The Northern Editor of the Guardian, Martin Wainwright champions Yorkshire and the 'New North'
PUBLISHED: 08:46 13 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:32 20 February 2013
We've been miseries for long enough in Yorkshire. Now it's time to forget the mills and muckstacks and embrace the New North, The Guardian's Martin Wainwright tells Terry Fletcher. Photographs by Joan Russell
Its tough being a proud Northerner, simultaneously desperate to debunk that irksome Metropolitan myth that Its Grim Oop North yet paranoid about giving the game away in case too many Southerners find out the truth and come flooding in to spoil it. Yorkshire Life columnist Martin Wainwright is ready for slag heaps of criticism for letting the cat out of the bag in a new book, True North, singing the regions praises.
As Northern Editor of the Guardian hes seen more than enough of the gloomy face of the Northern counties and makes no attempt to gloss over the harsh realities of post-industrial life, not least the devastation of former mining communities in West and South Yorkshire. But these, he argues, are sad exceptions in a thriving region, powering forward in every field from business to the arts.
His New North is a buoyant, self-confident place whose emblems are not decaying mills or rusting pitheads but the gleaming towers of commercial success, high tech laboratories and factories, Manchesters Lowry and Newcastles shimmering Sage arts centre. His locals dont shuffle along in cloth caps and clogs but swagger in the latest designer gear from Leeds Harvey Nicks and a plethora of other posh shops. They enjoy some of the finest restaurants and can spend their leisure time in the magnificent countryside of no fewer than five national parks with nary a whippet nor a racing pigeon in sight.
Americans cant understand how such a tiny island can have a North-South divide and I think in reality it is very nearly gone, though the imagery will never go because it is so powerful and a lot of people enjoy all that Hovis-ery.
No region and especially Yorkshire is more conscious of its character, he says, but when that spills over into chippy caricature, as it often does, it becomes a dangerous and, it must be said, often self-inflicted, stereotype that damages the area and deters potential investors and jobs. As evidence he points to the large number of BBC staff said to be resisting the corporations attempts to move some of its departments northwards.
His own paper, the Guardian, succumbed to the gravitational pull of the Metropolis as long ago as the 1960s, having already dropped the word Manchester from its masthead a decade earlier. That desertion still disappoints him but Leeds-born Martin admits he also yielded to the siren pull of the south, having plied his trade in Bath and London before heading back home to settle and raise his family. Not that his was a cloth cap upbringing. The son of a former MP, he was educated at public school in Shropshire and even today his voice has none of the flat vowels of his native city. In fact he often takes a mischievous glee in being mistaken for a southern Jessie, before slowly revealing his Yorkshire roots.
He considers that a bit of harmless fun but remains perplexed why those who should know better continue to portray a victimised North, down on its uppers and mired in gloom. Why, for example, he asks, did Simon Beaufoy, himself the product of the opulent Malsis School near Skipton, perpetuate the myth by writing about redundant steelworkers in The Full Monty and then about redundant miners in Brassed Off? Perhaps, he says, that was all the London-based film companies wanted but he hopes the kudos of the Slumdog Millionaire screenplay Oscar now decorating the writers mantelpiece may allow him to produce a more flattering portrait of the county. Perhaps set in Helmsley better than the Cotswolds or Leeds so successful it has almost removed itself from the North.
I think all this misery has held a lot of people back whereas somewhere like Leeds, which I can remember as a pretty unfun place when I was growing up, is now full of life. The impact caused when Harvey Nichols came to Leeds was amazing. People seemed astonished when it happened but they were forgetting about the amount of money around in the Golden Triangle north of Leeds. Thats one of the places where the New North has taken hold. It is more successful in some places than others but it most apparent in the places where people have cheered up and not only started enjoying themselves but let other people see that they are enjoying themselves. Americans cant understand how such a tiny island can have a North-South divide and I think in reality it is very nearly gone, though the imagery will never go because it is so powerful and a lot of people enjoy all that Hovis-ery.
'But we wont be able to keep it quiet much longer, not because of my book but because there are now so many spies in the shape of all the students who come up here from other parts of the country and almost universally say it is great. I dont think Ive ever met a student who has not enjoyed it.
So the word is out. Its not grim up North, its great and wed better get used to people knowing it.
Yorkshire Life readers can buy copies of True North by Martin Wainwright
for only 13.99 plus p&p (save 5). To redeem this discount order at guardianbooks.co.uk or call 0845 606 4232 quoting the code york09.