.

Once a Yorkshireman, always a Yorkshireman

There's always that pride of saying 'I was born in Yorkshire'. You never try and hide it. There's a pride there, and Yorkshire people down south who've lost their accent, when they meet a fellow Yorkshireman it's almost like being in a lifelong club, the British Legion or something. It's like a badge.

Cricket: the County means more than the game

I've lost interest a little bit now. I watch the test matches but I used to be a mad cricket fan, reading the papers every day and watching the results when I could. I seem to have lost it a little bit, because Yorkshire was always in the top three, and not so much these days. Was supporting Yorkshire more important than the actual cricket? Yeah, if I'm being honest.

There's less prejudice against Yorkshire these days

I didn't used to give you an advantage to be from Yorkshire. Now that accents don't matter, particularly in the media, it's opened out a hell of a lot. Back in the 70s you'd never hear a newsreader with a Yorkshire accent. You do now, and it's accepted, and so it should be. It's stopped people having to force themselves to lose their accents. My wife's born in bred and Sheffield and says 'I don't want to lose my Yorkshire accent, wherever we live. I'm proud of my accent'.

Yorkshire folk are proud of their industrial heritage

Where I was from there was great pride in the mining. My grandfather and my uncles worked down the pit. And my father was an accountant for the National Coal Board. He started off in a munitions factory in the war, in Maltby. He's from where Freddy Truman's from. He met my mum in the war, and they moved to Conisbrough where I was born. It was a very strong mining community, things stick out in your brain. I remember the kids I used to play with in the streets, round the lamp posts and that, and suddenly one of their dads was killed, just like that. It was quite vivid, though they don't hit you when you're a kid, they were a dad, you know? You don't relate to it.

Yorkshire is recovering from industrial decline

It happened worst up off the A1, there places like Grimethorpe where it was a dreadful time for everybody, because when the pits closed, all the shops went down, and the community went down with them. From what I've been reading about they seem to have recovered. A lot of people took risks, took a big payment and opened a business. A lot of them went to the wall, but some of them did very very well. I believe it is true that they're making more steel now than they ever did, they're making specialised steel and it's precision engineering. There's more steel coming out of Sheffield than in the rolling mill days.

In Yorkshire, ale is the water of life

It's got to be ale, I can't stand lager. It's got to be real, hand-pulled, hoppy beer. The love of ale is a working man's industrial thing. Near the rolling mills there were always corner pubs where blokes would come off the night shift and the pubs would open in the morning for them, and they'd slake their thirst, and get the crap out of their throats, with good ale. My favourite brewery used to be Leeds Tetleys, but now it's Timmy Taylor's Landlord, from Halifax way.

White pepper and gravy make the perfect Yorkshire pudding

You've got to have onion gravy, then it's a proper meal. Cooked in a big square tin. The small round ones aren't really true Yorkshire puddings, but the Waitrose near where we live does a good facsimilie. They've got these Yorkshire puddings that you just bung in the oven for about four minutes, and they're beautiful, once you've put your gravy on it and your white pepper. It has to be white pepper, by the way, not black. That's a memory from my granddad. I have two memories, in terms of smell, and that's real ale and white pepper. My granddad would go out every Sunday, down to the 'Stute, that's The Institute, and he'd have I don't know how many beers, maybe five or six pints. He'd could come home and I could smell that beer, I always loved the smell of beer on his breath. He'd sit down at the table and he would throw this white pepper on his dinner. There'd be a huge cloud of it, everyone sneezing, except him.

Tony Christie's new album Made In Sheffield is out now