Big-cat diary

Lee ‘Lewis’ Gale is on the prowl with a 1964 Jaguar Mk II

GolfPunk, 2004

With multi-million pound heists back in fashion, it’s a sign of the times that our safety-conscious crooks are choosing Volvos as their getaway cars, a vehicle more closely associated with school runs and caravanning than villainry. You can’t help thinking that these latter day Ronnie Biggs have missed the point somewhat. Where’s the panache? As a wink to the stylish thefts of the Sixties, it would have been a wonderful gesture for the Securitas robbers in Kent and Cheshire to have used a Jaguar Mk II to carry the lolly to their lair, preferably a top-of-the-range 3.8.

According to Classic Cars Magazine, a Jaguar Mk II in decent condition will set you back somewhere in the region of £11,000-£18,000, which is chicken feed if you’ve just made off with £53 million, but for those of us running on tighter budgets, the gentile hire operation of the Classic Car Club at classiccarclub.co.uk will fulfill your desire for the gangster look, without… well, breaking the bank. CCC currently has four Mk IIs. We borrow a 1964 3.8 in opalescent blue for the weekend, and roll back the years.

A star is born
When it was introduced at the Earls Court Motor Show in 1959, the 220bhp Jaguar Mk II 3.8 was the world’s fastest production car, with a top speed of 125mph. Its acceleration of 0-60 in 8.5secs might seem sedate by today’s standards, but at the time the 3.8 was a revelation. Its curved, feline design captivated the stockbrokers of Surrey and the East End underworld in equal measure. Such was the popularity of the Jaguar Mk II with the wrong side of the law, that the police were forced to buy a fleet of 3.8s in order to keep up with criminals on Britain’s new motorways – which then had no speed restriction.

The Mk II featured more glass than the Mk I, with a larger windscreen and heated rear-window giving a bright interior, meaning the walnut dash glowed like gold on summer evenings, while its interior switches and dials would have pleased pilots of the Avro Vulcan. With knockout performance, it was little wonder that the Mk II enjoyed huge success in motor sports in the early Sixties, most notably the European Touring Car Championship which was won in 1963 by German driver Peter Nocker in a ‘virtually unbeatable’ Mk II 3.8. Away from the track, racing personalities such as Graham Hill and Colin Chapman drove Mk IIs, increasing the car’s magnetic appeal to alpha males.

Sporting prowess inevitably led to television and film work. A white, 1961 Mk II 3.4 with red leather seats was Bob Hoskins’ wheels in superb British gangster movie Mona Lisa, while Get Carter heavies Con McCarty and Peter the Dutchman arrived in Newcastle with a red 3.8 to bring Michael Caine’s Jack back to London, and quickly had their passenger door torn off by a Ford Cortina Mk I. And who can forget the alcohol-sodden Withnail being pulled over in a one-headlamped Mk II in the cult, highly quotable film Withnail & I (Policeman: ‘Bit early in the morning for festivities isn’t it, sir?’).

Despite these starring roles, the Jaguar Mk II’s crowning moment on screen didn’t arrive until 1987. Shortly after 8pm on Tuesday, January 6th, the nation caught a glimpse of a burgundy Mk II 2.4, registration 248 RPA, gliding into a garage forecourt. It was soon smashed in the side by a car full of baddies. The Jag’s owner, the eagle-headed Oxon sleuth Inspector Morse, was far from amused – but a billion viewers in 200 countries loved it.

On the road
Never drive a Jaguar Mk II in Britain if you’re in a rush. Everybody over the age of 50 has a story they’re desperate to share with you about this stunning slice of British engineering history. If you have a spotless model in superb condition, men will plead with you to pull over so they can observe your handiwork. Isn’t it great to openly lie? ‘Did you renovate this?’ you’ll be asked. ‘Yup,’ you’ll nod.

But how quickly we forget the rigmarole of driving prior to 1980. I’d forgotten that cars once needed warming up for 15 minutes before taking them on the road. Frighteningly, while still cold, our engine cuts out – along with the power steering – as we turn into a Tesco service station. Redirecting 3,136lbs with an icy steering wheel is a better Sunday morning jolt than a strong Americano. Once filled up (and engine thoroughly warmed), our amble takes us west from South London to the golf-belt between the M4 and M40. Men, strolling for newspapers, flash knowing smiles as we growl across town. 

The Jag’s brakes are less effective than Ark Royal’s, it takes a good stretch of open road to reach 60mph, and it’s advisable to pull over and let the radiator cool down if you get stuck in a traffic jam – always the Mk II’s Achilles’ heel – but this, I imagine, is what it’s like to fly a Spitfire. Our destination is Stoke Park Club (stokeparkclub.com) in Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire. It’s the golf course where James Bond beat Auric Goldfinger with a technicality due to a switched ball. In brilliant sunshine, the Jaguar Mk II enthrals onlookers young and old as the metallic paintwork springs to life. Club members mainly driving German and Japanese SUVs look shamefaced as they crackle over the stones on the driveway. Eyeing the big cat’s 16-inch chromed wheels, they think, ‘How did we ever lose our car industry?’ And rightly so.

It’s on the drive home where we meet our most interesting character. Parking up by Wimbledon Common for a half of Morse-esque real ale, an excited individual shouts, ‘Stop there!’ It transpires that this man was an engineer for the Coombs Jaguar racing team in the Sixties. Inspecting the Mk II, he remarks favourably on the condition. I mention with concern I can hear a quiet cat meowing when changing gear, and he immediately offers a diagnosis: ‘Happy mechanicals,’ he says. ‘Leave it just as it is.’ He reminisces for an hour. We miss that beer, but we don’t mind.

Join the club
With bases in London, Edinburgh, Bath and New York, the Classic Car Club is a novel way of regularly getting behind the wheel of a motoring marque. You pay an annual fee, and this gives access to a sizeable list of vehicles. ‘The club is owned by three chaps,’ explains company director James Evans. ‘There’s myself, Nigel Case and Philip Kavanagh. We all come from various backgrounds – I headed a sales team in a printing company, Nigel was a professional photographer, and Phil was a quantity surveyor. We gave up our careers to take up this daft life of glamorous cars and making sure other people have a fantastic time driving them.’

For a full list of vehicles owned by the Classic Car Club go to classiccarclub.co.uk/stable.asp and feast on Aston Martins, Maseratis, Rolls-Royces and Ferraris. ‘Membership prices start at £3,500,’ adds Evans, ‘but this includes the one-off joining fee, instant sex appeal, desirability, ultimate coolness and of course the ability to park in the golf club captain’s car park space at will!’

