Completely out of the blue on Friday afternoon, I got a call from an old friend who was involved with an event in Leeds that needed a photographer as the arranged chap had dropped out. I jumped at the chance, then jumped at a shower, then jumped at a smart black shirt and headed for Leeds.
Amid the Après-work city center who’s attention had been diverted to Children in Need, I found La Grillade, a vaulted cellar French restaurant celebrating it’s 30th Anniversary. The format for the night was that of a charity night in aid of Yorkshire Cancer Care, in the company of, regular patron, Alan Bennett. The MC – Editor of The Business Desk – David Parkin, set the pace and invited everyone to think of questions to ask Alan, after he’d finished his tea. This teased out a few fascinating insights into Bennett’s creative process – basing his characters on specifics and how he’s actually not (by his own admission) very good at ‘making things up’, and how he really liked the Talking Head format where he got to focus on the detail of a single character at greatly zoomed in level.
Having been lucky enough to see a Talking Heads show at Harrogate Theatre in 2006, and having probably read watched and absorbed more of his material than I’d realised, It dawned on me that I was in the company of a living Yorkshire legend. I then went on to muse an idea that he is to Leeds / Yorkshire what L.S. Lowry is to Manchester. Like Lowry, he’s an acute observer of people and society. Like Lowry, he comes across as quite humble and down to earth with no airs and graces. Like Lowry, he is known by the masses but hasn’t sold out. Unlike Lowry, he’s illustrated 20th Century middle class where as Lowry was all about the 20th Century working class. Different mediums, but both portray a real character of people – brilliantly.
Back to the Yorkshire Legend notion – I’d say Bennett is up there with Hockney, Moore, Saville (of the Jimmy) , Boycott (of the Geoffrey). If the measure of a legend is his legacy, Bennett has already got a fine body of work behind him. And from the twinkle in his eye on Friday night, I’d say there could be a bit more lead in his pencil yet.
I shot a short video of him reading a piece called “Stopped, the key lost”: