Thursday, 2 April 2015

Where The Mind May Wander

The wonders of the net can mean that serendipity can occur almost on a daily basis if you like to spend time wandering the web sites to see what might be or comes up.

This choice specimen from another age is a case in point.  It is November 1956 and HM The Queen is busy on Remembrance events, HM The Queen Mother is to be packed off to Africa to do more duties and Prince Charles, then a child, goes shopping to a toy store to buy do it yourself balloon outfits.  Some things do not change.

Meanwhile in Barnsley, then a County Borough in the West Riding of Yorkshire, the Lady Mayor, Mrs. Mary Brannan, was taking down the pictures of royalty in the Town Hall to replace them with works by local art students.

She was one of another kind of left wing politics being a devout Catholic.  During the 1960's she was made a Countess in the Roman Catholic church, in recognition for her work and efforts in social care and education.

In 1969-69 there were a couple of series called "First Lady" about a lady councillor active in a northern town.  The series was filmed in Barnsley and notably in and around the Town Hall. It was generally assumed that Barbara Castle was the model for the part but there was little doubt among those who knew that Mary Brannan was the one in question.

Television Heaven on Thora Hird says:

Then in 1967 she was offered another straight role, only this time in a long running series. Alan Plater had been asked specifically to write a drama series for Thora Hird. Although unsure at first because Thora had just finished Meet The Wife and was, in Plater's opinion, a comedy actress, he suggested a story about a gritty northern councillor in a gritty northern town.

At that time the Labour Party had a very tough and outspoken woman MP in their government called Barbara Castle and she was to be the model for the character. In fact Plater even went as far as suggesting that his character be a member of the same political party. But the BBC were worried about political bias and suggested that Plater's character, Sarah Danby, be an Independent candidate.

"In dramatic terms I made an interesting discovery." Said Plater. "As an Independent, Sarah could believe anything she wanted to believe." Thora also discovered that the public would readily accept her in a dramatic role. "The only problem I had with The First Lady was that some viewers really thought that I was a councillor and started writing to me to help sort out some of their local problems."

She said. Ultimately the series ran for 2 years winning much critical acclaim on the way. Unfortunately most of the shows were wiped from the archives many years ago.


It is a great pity these were wiped from the tapes.  If my memory is correct it is possible they would be among the few dramas of that period which would stand up to later scrutiny and tell us about the real history of the period.

But November 1956 was a lively month in politics.  There were the Polish and Hungarian uprisings and there was the culmination of the Suez Crisis in which I had been too deeply involved for comfort.  Only days after this newspaper item Anthony Eden was on his way out.

It was over 25 years later that I took Mary Brannan to an event in Featherstone.  After a lunch by Pontefract Racecourse and the Prince of Wales colliery I gave her a tour of the sights of Featherstone, the pit and the Rover's ground.

We met up with Harold Wilson, former Prime Minister, who was doing the honours, although by then beginning to fail.  It was all very Old Labour now long gone and forgotten.  I recall in her prime in the early 70's being in a meeting where an issue was the payments for models in the life classes for the College of Art.

Because of government directives at the time the amount of increase allowed was derisory but I found a way round it.  I recommended the payment of clothing allowance.  Mary loved it.

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