Last fraction hero

From its beginning 150 years ago, TAG Heuer’s designs have been influenced by sport, but its association with Scuderia Ferrari and the inspired employment of a down-on-his-luck motorcycle racer gave Tag Heuer the edge in timekeeping

By Lee Gale

GQ promo, 2011

Since Formula One’s inception in 1950, there has never been a dead heat in a Grand Prix, and with TAG Heuer’s trackside timekeeping accurate to 1/10,000th of a second it’s unlikely there ever will be. That’s not to say dead heats don’t happen in sport. In January 2011, the patrons of Romford Greyhound Stadium in Essex witnessed an almost unique event. The 8.50pm Coralcasino Stakes finished in a triple dead-heat, as the glossy snouts of Ayamzagirl, Killishan Masai and Droopys Djokovic passed the winning line at exactly the same moment, understood to be a 30,000,000-1 event – “Like winning the National Lottery and then getting struck by lightning,” Coral bookmakers commented.

This historic, 59.53sec-long Romford firecracker was run over a distance of 925 metres (3,030 feet), the longest race permitted by the Greyhound Board Of Great Britain. A Grand Prix is typically 190 miles (305km), but despite the distance there have been some spectacular Romford-like finishes. The 1971 Italian Grand Prix at the pre-chicane Monza is regarded as the tightest ever, as English driver Peter Gethin, in his first and only podium finish, edged his Yardley-liveried British Racing Motors P160 to victory 0.01sec in front of the March 711 “Tea Tray” of Sweden’s Ronnie Peterson (0.6secs separated the first five cars).

With such whopping levels of interest in Formula One (527 million television viewers per race in 2010) and the colossal heaps of money required to race (Toyota’s budget in 2008 was £268m), there must be a winner, however small the margin. Reliable timing is an F1 prerequisite, a task tailored by TAG Heuer since its initial involvement holding the stopwatch for Scuderia Ferrari in 1973. TAG Heuer built such a resounding reputation for accuracy that, inevitably, it was appointed Formula One’s official timekeeper in 1992.

TAG Heuer’s sports timekeeping has its roots in, of all things, the gee-gees: British horse racing. Swiss inventor Edouard Heuer, who founded his watchmaking company in St-Imier, Switzerland in 1860 (TAG wasn’t added to the name until 1985, when the manufacturer of motor-racing turbochargers, Techniques d’Avant Garde, acquired Heuer), was a frequent spectator of thoroughbred meets when visiting Britain in the 1870s and ’80s (he opened a London subsidiary in 1876).

His interest in horse racing concerned velocity – Edouard methodically timed races. The excitement of thundering equines convinced the young inventor that he’d need to craft accurate timepieces to keep pace with a modern world that, to him, was becoming dizzyingly fast (a fact enhanced when Edouard’s neighbour in Switzerland attempted to build his own motor car). It was a sparkling time of mechanical possibility, and Edouard was captivated.

As Karl Benz, Rudolf Diesel and John Boyd Dunlop tinkered in their oily sheds, Edouard Heuer Fabrique d’Horlogerie concentrated on precision stopwatches, and in 1911 introduced a dashboard-mounted Time Of Trip chronograph for use in cars and biplanes. But it was the 1916 Mikrograph that brought Heuer to the world’s attention, the first stopwatch enabling users to measure down to 1/100sec (other instruments of this era only measured to 1/5sec). It was a defining moment: Heuer was soon named as the official supplier of timekeeping equipment at the upcoming Antwerp Olympics. Incredibly, the Mikrograph was still being used as an accurate timing device into the Sixties.

By the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, Heuer had become synonymous with timekeeping, closely associated with athletics, motor racing and skiing. Such was the clamour for Heuer’s expertise that the company created a position for a dedicated timekeeping specialist whose job was to travel to sporting events that required accurate timing. “We used to loan him, with his timing devices, to ski, bobsleigh and horse-riding competitions which were a means of promoting the brand,” Jack Heuer, a board member in the family business until 1982, recalled.

A fascination with fast cars passed down the Heuer gene pool. The brand’s support of motor racing meant that by the Sixties, racing drivers would flaunt their Autavia and Carrera watches as a winner’s statement of intent. Heuer’s first “ambassador” was motor-racing maverick Jo Siffert, a dashing Swiss daredevil whose style seemed to be copied to the letter by English football’s Halifax-born lothario Frank Worthington.

Not surprisingly, Siffert’s appeal was somewhat wider than First Division football. Steve McQueen, that ball-bouncing, Nazi fence-jumper and motor-racing freak had such admiration for Siffert that it manifested in the track-racing movie Le Mans (1971). Big of gritted teeth, short of dialogue (a sentence isn’t uttered for the first 35 minutes), Le Mans was 2001: A Space Odyssey for the Vauxhall Firenza owner. Siffert’s wristwatch was a 1969 blue-faced Heuer Monaco, so when it came to filming, McQueen naturally demanded the same piece for his depiction of a haunted, enigmatic racing hero. Le Mans ensured the Monaco’s legendary status.

While McQueen’s brow gathered sweat behind the wheel of a Porsche 917, battling those braggarts at Ferrari, the brains behind Heuer’s eventual Formula One timekeeping revolution, Swiss electronics engineer Jean Campiche, was reaching the end of a largely uninspired career as a Grand Prix motorcycle racer. “My dream was difficult as I never had much money,” Campiche reminisces. “Sponsorship was not like today. If you were lucky, you were given free tyres.” In 1973, Campiche replied to a newspaper ad placed by Heuer searching for a sports timekeeper to be based in Maranello, Italy. He was chosen ahead of 54 other applicants. It was a studious choice by Jack Heuer: Campiche’s foresight would cement Heuer’s position as the world’s most respected timekeeper, while re-establishing the reputation of Scuderia Ferrari in Formula One.

Ferrari would dominate Formula One in the late Seventies, but at the beginning of the decade its motor-racing division was undergoing massive restructuring, including the construction of the new, state-of-the-art Fiorano training circuit at Maranello. Enzo Ferrari invested heavily in racing and saw accurate timekeeping as the solid foundation from which his team would eventually flourish. Campiche was appointed head of Heuer’s Timing Systems unit, becoming Ferrari’s de facto timing technicians.

“In motor racing, you’d measure your own time, not the time of your competitor, but Ferrari wanted to measure both,” Campiche explains. “And Enzo wanted reliable information about Ferrari cars on the Maranello track to improve lap-time and speed. Engineers needed reliable information about where they were losing performance.”

Campiche worked with a system of 45 photocells connected to the Le Mans Centigraph, an electronic keyboard-and-printer device that, through manual button-pushing, recorded the times of 15 cars down to 1/1,000th of a second. “I was able to work three keyboards quickly,” says Campiche. “You’d push the buttons and have the times of Ferrari cars and its best competitors, but during races it was six hours’ solid work and there was no time to do a pee-pee. You couldn’t drink anything before or during competition. It was a very hard job.”

Campiche’s commitment swiftly gave Ferrari the edge. The Italians signed Austrian 25-year-old Niki Lauda in 1974 and the following year, with the ultra-reliable, flat, grimacing Ferrari 312T, won the drivers’ and constructors’ titles. By that victorious season, Campiche had already earnt the nickname “Pianist”: “I had many cars to measure!” he laughs. “My job was to press levers as cars passed by. My fingers worked quickly. With all the lap times it was good music – like Tchaikovsky.”

