TV's Loyd Grossman is passionate about Yorkshire heritage

PUBLISHED: 00:30 12 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:20 20 February 2013

Loyd Grossman at Holy Trinity in Goodramgate, York

Loyd Grossman at Holy Trinity in Goodramgate, York

Loyd Grossman, former presenter of Masterchef and Through the Keyhole, is on a mission to save Yorkshire's historic parish churches. Tony Greenway finds out why. PHOTOGRAPHS BY ANDY BULMER

Let's get the obvious stuff out of the way now, shall we? Whenever anyone interviews Loyd Grossman, sooner or later talk turns to his unique elongated vowels and distinctive transatlantic accent. I tell Boston-born, London-based Loyd, best known as the former presenter of Masterchef and Through the Keyhole ('hooooooo wud liiiiive in rooooom loike thiiiis?'), that he must be one of the most impersonated people in the country.

I also tell him I like the new TV advert for his range of pour-over pasta sauces (or 'sawwwces' as Loyd would say). Actors pop up on screen mimicking his voice until an exasperated Grossman appears and is cut-off before he can start speaking. It pokes merciless fun at his TV persona and proves he can laugh at himself.

'I'm very pleased with the way that commercial turned out,' says Loyd.'I'm so fed up with the fact that all food ads tend to look the same with luscious close-up shots of all the ingredients. So I thought "actually, can we please do something funny?". I thought it was brilliant. I'd rather poke fun at myself than have someone else do it.'

Actually, Loyd isn't in Yorkshire to talk about cooking sauces. He's here in his capacity as chairman of the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT), a national charity that cares for England's most historic churches. He's on a mini-tour of the region with trustees and is keen to discuss ways of increasing community use of these beautiful buildings.

He's already been to Throapham, Cadeby and Kirk Sandall in South Yorkshire, and two churches in Leeds (in the city centre and at Harewood).We catch up with him during a visit to Holy Trinity in Goodramgate, York.

'We've seen some incredible churches since we've been in Yorkshire,' enthuses Loyd, a keen architecture and design fan.'More to the point, we've seen some really good community programmes running in those churches. Because the whole idea is to make the churches in our care lively and exciting. Unless people use old buildings like these, they tend to be forgotten and go into decline.'

The churches the CCT looks after aren't used for regular worship any more, although they remain consecrated buildings. 'I find most people, whether they are religious or not, respond in a positive, emotional way to a sacred space,' says Loyd.'And among our many parish churches are some of the most beautiful buildings in the country. They are ideally suited to be seen and appreciated. Which is what we at the Trust try to ensure.'

There are 31 churches in Yorkshire in the care of the CCT, and Loyd has seen 15 of them during his visit. So what can people do to make more use of these wonderful spaces?

'Well,' says Loyd,'primary school children have drawn the interiors of two of the churches we visited yesterday and are going to publish their own guides to them. At another, St Peter's in Edlington, two artists from South America have worked with the local comprehensive school on an arts project - the kids produced some incredible pieces which were exhibited in the church. Suddenly, it's become a real focal point for activity.'

At Holy Trinity in York, Loyd listened to a guitarist who often performs there and watched some storytelling sessions. 'There are an endless variety of uses that are appropriate for parish churches,' he says.'When they were built, they were meant to be the centre of the community. They still should be.'

When the young Bostonian first came to the UK in 1974, the parish church summed up'England' and'Englishness' to him (who knows what it would be now: X Factor and binge drinking probably).

'There was something iconic about an English church. Just as in New England, where I grew up, every village was built around its white, wooden meeting house and the village green, so the parish church symbolises the whole history of this country.' Loyd is an anglophile and a big Yorkshire fan.

'I don't come here specifically with the trust,' he says,'but I do travel to Yorkshire regularly.Whenever I'm in York, for example, I will always pop into the Minster.'

It's strange to think of the dapper, just-so man standing in this idyllic church as an anarchic punk rocker. But he was, once. In December 1977, at the height of punk, Loyd had a band called Jet Bronx and the Forbidden, and a single in the charts (it's stretching it a bit to call it a'hit' because it only got to number 49). Called Ain't Doin' Nothing (tsk, tsk Loyd: you of all people should know it's'I'm Not Doing Anything') the song received some airplay but failed to propel Grossman to guitar superstardom. It's never too late to try again though.

This month, Loyd will be strapping on his lead guitar once more because his latest band, Jet Bronx and the New Forbidden, are suddenly in demand. Sort of. 'We did a few gigs in London in June and July,' he says,'and we're playing the Rebellion Festival in Blackpool on August 9th.We do another gig in London in early September, and then we'll see how it all goes.

Everyone is very enthusiastic about it. I played my guitar in public in April when I performed at a Viennese punk/alternative festival. But that was the first time I'd been on stage for 30 years. So it was quite... er... challenging.' But the whole punk thing seems to be at odds with the Loyd we know and love. The man in the suit. The church expert. The one who says'David, it's o-va to ewe'. Is he really telling us that he can enjoy a few verses of Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring followed by a quick blast of Rock the Casbah?

'Yah!' he says, making great use of his distinctive vocal abilities.'You either like music or you don't like music. If you really love music, there are all kinds of sounds you can respond to.' Loyd gave up presenting Masterchef in 2000, telling a tabloid that he was angry about proposed changes to the programme, which had then been running on BBC1 for 10 years.What does he think of the show now? With John Torode and Gregg Wallace at the helm, it's a different animal altogether: a cheeky, chappy Aussie- South London hybrid.

'It's much different,' Loyd admits.'But that's because the whole environment of television is much different. It's become more aggressive. Shows are bound to reflect the tastes of the times. Masterchef does - or used to do - very well as far as I can tell. I think that John Torode and Gregg Wallace do it very, very proficiently, and that's what the audience seem to like.'

These days, Loyd, who used to work as a journalist on Harpers & Queen and The Sunday Times, only does the things he wants to do, and calls his chairmanship of the CCT a great privilege.

'I've always been sensitive to sacred places wherever they are,' he says, looking around him.' They're very moving and evocative places.When you walk into a wonderful religious site like this, it's spine-tingling.'

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