Monday, 1 August 2016

My Top Ten Tykes

Happy Yorkshire Day.

I’m proud to have been born a Yorkshireman even though it was in a maternity hospital across the county border from my family home in Nottinghamshire.

The county of Yorkshire has always had a strong spirit of independence, a legacy of the old Viking kingdom of Yorvik which covered most of northern England over a thousand years ago.

To celebrate Yorkshire Day I’ve made a list of ten significant lgbt people who were also born in Yorkshire. “Tyke” by the way, is the dialect word for someone from Yorkshire. In chronological order, here are my Top Ten LGBT Tykes.

ANNE LISTER (1791-1840) has featured in a previous article about her coded diaries. She inherited Shidben Hall near Halifax in 1826 having lived there with her uncle as his heir. More information is given in my previous article here.

NAOMI JACOB (1884-1964), even though her father was the son of a Polish Jewish refugee, had Yorkshire blood through her mother. Naomi was born in Ripon and from that moment her relationship between father and daughter contained no love – he wanted a son. Although primarily known as a novelist and writer Naomi became endeared to the UK public by returning from her home in Italy to give morale-boosting broadcasts during World War II and entertained the troops. Earlier she was a supporter of women’s suffrage and once placed a box containing a clock outside the home of the then Prime Minister. People thought it was bomb and threw it into the sea.

W. H. AUDEN (1907-1973) was born in York into a landed gentry family. He became one of the great English poets though he chose to live in the USA and become an American citizen. But we still like to claim him as a Brit!  The sheer talent which shows in his writing can never be fully covered in a short paragraph like this, so I’ll leave it for another time. Auden’s friendship with fellow author Christopher Isherwood and their time in interwar Berlin brought the world of the vibrant lgbt underworld that existed in the city to a wider audience.

MAURICE DOBSON (1912-1990) and FRED HALLIDAY (1914-1988). These men lived as an openly gay couple in the coal-mining area of South Yorkshire from the 1950s. Maurice was born in the village of Wombwell, where my grandfather was born, and Fed was born in Pudsey. They met while working in a hotel in the south of England and moved back up to Yorkshire, to Darfield, in 1956. They ran a grocery store and sweet shop and had a parrot which Maurice had trained to squawk out “bugger”! The usually homophobic working-class community of South Yorkshire in which they lived (which I experienced several times myself in the 1980s) accepted them. Maurice stipulated in his will that his shop and home should be turned into a museum to display his antique collection. In 2000 the museum opened as the Maurice Dobson Museum and heritage Centre. It is the only museum in the UK named after an lgbt individual who wasn’t famous or a celebrity.

FRANKIE HOWERD (1917-1992). The comedic talents of this York-born entertainer were reborn for three successive generations. He first became famous during World War II as a stand-up comedian on the BBC and entertained the troops. His popularity continued into the 1960s until the new generation of satirical, university-graduate comedy made his style outdated. Frankie’s celebrity was revived when he was cast as Pseudolus in “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum” (more of that here). By the 1980s his style of bawdy humour had again become outdated and considered sexist and unpopular. Ironically, it was the university graduates of the 1990s who rediscovered him and Frankie returned to the top of the stand-up comedy circuit by the time he died.

ANGELA MORLEY (1924-2009). Angela was born in Leeds. In the years following World War II the airwaves of the BBC radio rang with the music of Angela Morley in such comedy classics as “the Goon Show” and “Hancock’s Half Hour”. After transitioning she wrote for many famous films, from “Schindler’s List” to “The Slipper and the Rose”. You can read more about Angela in this article I wrote several years ago.

ALAN BENNETT (b.1934). I first became aware of Alan Bennett when I was a child. He was regular reader on a popular children’s story-telling programme called “Jackanory”. Alan was a perfect choice to read the Winnie the Pooh stories. When I became older I became aware of his greater fame as a playwright. He has written for television, film, radio, theatre and film. One of his famous works is “The History Boys”, but for me he’ll always be the voice of Winnie the Pooh.

DAVID HOCKNEY (b.1937) is the UK’s greatest living artist, a fact recognised by the Queen in her decision to award him the Order of Merit, the exclusive, highest non-title honour in the UK. He was born in Bradford and despite his international wanderings still feels at home in the Yorkshire dales. Still producing top works Hockney has turned his hand to photography, print-making, lithography, illustration and theatre design as well as painting.

NICOLA ADAMS (b.1982) made history when she won the first Olympic gold medal in women’s boxing four years ago. Hopefully she’ll make history again in Rio where she defends her title. Nicola was born in Leeds and won her first boxing bout at the age of 13. She was the first female boxer to represent England in an international contest. In 2007 she won the first of a string of international silver medals, so by the time of London 2012 she was ranked No. 2 in the world in her weight category. Nicola was up against the world No. 1 in the Olympic final and, as I said, the result made history. It also made Nicola an overnight hero and several months later topped “The Independent” newspaper’s annual list of the most influential lgbt people in the UK. Along with several other Olympic champions from London 2012, the Queen gave her an MBE in the New Year’s Honours List 2013.

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