As Ferrari’s F1 stranglehold tightened, Campiche fitted mini-transmitters (transponders) to cars, meaning times were automatically beamed to an antenna on the finish line. “The transponders transmitted a signal that allowed us to see lap times,” enthuses Campiche. “Our technology was so advanced I could get Ferrari drivers moved up the starting grid because we could prove that Formula One’s official timings were wrong. Our reputation had grown to the point where we were the most trusted timekeepers in the sport.” In 1977 and 1979, drivers’ championships followed for Ferrari’s Lauda and Jody Scheckter.

Campiche was still at the helm of Timing Systems when TAG Heuer was appointed the official timekeeper for F1 in 1992, a relationship that lasted for eleven years. By now, a wealth of figures could be crunched for a worldwide television audience, so fans at home could follow – and understand – the action. It was a herculean task for TAG Heuer, who’d transport 18 tons of computers, wiring and transmitters using three Boeing 747s to each Grand Prix.

TAG Heuer’s toughest test arrived in the little-known Race Of Champions, the annual face-off between racing drivers from a variety of different disciplines. Held at the Stade de France, Paris in 2006, the ROC provided the closest finish to any motor sports race in history, where a semi-final heat saw Sweden’s two-time German touring car champion Mattias Ekström overcome Finnish F1 driver Heikki Kovalainen by 0.0002secs.

The technology exists to measure down to 1/100,000th of a second, but the question is, is it necessary? Campiche believes that, for the time being, we’re as accurate as we need to be, but recalls an incident from qualifying in Jerez, Spain, in 1997 that caused furore on a scale that would have had the Romford greyhounds cowering behind the lure.

“Like the racing dogs, we had a big problem at the finish line!” Campiche laughs. “Schumacher, Villeneuve and Frentzen had exactly the same lap time in qualifying down to 1/1,000sec. The reaction of the journalists was, ‘It’s not possible!’ People said the timekeeping was not working properly, that Bernie Ecclestone had fixed the times. It was maybe a billion-to-one chance. ‘You have made a big mistake, TAG!’ people shouted. There were not many congratulations for us that day. But I knew the times were correct. We don’t just have one timing system – there are three. I was able to demonstrate this freak occurrence, but few would listen.”

TAG Heuer may lead the field in sports timing, but the company is breathing new life into an old timekeeping favourite. The Carrera Mikrograph was launched at the Geneva Watch Fair in January, the first wheel-integrated chronograph with a 1/100th of a second display by a central hand, designed and manufactured in the Horte Horlogerie workshop in La Chaux-De-Fonds – which is also building the Monaco V4. The rose gold Carrera Mikrograph, a tribute to the 1916 original, is limited to 150 pieces, providing precision timing for the modern motoring enthusiast in the form of a wristwatch. Like a window into the Doctor’s soul, it features a see-through sapphire crystal back allowing its owner to observe its “two hearts” beating at different speeds.

Would Campiche like one? “That would be very nice,” he replies. “As you know, timing is everything.”

Johnny Marr: guitars, haircuts and football

By Lee Gale

Jack, 2003

Everyone’s favourite guitarist has turned vocalist with his new band Johnny Marr And The Healers. Singing? How did this come about? We catch up with the former Smith at the swanky Hyatt Regency Hotel in Marylebone, London

First thing, your hairstyle. Very nice. How long have you had this one?
Yeah, I bought this one about five years ago and it still fits. I think I’ve looked this way for ages.

It’s a lot different from your hairstyle on this (shows Johnny the cover of Electronic’s Electronic album, where he’s got a skinhead).
Yeah, but what year is that? When was that out, now?

1991, wasn’t it?
Well, there you go. I’ll tell you what, if I brought out a picture of you from 1991 you’d look different.

I played the first Electronic album over the weekend. It still sounds great.
Does it?

Absolutely.
Great – I don’t mean to sound surprised. I haven’t heard it since then.

Where did you get your haircut done?
Oh, my haircut. It’s actually the law in Manchester to have a haircut like this. It’s mandatory. If you don’t, you have the hair police come down on you. They wrestle you to the ground and make you smoke two ounces of hash.

How much is a haircut in Manchester?
Well, I have a gentleman friend of mine. It’s my mate, Bruce Maysfield. He’s a genius and a visionary. I’m glad I got to say that cos I’ll get some more freebies. Well, seeing as you ask, I’ve always had friends who are hairdressers from being in my teens. My best friend for years lived with me all the way through The Smiths time and for a few years afterwards, and we’d be sitting around at 2.30 in the morning and I’d look in a book and say, “Ray Davies’ hair was great there,” and he’d leap up and go, “Come on then, Johnny.” So occasionally I’d wake up in the morning and think, “Oh, I forgot about that last night.”

You had a proper big hairstyle as well at one point.
Yeaaahh! How did that come about? I really liked Stu Sutcliffe.

The other Beatle.
Yeah. I was really into his style when I first started off with The Smiths. The whole sort of V-neck and white polo neck and the beatnicky thing with the Ray-Bans. It came from the Stu Sutcliffe Hamburg pictures. And because I was so into his look, I did the systematic fringe then, which wasn’t about The Byrds or Brian Jones. My sort of Hamburg thing. It’s very important all this.

Are you never afraid of trying new hairstyles?
It’s a young man’s game.

We know you support Man City. Do you go to many of their matches?
I do, yeah. I go to the home games when I’m about.

Do you have a bit of a drink afterwards?
I don’t drink.

Not at all?
No.

Has that always been the case?
No, no. I drank plenty when I was younger, but I kind of got bored of it a couple of years ago. I stopped as an experiment almost. I stopped to see what effect it would have on me. So far, I’ve had no downside.

How long has this been going on for?
A few years.

Most of us are afraid to stop drinking because we become very, very boring.
Right then, maybe you should give it a go. I doubt that would be the case, to be honest.

Also, if you don’t have a drink, you can’t sleep because you’ve got too much energy in your body.
Yeah, well maybe you should try getting up at seven in the morning. That’ll sort you out. Maybe buy a running machine or something. I just got really bored of it. I didn’t want to live the same life over and over again. It was like, let me try this for a novelty. There was no downside.

I bet that went down well with the missus.
Erm, yeah. I haven’t really changed very much. The only difference is I can actually get up in the morning now. I’m not going, “Oh God, oh God.” Yeah, yeah. She has a cheeky marguerita now and then. But I end up as a taxi service.

Did you used to have a bit of a runaround when you were younger at the football?
What do you mean, runaround?

Fisticuffs.
Oh God, no. One of the reasons I became a musician was to avoid violence. I didn’t have the stomach for it, or the legs. I never was into that. I went to a few away games when I was younger and that got a little intense, certainly at Anfield one time. I did a fair bit of running away. But the idea of clobbering a stranger is not really my scene.

