SEAT AT THE BACK - SCRIBBLES! ~ It's that time of year again: THE RAINDANCE FILM FESTIVAL in London! On now.. See you there!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Holmfirth - The Forgotten Hollywood

Holmfirth in West Yorkshire is a great location to visit for movie fans. It's also a place that reeks of time and place; built up around a corn mill in the thirteenth century, leading to a focus on the cloth trade and slate and stone from the nearby quarries. Today, walking up old cobbled winding roads higher and higher, narrower and narrower, buildings so many hundreds of years old still standing, preserved by old wood smoke and character alone, is an enthralling experience - and peering through the dusty windows of the old Picturedrome, where bands still gig and films still play, is like movie magic made real.

Of course, standing outside the famous cafe from Last of the Summer Wine, is like wallowing in TV gold, you can't help but hum that famous theme tune. When Roy Clarke first wrote Last of the Summer Wine in 1976, it wasn't the bumbling friendly beast it became in later years, it was downbeat, melancholic, wistful, yearning and symbolic of place. I was walking along the warren-like, winding - cold, foggy, cobbled roads last night at dusk, as the lights in the old pubs flickered to life with a burnt orange welcoming glow, so unlike the cold white harsh light of London. Log fires were lit, chimneys puffed smoke like old men in long gone situation comedies.

But Holmfirth isn't just a place for Compo and co to drift around in, living out their last days as naughty boys in mind and spirit, if not of body. Holmfirth has a grand history of filmmaking. James Bamforth, a local man, made some of Britain's first ever movies in the late nineteenth century - and pioneered our progression into comedic cinema. He persuaded locals to dress up after work to take part in his many projects, but his most famous films, hiring director Cecil Birch for the very earliest examples of British comedy, were those featuring music-hall comedian Reginald Switz as a Chaplinesque character called Winky.

Many Winky films were made between 1914-1915. Titles aren't too far removed from the saucy cinema of the 70s starring the likes of Robin Askwith and included: A Wife on Loan (1915), Always Tell Your Husband (1915), and surely the kinkiest cut of all - Winky Dons the Petticoats (1914).

Bamforth slowed down the making of films when the material he needed to make them was increasingly used to make explosives instead, during the First World War. While production moved to London for a time, it soon ended altogether, and Bamforth concentrated instead on producing saucy picture postcards for troops fighting in France. 2010 saw the launch of the Holmfirth Film Festival and it was supported by one of our most respected film critics, Barry Norman, who appeared for a special night of film celebration at the Picturedrome. There was also a tribute to the Bamforth legacy as well as a celebration of Huddersfield hero James Mason.

This year's Holmfirth Film Festival will take place in late May. While appreciating there is a very risk of misinterpretation here, I can only finish this tribute of all things cinematically Holmfirth by shouting out loud for all to hear: LONG LIVE WINKY!

words: mark gordon palmer

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