Hull’s on the shortlist of four for City of Culture, 2017. The bid submission’s going in at the end of this month and when asked if I’d support it with some kind of personal statement, here’s what I wrote:
I came to Hull in 1972 to begin what would prove to be the most important years of my young life and future career. My time with the University’s Drama and English departments wasn’t a hasty syllabus of printed handouts and “reading weeks” but a real, eye-opening, immersive education in which the city itself played a seamless part. In the cinema club under the Central Library I had my first sight of the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, and shook the hand of Peter Cushing. Heard my first live Mahler at the Philharmonic. Chose a favourite picture at the Ferens Gallery (Alexander Slaying Cleitus, Daniel de Blieck – not for the action, but for the control of space). Hull Truck was a young theatre company laying the groundwork of a national reputation while Hull’s touring venues played host to a range of guests and visitors, from the fledgling Actors’ Company revival of a rare Chekov with Ian McKellen, to the awesome old-school stagecraft of Morecambe and Wise.
Hull was famous, then and now, for producing students who found it hard to tear themselves away. Though I left at the end of my time, I’m proud to maintain some links. I’ve life membership of the Friends of the Gulbenkian (the University’s unique purpose-built teaching theatre). All my drafts and working papers go into the care of the Hull History Centre, a state-of-the-art archive at the forefront of international research into the challenges of long-term digital storage. Every year I swear I’ll revisit the unforgettable fair, and someday I will.
Why City of Culture 2017? These have been hard decades for the creative life of every British town but in Hull there’s a significant cultural infrastructure to be saved, preserved, restored and reinforced. I’m one of the many who have been equipped by the partnership of city and university to take that spirit forward. I’d like to see it continue through further generations; I can’t imagine a better investment, or a finer legacy.
I sense your curiosity about the choice of picture. I was actually looking online for a shot of Hepworth’s Arcade on Silver Street, one of my favourite places in the city, when I came across this image of the Health Department’s ace ratcatcher on the History Centre’s website.
If I have to explain further, then we’re probably both wasting our time.
Thanks to Mark Healey for this Hepworths Arcade pic, taken on Saturday.