Do you think the north does music better than the south? You’ve got to say yes at this point.
Ha! Right, yes. Cos I am being strong-armed at the moment. God, talk about partisan. Do you know, Radiohead have just messed that whole thing up. But I’m sure somewhere there’s got to be some sort of genetic tie. We’ll have to investigate that. They’re still doing great stuff.

Well, they’re heavily influenced by Joy Division, so they’re a northern band really.
I like it! Loophole. I like it, there’s a loophole. A resounding yes!

Do you think they put something in the water in Manchester to make it such a hotbed of musical talent? Why not Bradford? Why not Huddersfield? Why not Carlisle?
I think a lot of it’s got to do with the infiltration of immigrants, I guess. There’s a lot of Irish immigrants, a lot of Jewish immigrants, a lot of West Indian and Jamaican immigrants. They would have arrived in the Fifties and given the place a bit of a vibe. I know in terms of the Irish influence – I can only talk about what I know – but I grew up around music all the time. My parents came over with their families in the early Sixties. They were music mad. They loved living in Manchester. I grew up around those communities.

There’s always been a history of after-hours parties in Manchester, hasn’t there, because of the West Indian community, bringing jazz over? And it pretty much followed up to the rave scene.
Yeah. The Northern Soul scene drew people from all over the country to dance all night, and maybe take a five-hour coach ride back, to explore obscure American records, that were only played in that particular place.

Apparently, the reason Manchester got all those soul records was because of the American ships using records as ballast. When they got to Liverpool and Manchester, the records were swiped – nicked!
That’s amazing. That’s lucky for Manchester. I don’t know very much about Northern Soul. There seems to be a connection for me between the feeling of Wigan Casino, just from photographs I’ve seen, to the rave scene. Not very many clothes, very, very wide trousers, with their hands in the air. Dilated pupils, having a really fantastic time.

Of course, you’re not just Johnny Marr who plays guitar – with Johnny Marr And The Healers you sing. At which point did you think, “Hang on, I’ll do the vocals…”?
I didn’t. The band approached me with, pretty much, an ultimatum. I had a five minute mutiny on my hands. Which was great.

You’ve done backing vocals before, though.
Yeah, I sang with Pet Shop Boys and The The, and a few other people.

So you knew you could do it.
Yeah, I knew I could sing. I wrote the songs and sang because I didn’t want to get another known singer in. I didn’t want the direction of the music to change too much. I got given a couple of CDs of guys who were in bands with a, in quotes, traditionally great rock voice. Rubbing my hands and pretty pleased with myself, I said to the band, “We’ve got a front man, it’s gonna be fine.” And we played the stuff, and they were really good singers. The band went off to a café for half an hour or so, while I was on the phone, and when I got back they just hit me with the decision really. I had to be the singer. And I trust them. They had no other reason to like what I was doing other than they thought it was right.

So there were other people up for the job as singer?
There were two other blokes, but I can’t remember their names. I don’t even know if they’re in bands or anything. I wanted to play them to The Healers before I approached them. There were a few days of complete shock, an angel on one shoulder going, “It’s cool, trust the boys, it’s going to be fine, it sounds great.” Then a devil going, “This isn’t what you do, people are going to read too much into it, blah, blah.” I just listened to it and I thought, “Yeah, that’s OK. That’s all right.” And then I was off. Telling people not to make eye contact with me.

Do you think with the current climate with all this Pop Idol nonsense, that it’s virtually impossible for another Smiths to break though?
No. When you say another Smiths, I’m guessing that you mean…

A good, credible band.
A good band with integrity, who are into messing stuff up. I think it’s more likely that that will happen. It’s reached a horrible situation. I’d forgotten all about Pop Idol and the Rivals and all that stuff until you mentioned it. I can’t stomach it. Horrible karaoke on a really mass level. It’s embarrassing, isn’t it? It’s really embarrassing. I don’t know, people seem to like it, don’t they?

Well, they’ll accept what’s put in front of them.
That’s right.

What bands have you been into over the last couple of years? Apart from your own, of course.
I like Lemon Jelly. They’re pretty good. They’re more electronic. Wait, I’ll try and think of something a bit more obscure. Godspeed You Black Emperor! are absolutely fantastic. If you like your music about 18-minutes long with lots of drama and kind of heady. I think they’re happening.

What did you think of John Squire’s attempt at singing?
I only heard a few of his songs. I quite liked it. I was taken by surprise. His voice was a bigger deal than I was expecting but I was really quite impressed by that. I admired it.

I thought he was trying too hard to make a style.
I thought it would be really interesting to see where he goes with his next few albums. He’s obviously smart and talented. It’s hard when you’re trying to break the mould. The situation I’m in, it makes me have a sense of admiration because it takes a lot of balls.

When are you and Barney getting back together to do another Electronic record?
I saw Bernard recently and it was really good to see him. In fact, I spoke to him yesterday morning and we’ve still got a really good friendship. I’d like to get together with him and do some kind of soundtracky thing, just because it was the one thing that we could do and that we never did.

Have you had offers for that before?
Years ago, the manager at that time thought it was a really good idea. I just saw the whole Mark Knopfler headband thing, fiddling about in a studio to a low-key film.

If I was to take up guitar, and I wanted you specifically to teach me how to play, how much would you charge an hour?
Ha-ha-ha. Bastard.

With your background, we’ve got to be looking at… at least £30 an hour.
I was thinking more in the region of £200 and I thought that was being generous. I’d throw in a haircut as well.

I need your favourite Smiths and Electronic tracks, please.
Favourite Smiths track would be “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me”. When we recorded it, I’d never heard anything like it. Even though I haven’t heard it for years, I know it’s a beautiful song. It kind of gets across all the emotion that was around the band. It crystallises what we did. If I had to play something for someone who’d never heard the band, one record, this would be it. This is the essence of the band. It would be that track, I think. But I love loads of them, obviously. Electronic, it would be “Get The Message”. That’s one of my favourite things I’ve ever done.

The guitar at the beginning, the break in the middle, which you’re drawn into, the strength of that sound – a great record. It still gets me going.
I’m pleased, because it’s one of the favourite things I’ve ever done.

Have you ever been too drunk to play a gig?
Not to start the gig. By the time the encore came around, without a doubt, yes. I came off stage a few times and when that adrenalin left me, I was just like a total heap on the floor. I think there’s some photographic evidence of it around.

What clothing label are you into?
Dolce & Gabbana.

Who makes that shirt you’ve got on?
Dolce & Gabbana, yeah. And you can’t go wrong with a good pair of Birkenstocks.

Do you remember Gio-Goi?
I do, yeah.

You wore a coat at Wembley in about – and this makes me sound like a trainspotter – 1991 and you had a coat on that was brilliant.
The black one.

Yes, the black one. With the yellow writing on the back. As soon as I saw that, I went to Manchester, found the coat, and bought it for £100. It cleaned me out for the month. I was so proud of it.
Bastards, they told me it was a one-off.

Mine certainly was – one arm was longer than the other. There were about three in the shop.
Have you still got it?

