James Mason (James Mason!) gives a tour of Huddersfield (Huddersfield!)

James Mason shows us around his home town of Huddersfield, exhibits the classic north-speak trope: nostalgia.

james mason huddersfield

James Mason is probably best known to my generation as that guy from Eddie Izzard’s impression of James Mason. Unusually, his actual voice is more distinctive, more James Mason-y, than any impersonation. Watch the first 10 seconds.

What a voice!

This is 1972, the year of Ziggy Stardust and NASA’s last man on the moon, but Mason’s film is of a town barely changed from the Industrial Revolution. He is not interested in the modern: for him Huddersfield is a refuge from all that.

The focus is on work, music and community. There’s some lovely footage of a group of women working, the walls plastered with pictures of dreamboats and beefcake.

maybe engelbert

Is that Engelbert Humperdinck?

Highly respectful of “the old ways” Mason is suspicious of modernisation and “rationalisation”. Why should things change? “They’re doing alright.”

Not for much longer, unfortunately.

He wants things to stay in the past because he is recreating his youth. He has no stake in the town evolving into somewhere new and unfamiliar. There are no shopping precincts or modern covered markets (as in the Ian Nairn documentary of a few years later). It’s all terraces perched on hills, canals, and mill chimneys glimpsed through the mist.

Northern stories are most often told by those who left, those who changed, those with access to London commissioning editors and publishers.

Here’s the pattern:

  • Creative person grows up somewhere they are not creatively fulfilled and can’t wait to get out
  • Creative person leaves at first opportunity
  • Creative person comes back years later and finds its not as bad as initially thought
  • Makes elegiac film or book suggesting that “the north” is going, or gone

But it didn’t go! Huddersfield is still there! It changed, it does stuff, people live their lives there. The north is not, and cannot be, a convenient backdrop for the reminiscences of those who left.

This film is 50 minutes long. Unless you’re a really big fan of Huddersfield (or James Mason) it’s probably not worth putting aside enough time to watch the whole thing. But do try and catch a bit of it.

A few highlights:

Mason talking about “clog fighting”.

Some great stuff about the musical traditions of Huddersfield, a tradition very much still alive with the Contemporary Music Festival and various choral societies.

There’s also a chat near the end with Wilf Lunn, described as a “satirical bicycle maker”.


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