I let a girl borrow it when I was at college in Derby and I never got it back.
I don’t know where mine is. That was really cool. And the jumpers as well, that was really good.

They had some good T-shirts as well. They still do them.
Do they?

Gio-Goi was the Donnelly Brothers in Manchester, wasn’t it?
I knew the Donnellys who ran it. When I was about 13 or 14 they lived on the same estate as me.

Do the Manchester acts hold yearly parties for themselves, where 808 State make the cakes, Morrissey supplies vegetarian sandwiches and Mani hosts a hook-a-duck stall?
What do I do then?

What would you do?
I’d probably ferment my own alcohol, wouldn’t I? I’d be on the moonshine stall. Or yoghurt. A yoghurt stall. It’s funny you should say that cos I went to one of those last Thursday. It was Mani’s birthday.

Was MC Tunes there? He’s one of Mani’s best mates.
Is he? Ha-ha-ha! Yeah, but everyone’s one of Mani’s best mates. It’s impossible not to be his mate. He’s a diamond geezer. It was fantastic. I normally avoid going out to places where I meet people where I’ll have the same conversation I had 15 years ago. Yeah, just cos I’ve kind of done it, do you know what I mean? I love seeing everybody, so I wasn’t going to miss this one. It was really funny. As soon as I saw him, he had two magnums of Champagne, and he dropped one on the floor. That’s a lot of booze, man. It completely blew up. I was soaked from the waste down. I was walking around like this, like I had ski boots on.

Did you tell him off for it?
I haven’t seen him since, but he claims he can’t remember any of it, which all sounds a little bit convenient.

What would have happened if The Smiths had signed to Factory Records?
We would have ended up in short trousers, wouldn’t we?

You might have done the England record for a World Cup.
We might have done the England record, yeah. Bloody hell. God, can you imagine that?

That’s not a bad idea. If there is going to be a Smiths reunion – which you’ve probably been asked about 50,000 times…
No.

If The Smiths get back together, it could be to do the next England World Cup record. Genius!
[Does Morrissey impression]: “Let’s score one, and another one, and another one, another one, whooo-oooo-oooo!”

It’s got Number One written all over it. Final question. Come the day when there’s a film made about The Smiths, which is probably just round the corner, who would play you?
Erm… oooh…

Don’t say Ralf Little.
Err… you’ll have to give me some ideas here. Come on, don’t worry, I won’t be offended. Err… Winona Ryder. Yeah, Winona Ryder definitely.

I think I’ll try and hold off the drinking for a bit.
Give it a go – you might enjoy it.

John Gorman eyes Non-League role

By Lee Gale

The Non-League Paper, 2004

“Arrghh! Armed raiders steal masterpiece” it reads on the front page of The Mirror. The theft of The Scream from Oslo’s Edvard Munch Gallery is big news, but Interpol should look no further than the kitchen of John Gorman. On a sheet of A4 the former assistant manager of the England national side is reproducing his own version of the painting from the picture on the front of his newspaper – in fact, as we’re shown around his 15th-century cottage, we see that Gorman’s house is full of his artwork, from humorous caricatures of famous footballers to simple village vistas.

The expression of the howling figure in Munch’s nicked painting is an accurate depiction of the way Gorman is feeling at the moment. Apart from scouting duties for Charlton Athletic, he’s not worked in football since being caretaker manager at Wycombe Wanderers last season prior to Tony Adams being handed a permanent position. Keen to get back into full-time coaching, Gorman is tempted to dip his toes into lower League and Non-League football.

“It’s very frustrating,” he tells us, sitting down for a cup of tea at his kitchen table. “I’m an experienced coach. I’ve been through it all. I’m a better manager than I’ve ever been, and would be a good manager if I was given the chance again.

I don’t like saying I’d be interested in the job of a manager who’s already there. I’ve never been that type and I never will.

“But at the same time, I have to realise that I need to work. If a job came up, it would be nice for people to give you consideration because here’s a guy with a lot of experience.”

When discussing Gorman, inevitably the name Glenn Hoddle will crop up. The Scotsman has been assistant to Hoddle at Swindon, Southampton and Tottenham, as well as with England. Gorman thinks he’s being overlooked for League Two and Non-League jobs because of his high-level football past.

“Obviously if a job with Glenn came up, I’d be delighted to go with him, and that’s going to be a job at a top club, isn’t it?” Gorman explains. “But, I need to work. I need to for my family and for financial reasons if I’m being honest.

“I was watching Dannie Bullman at Stevenage Borough and Aldershot’s Darren Barnard the other night, and I have to say there’s not a lot of difference between the Conference and the Third – Dannie could be playing in the League, and Barnard’s an international player.

“It’s funny, you see teams in the League, you look at them, they’re struggling for finances, struggling getting players and everything, whereas teams out of the League seem better managed. They’re more determined to get in the League, and there seems to be a bit more ambition about them, doesn’t there? Especially when you see teams who have dropped out of the League, who have been League teams.”

To supporters of the Conference’s biggest-ever side, Carlisle United, Gorman is something of a folk hero. The Foxes’s old number three was part of the squad that gained promotion to the First Division in 1974, and he still looks out for United’s results.

“We were top of the League for six games. For six games!” Gorman says with pride. “We started the season off with three wins, two draws, then we started to go on a losing streak.

“Something like Carlisle never leaves you, you know. You’ve been there and you’ve made history. The stuff we achieved when I was there was incredible, and I see them now and I just want them to do well again. It’s not hoping they don’t do as well as we did, it’s the opposite. I want them back up there.”

Despite Carlisle’s promotion-form run towards the end of last season, the club couldn’t accrue enough points to avoid relegation. Gorman was quick to phone up Brunton Park to tell player-manager Paul Simpson he’d done a great job since arriving in August 2003.

“I was really disappointed for them to go down. And it’s not going to be easy for them to come back up. I think going into the Conference gives them a chance to go back to the basics. Let’s build again, because for me, Carlisle should be a good Second Division team, touching into the First.”

Given the chance of coaching at a Non-League club, Gorman would surely bring a touch of finesse to any team’s playing style. Plus, he’s the positive type. Players at Wycombe last season went on record to say that Gorman brought some self-belief back to the squad.

“My way is, regardless of where you are in the league pyramid, if you encourage players at what they’re good at, then you get the best out of them,” he says.

“Keep it on the deck and play. You know, no matter what level – I watched the Aldershot and Stevenage game: when it was on the ground it was actually quite good to watch. But when it’s just humped up there, I mean, that’s how people used to look at the Non-League, didn’t they?

“At all levels, I’d say the same thing to players, ‘Go out and express yourselves.’ I’m not worried about the mistakes. At the highest level players make mistakes, and maybe that’s a fault of me, but if a defender’s got the ball, I don’t want him just to smash it up the pitch, I want them to think. I do want them to clear their lines if it’s the right thing to do, but I reckon coaches, and I’ve been under a lot of coaches now, they put too much fear into players.”

Gorman brings out a few of his old Carlisle United programmes from the glory days of the Seventies. Crikey, that Carlisle shirt must have chafed. Gorman says the club’s fans will be looking to emulate the success of ex-Conference side Doncaster who now reside in League One. In Simpson, he believes they certainly have the right manager.

With time to kill Gorman goes back to his Edvard Munch sketch, which is nicely taking shape now. And hopefully soon, the only scream we’ll be hearing from Gorman will be from the touchline.

Ravenously Hungary: Sziget 2013

Blur, Franz Ferdinand and The Cribs defy a Budapest heatwave at one of Europe’s more relaxed festivals

By Lee Gale

GQ.co.uk, 2013

It’s a wonder of the modern age that you can arrive at the entrance of a major European music festival quicker than it takes to drive from London to Glastonbury (factoring in traffic jams, stop-offs to purchase roadside scrumpy in Domestos containers, etc). Having said ta-ta to the cat at midday, six hours later we’re in the Hungarian heat, onsite at the Sziget festival, sipping Budapest-brewed Dreher lager (£2 a pint) with a collection of multi-coloured wristbands. The flight on the Airbus A320 of Wizz was far from restful; it was packed and Luton Airport is a factory process, something to endure rather than enjoy (and at £330 return, it’s a ridiculously costly hop). Despite the grief, a feeling of peace and serenity awaits at Sziget, even when Enter Shikari are on stage.

Continue reading Ravenously Hungary: Sziget 2013

Squadron leader

You owe your freedom to the Avro Lancaster, a four-engined World War II aircraft, and the crews who flew it. Here we pay homage to the glorious dam-busting, Tirpitz-blasting, viaduct-smashing bomber

Jack, December 2003

Story by Lee Gale 

If it weren’t for the Avro Lancaster, you might be reading the opening line to this story in German. It would start off, “Dank zur helligkeit von Ernst Heinkel und er seines He-111 mittelmäßiger bomber… and drift into a frightening, umlaut-rich diatribe of how superior German aircraft helped bring our nations together. Your attention would be broken as the front door of your hovel was kicked off its hinges, and your aged, ill grandfather dragged into the street for summary execution because he was no longer contributing satisfactorily to the German Empire. In fact, this magazine would probably be called Jackboot, or Ulrich

Continue reading Squadron leader

One last thing… Graham Fellows

The Guardian’s The Guide’s great, lost, back-page interview from 2009! This interview was dumped when the newspaper’s cultural diary was overhauled – but now, here it is!

It’s fantastic to see your character John Shuttleworth back on telly, the first time since Europigeon (1) in 1998.
I’ve just made some TV and radio ads for Yorkshire Tea with my old pal Willy Smax, who shot 500 Bus Stops (2). John might have preferred to promote a quality tile grout or travel mints, but as far as I’m concerned it’s the perfect marriage of two trusted niche brands.

What are you working on at the moment?
The final edit of my new [John Shuttleworth] movie Southern Softies, set in the Channel Islands. It’s the follow-up to It’s Nice Up North, set in the Shetlands. Southern Softies nearly bit the dust when I inadvertently plugged the AC adaptor for my laptop into the hard drive, blowing it up and its contents. I’m a careless sod, but a persistent one, so it’s all back on course and I’m very excited about the world premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe on August 18th.

You’re from Sheffield, but before you were famous, did you have a Sheffield claim to fame?
My sister, Sally, claims she used to deliver Tony Christie’s mother’s newspaper in Sheffield in the early ’70s. I reminded Tony of this when I met him in Leeds a few years ago when we were guests on Richard Whiteley’s (3) short-lived TV series Friday Whiteley.

John likes a pair of fawn slacks, nothing wrong with that, but have you had any fashion disasters in the past?
My mother made me a pair of bell-bottom trousers for a Christmas party in [school class] J4. I thought they were cool until someone laughed and said they looked homemade. I said, ‘Well yes, they are,’ and this kid laughed even harder. So I kicked him and split my trousers.

John Shuttleworth is eco-minded – but are you?
Earlier this year I bought an electric G-Wiz (4) car in an attempt to reduce my carbon footprint. Having now left London and moved back up north, the car is parked permanently in a West End car park. I make frequent trips down south to recharge it, trips which increase my carbon footprint. I realise this irony must not be left unchecked, so I plan an epic voyage in my G-Wiz from London to Orkney, where I have an old church (5) which I’m planning to restore and convert into an eco-friendly recording studio. The car will be there to ferry Bono and the Arctic Monkeys, etc, around the island. Anyway, it might take a while, this trip, as a single charge of the car’s battery will only take it 30 miles, so I’ll be looking for a few power sockets en route. Look out for me!

What issue outrages you?
Cruelty to farm animals. It amazes me how worked up we get because a whippet is malnourished, cruel as that is, but no-one cares that thousands of sheep, cows, pigs and chickens live miserable lives before suffering even more miserable deaths. Check out PETA [www.peta.org.uk] and you’ll learn all about how Australian sheep farmers still carry out ‘mulesing’ (6), a barbaric practice that is maiming thousands of defenceless lambs for no logical reason. Am I a vegetarian? Not quite, so yes, I’m a hypocrite. But I’m beginning to realise that vegetarianism is the way forward – not just for the sake of the animals, but the planet too.

None of us are getting any younger, are we?
I recently hit 50 and death is suddenly on the agenda. I’m noticing a lot more people around me are dying. My father, Derek, recently observed that he used to be invited to lots of funerals but gradually the invites are tailing off. I used to want to be cremated, but a good old-fashioned burial is more eco-friendly. I’d miss the ashes routine, so perhaps the compost that I eventually become could be sprinkled on my vegetable patch.

Where would you want to be buried?
Well, I wouldn’t want to be planted anywhere near noisy traffic, or where disaffected youths congregate, or next to one of those chavvy headstones with a drawing of a footballer doing a bodyswerve. That’d start me turning, that would.

1 Shuttleworth’s Eurovision push; 2 Trans-Peak District tour; 3 C, U, N, T came out on Countdown, but cut; 4 Made in India; 5 wwwthespaceorkney.com; 6 Removal of buttock skin.

Southern Softies is at Pleasance Above, Pleasance, Edinburgh, August 18, 9.15pm, www.pleasance.co.uk

I’m not a number, I’m a free Manc!

The inaugural Festival No.6 in North Wales mixes Sixties spy drama with the better elements of indie rock. Despite the rough red wine and absolutely miserable weather, it proves an outstanding, curiously British, cultural gathering

By Lee Gale

GQ.co.uk, 2012

Taking the paranoia of Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner and adding Britain’s foremost purveyors of rock-dance crossover – ie New Order and Primal Scream – sounds like the loose plot of a late-morning dream, the sort of wonky scenario you find yourself in once the alarm has stopped and you’re drifting idly back to Boboland. Despite the weirdness, Festival No 6 piques the interest. If cheese and brown sauce can magically combine in sandwich format, then maybe merging an ingenious but frequently unfathomable Sixties spy series with cooler aspects of British indie music might just work. 

Continue reading I’m not a number, I’m a free Manc!

Village people

When Brodsworth Colliery closed in 1992, the community spirit of nearby Woodlands in Doncaster was seemingly lost forever. But as the finest example of a workers’ village in Britain celebrates its centenary, Lee Gale discovers that a little yellow booklet has locals talking to each other again 

Yorkshire Post, 2007

“Hello love, June’s ill!” shouts Helen, 83. “Is she?” blasts Laura, 82. “Oh dear!” Mere yards separate these women but by the volume of their conversation you’d think they were on opposite banks of a canal. It’s 6.30pm on Saturday in Woodlands – bingo night at the Welfare Hall – and hundreds of women (mainly pensioners) are threading their way through the streets of this former pit village to scoop £5 for a line, £20 for a full house and £100 for the flyer at the end of the night. Bingo is king round these parts.

Apart from OAPs, few of the 12,000 residents of Woodlands are braving the elements. Freezing fog is forecast in this northern extremity of Doncaster so most people are sitting in front of the TV with a hot drink watching Harry Hill’s TV Burp. “Nippy in’t it, Brian?” a man calls out of the darkness. “That’s why I’ve put me big coat on,” comes the reply. In the distance, the relentless ring of 50cc chicken-chaser scooters can be heard, while on an expanse of grass behind the red-brick bingo venue, just visible in the gloom, stand a group of teenagers, some wearing caps, swigging from a bottle. “They’ll be up to no good,” Helen expresses. Laura agrees: “It gets blummin’ worse round ’ere.” Woodlands has seen better days.

“It’s a tough place to live,” admits local vicar Stephen Gardner. “If you look at the statistics for this area, in terms of health and deprivation it’s similar to inner-city Sheffield. One of the hardest times was the miners’ strike in 1984-85 – it was awful. I was at school here, then. People literally didn’t know where the next meal was coming from. That had a big impact on this community, and there are some long memories. But when I talk about the strike locally, the one thing they remember is how they helped each other.”

It’s difficult to romanticise about Woodlands. It’s always been rough. Even before the decline of the village, a lone child on foot walking the quarter-mile length of Welfare Road would invariably face two or three threats of physical violence. Nevertheless, before the strike, Woodlands was an attractive community, well-maintained by miners whose green fingers would put Percy Thrower to shame. There were so many greenhouses that every summer there was a surplus of tomatoes. Grandads reared budgies and pigeons in aviaries, while those too frail to look after their gardens hired goats and horses to nibble at grass. It was a common sight to see women sweeping not only their paths but the pavement in front of their house. People said, “How do,” when passing and neighbours genuinely looked out for each other. Community spirit was second nature.

September 7th 1992 was a defining moment, a wretched day bringing to an end 85 years of production at Brodsworth Colliery. Situated to the west of the village, “Broddy” was one of the country’s largest pits, employing over 4,000 at its peak. When the colliery closed, Woodlands went into freefall. Community spirit, an important ingredient in any pit village, evaporated. Crime replaced comradeship, and as the respectable older miners moved away or died out, rougher elements were quick to take their place. Sheds were ritually robbed and if you owned a motorbike, the safest place to keep it was in your bedroom. Doncaster suffered massively with the demise of coalmining, but rather than gain national sympathy the town became a joke. The Nineties couldn’t end quickly enough. But where there’s decline, rejuvenation follows – it’s just taking longer than expected in Woodlands.

“I came here in December 1993, when I retired from the Metropolitan Police,” says Barry Hayes, 59, editor of The Brodsworth Informer, a free, A5 newspaper delivered throughout Woodlands and close neighbour Adwick-Le-Street. “This was the cheapest place in the country to buy property. We liked the house. I didn’t have to do a thing to it other than put in a power shower.”

Hayes, feet up in his living room, with a laptop computer warming his thighs, is something of a celebrity in Woodlands. An old hand at community newsletters – his neighbourhood watch handout in Chingford in the early Eighties reached 27,000 homes – Hayes started the Informer in 2002 with the assistance of a £300 GlobalGrant fund. His 12-page publication covering village events and local history is popped through letterboxes every other month (“although we won’t deliver if there’s a dog in the garden”). With its easily-identifiable yellow cover, the Informer is a coffee-table regular, as much a feature of Woodlands as the 280ft spire on All Saints Church.

“I chose Woodlands because it’s an ex-mining village,” adds Hayes. “Having lived in the Rhondda, I knew if there was a mine there was community spirit. I thought that would be the case in Woodlands because when I moved here the pit had only been closed a year. But it wasn’t. This pit closed and within three months there was nothing. The only thing I can put it down to is the fact that the men at Brodsworth were fiercely proud this was the ‘Royal pit’, the colliery that supplied the palaces. Every ex-miner I’ve interviewed has said to me, ‘Tha knows it’s the Royal pit, don’t you, lad? We dug the Royal coal.’ They were so shocked the Queen could allow this to happen that overnight community spirit disappeared.”

As a southerner and retired London copper, Hayes should be shunned. During the strike, his Met colleagues were bussed in their hundreds up the M1 to quell riots on Yorkshire picket lines. An over-zealous use of the truncheon caused many broken ribs in Doncaster, yet Hayes transcends criticism. “Barry’s alright,” people say. Through The Brodsworth Informer, Hayes is helping to rebuild community spirit, a fact he’s very proud of. His pro-active interest in local affairs is instilling a sense of pride that’s been absent since the Eighties – and he’s managing this without payment.

As Woodlands’ vicar, 36-year-old Stephen Gardner picks up a paycheque for his efforts, but that’s not to say his contribution is less significant than Hayes’. Unlocking the door to the imposing, red-brick All Saints with its Saturn V spire, Gardner, wearing a maroon, green and navy panelled shirt, doesn’t appear your regular man of God. “I’m not a black-wearing vicar,” he explains.

Gardner attended secondary school in Woodlands, but has only been back in the parish for 18 months. Woodlands is a religious outpost, not a glamorous pull, holding the same attraction as Matabeleland in the 19th century. Prior to Gardner’s arrival, All Saints was without a reverend for over two years.

“Before I moved here I was told there was a big drugs problem and difficulties with anti-social behaviour,” Gardner explains, “but since I’ve lived in Woodlands I haven’t seen evidence of that. I know there’s a drugs issue but it’s not all-consuming. I don’t see the issues we have here being much different to other villages around the country, even in leafy suburbs. One of the main problems is not unemployment but poor employment. People are working long hours on minimum wage, working their hearts out to support families.”

All Saints is positioned at the edge of The Squares, a downtrodden estate incorporating large “squares” of greenery. These open spaces were once an oasis for miners who’d spent up to 16 hours underground, but now act as easy escape routes for errant teens on motorbikes. Despite the church’s less-than-favourable position, Gardner is a proud homeowner and gives a guided tour of the chilled nave.

“I hear a lot of people say that when the pit shut, it tore the soul out of the community,” Gardner continues, taking a seat. “Five years ago I might have agreed with you. Actually living here now I think it’s probably too drastic a statement. It certainly wounded to the core this community. I don’t want to underplay the affect that closing Brodsworth Colliery had on this village, but I don’t think it tore the soul out. There’s still a soul, a sense that people want this to be a lively, alive village.”

Exactly 100 years ago, the first bricks of Woodlands’ workers’ cottages were being laid. The 120 spacious, three- and four-bedroom houses in The Park would look out onto a 24-acre green and a selection of towering trees descended from the mighty Barnsdale Forest – Robin Hood’s real home. Compared to the cramped, terraced slums miners endured in other northern districts, Woodlands was a dreamland.

It was Arthur Markham, Brodsworth Colliery’s owner, who made the unusual step of offering his employees a utopian existence. Markham, whose family ran Markham Colliery in Chesterfield, was MP for Mansfield and grandson of Sir Joseph Paxton who’d designed Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851. A philanthropist as well as industrialist, Markham believed fit, clean workers living in decent accommodation would make him wealthier in the long run. To bring his idea to life, Markham contracted renowned architect Percy Bond Houfton, also from Chesterfield, to draw up plans. Houfton was to create the most impressive workers’ village ever seen in Britain, a settlement so grand that King George V felt compelled to visit in 1912. Yet few have ever heard of the place.

Houfton was a keen exponent of the Garden Cities ideal. In 1896, he developed Bolsover Colliery’s model village of Creswell in Derbyshire, whose houses formed a double octagon around a central green. In 1905, he scooped top prize in the Cheap Cottages Exhibition at Letchworth (the world’s first garden city), while 41 of his workers’ houses were included in Sheffield’s Flower Estate, a whole village made for the 1907 Yorkshire And North Midland Cottage Exhibition. But Woodlands, with its 19 styles of cottages, would prove Houfton’s greatest accomplishment.

To encourage a positive community attitude, Markham’s model village incorporated 12 grassy squares. The Park’s incredible acreage was deemed excessive, so cottages in phase two – The Squares – back onto significantly smaller fields. Children could play freely in these enclosed spaces, but more importantly over “the backs” a shared responsibility grew among workers’ wives. An injured miner could expect to be nursed to fitness by anything up to 20 women.

The cottages were astoundingly plush for their time and miners flooded from across the country to taste industrial honey. Homes even boasted a flushing toilet, a complete novelty for the labour force taking residence. Soon, signs had to be erected declaring: “Due to numerous stoppages in the drains caused by tenants putting floor cloths, rags, bones & other solid matter down the closet pans, notice is hereby given that any stoppage to the drains attributable to this cause will have to be paid for by the tenant.” Practice made perfect.

Although Charles Thellusson at nearby Brodsworth Hall was the local squire, Markham was king in Woodlands. The model village turned into his personal fiefdom, with Markham taking up residence at John Holt Cottage by the gated entrance to The Park. Here, he’d sit on the kerb and invite passing miners to take a bottle of beer from a crate and discuss goings-on at the pit. For the price of a brown ale, King Arthur gained a unique workers’ insight.

Markham influenced every aspect of village life, providing tenants with a strict code of conduct. It was an ingenious system of control but few complained; to lose their precious cottage would have been unthinkable. Markham’s idealism was far-reaching. The pit employed two men whose sole job was to find faults with inhabitants’ behaviour. Woe betide any woman who beat rugs before 8am. Her husband would be sent for, even if he was 600ft underground, be questioned by pit managers and given a stern warning. Initially, no pubs or shops were allowed as everything was supplied through the Brodsworth Main Mining Company. Markham only relented his booze ban when Woodlands Hall, Thellusson’s summer house on the rim of The Park, was given to the people as a working men’s club. It still exists.

The model village of 653 houses was complete by 1913, but as the size of the coal seam became apparent, so more workers were required and additional estates were added over the following ten years. Lacking the wide avenues and grand spaces of Houfton’s original setting, the later developments of Highfields, Woodlands East and Woodlands Central were still high-standard affairs. Village construction was rounded off in 1924 with the huge Brodsworth Miners’ Welfare Ground, a recreation area consisting of the Welfare Hall with its state-of-the-art sprung dance floor, a football pitch (today home to Brodsworth Welfare in the Northern Counties East League), a cricket pitch with pavilion, cycling track, crown-green bowling strips and bandstand. Obesity was never a consideration in Woodlands. There wasn’t time to be fat.

This year, Woodlands is quietly celebrating its centenary. The pit’s now a fading memory, but the model village remains a national treasure, a secret part of Britain’s rich industrial past. You’ll find no Tourist Information kiosk along the shops, no heritage trail to follow, nor are there any postcards to buy, but in Woodlands’ favour there’s a Cooplands selling mega-doorstop sandwiches at a reasonable £2.80, Frank’s do a nice drop of fish and chips and barber shop Dumville’s has been offering New Order-style short back and sides since 1952 – current price £5.

For Woodlands, the worst times are over. People are talking and giving opinions. A Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council-sponsored facelift is imminent and former glories may be restored. The “top shops” along the Great North Road are little changed since the First World War, but DMBC’s Masterplan aims to improve the shopping experience, lifting perceptions of the village. More importantly, Houfton’s wide-open spaces will be used to their maximum potential again as trees, picnic areas, parks and cycle tracks will be installed. Work should be complete by 2014.

“I’ve got a vested interest in this village,” says Barry Hayes. “I paid £28,000 for this house in ’93. It’s now worth 80. I’d like it to be worth 120, but I’d also like the whole village to be on the up. We’ve got a very good community here. The spirit didn’t die, it went into a coma and it’s been on a life-support machine. It’s now coming off life-support.”

Gardner agrees: “I won’t say Woodlands is there but neither would I say Woodlands is still at the bottom of the heap. There’s a long way to go. Better people than I have spent their lives – given their lives – serving this community and the fruits of their labour are obvious. I see people who actually care. That’s one of the real strengths Yorkshire people have. Deep down, they do care.”

The Woodlands May Festival, an annual fair organised by The Brodsworth Informer, takes place on Sunday 27th and Monday 28th May 2007

Prince doesn’t like Motörhead: a review of Sziget 2011

Budapest’s annual music festival is better attended than Glastonbury but chances are you’ve never heard of it. It’s planned as a British gathering which is why Sziget feels like a home away from home. It even has bobbies on the beat…

By Lee Gale

GQ.co.uk, 2011

Now in its 19th year, Sziget in Budapest is a week-long festival on the wooded Obuda Island (sziget translates as island in Hungarian) in the middle of the Danube. Hungary’s major tributary, rather than being a bubbling, lead-infused, froth-churning black snake connecting industrial heartlands, would actually make an acceptable image for a 1,000-piece jigsaw.

Continue reading Prince doesn’t like Motörhead: a review of Sziget 2011