YORKSHIRE broadcasting legends Harry Gration and Christine Talbot host a journey down memory lane at York Theatre Royal tonight on a rare occasion when these friends but former news-breaking rivals will have presented together.
Once the familiar faces of the BBC’s Look North and ITV’s rival Calendar respectively, the duo will be looking back at memorable stories, plus a smattering of their crazier fundraising exploits, from tandem rides and a sofa push to Harry being tied to weather presenter Paul Hudson for days on end.
Special guests at A Grand Yorkshire Night Out will be production team members from the original All Creatures Great And Small series, vet Julian Norton, Leeds band The Dunwells and Harry’s musical son, Harrison, singing songs from the shows.
“I’ve never done anything on stage, apart from when I was 11 at dance school,” says Christine, 52. “I stuck to the TV studio, but seeing this theatre at the press launch, what a beautiful place it is. It’s going to be fun to be on that stage. There’ll be a lot of ad-libbing on the night to go with everything we’ve planned and we just want everyone to have a nice, relaxing time.”
Son of York Harry, 71, is no stranger to the St Leonard’s Place building. “It’s a place I’ve been coming to for so many years to see shows or occasionally be on stage,” he says. Not only on stage, but Harry was a fixture in the infamous film sequences in Berwick Kaler’s pantomimes too.
How did A Grand Yorkshire Night Out take shape? “We’d been talking about doing a show as soon Christine announced she’d be leaving Calendar,” recalls Harry. “I got in touch to say, ‘should we do something together?’ as we’d always discussed the possibility but had been working on opposite sides of the TV world in Yorkshire, though we did do a joint Look North and Calendar broadcast on the first anniversary of the Covid pandemic.”
Christine says: “We’ve always been friends, we’ve never been rivals, and I’ve always had great relationships with all of the news teams on both Calendar and Look North. A lot of them cross over between the two programmes.”
Covering Yorkshire is a newshound’s dream: in a nutshell, biggest county, big, big stories. “You can say almost with total confidence that there’ll be ten belting stories in Yorkshire each year,” says Harry.
“We’ve met and interviewed fantastic people over the years, and we’ll be talking about those experiences in this show,” says Christine.
The duo had looked at the format of one-man and one-woman shows around the Yorkshire patch, coming to the conclusion it would be better to broaden the focus, combining their stories with a celebration of God’s Own Country. “We didn’t want it to be just us but a Yorkshire show with good chat and brilliant music,” says Harry.
“That’s why, as well as clips from the shows down the years and some funny stuff, we’ve got some amazing guests like Julian Norton, from The Yorkshire Vet, and members of the production crew from the BBC’s original All Creatures Great And Small, director Tony Virgo and production manager Mike Darbon, and author Oliver Crocker, who’s written All Memories Great And Small.
“For the music, we have The Dunwells, from Leeds, who have an EP coming out at the same time, and my son Harrison, who’s 18 now and training to be an opera singer at the Royal Academy of Music. He’ll be singing popular songs.”
Looking back over his days in the TV studios, Harry says: “When I started , the way I presented was very formal, but later I became more animated. Des Lynam was my hero – I did a few Grandstands in the 1980s – and I loved his presenting style, though I’m not sure you could get away now with some of the things he said.
“It’s more scripted now. You have to be careful, more than ever before, about quips with you co-presenters. There’s a lot more sensitivity.”
Christine notes how she changed from her early days. “When I left Calendar they did a look back at when I started, when my voice sounded so posh after I moved over from the BBC!” she says.
“People have to be able to connect with you and see you as a friend when they watch as you become part of people’s lives, where they’re used to seeing you in the corner of their living room each night, so you have to be relatable.
“Wherever we go, people will come up and say ‘Hi’ because they feel they know you well, and I really like it that they do that, and in a sense, A Grand Yorkshire Night Out is an extension of that.”
The show, nevertheless, is something of a journey into the unknown for Harry and Christine. “Is it a gamble?” Harry ponders. “Well, it is in one sense as we don’t know how many people will turn up, but we can guarantee we will relate to the audience, respond to how they react, as we all celebrate our region.”
Have they missed presenting the news since their TV exits? “The thing I found really strange at first was not having that structure to the day, missing the Calendar team, that family, after being in one place for 30 years, but since then doors have opened up and you have to shake the tree and see what falls out,” says Christine.
“Various projects are in the book, like doing an on-stage chat show at the Great Yorkshire Show, and I’m on the board of the children’s hospital in Leeds and Harrogate Flower Show.”
Harry “doesn’t really miss” presenting Look North. “I felt I’d gone as far as I could with it, and at 70 it was the natural time to go,” he says. “Ultimately, I would have been having to compete for a job with Amy [Garcia}, and I didn’t want to go down that line.
“I don’t ever wake up thinking I wish I was working there today. I don’t want to do broadcast news now. I see where I am now as semi-retirement: I still get to do lots of things and I’ll be going to a lot of cricket.”
Tonight’s show may be A Grand Yorkshire Night Out but Christine has a confession to make. “I’m from the wrong side of the Pennines – I was born Christine Standish, near Wigan – but luckily I’ve been welcomed with open arms and I’ve lived here in Yorkshire longer than anywhere else. My daughter was born at Jimmy’s [St James’s Hospital] in Leeds, so hopefully I have my Yorkshire passport now!”
Harry’s career path took him to BBC Southampton for four years. “I loved it but I came back north in 1999, and Yorkshire really has been the only place I’d want to be. The twins, Harvey and Harrison, are probably not going to come back to live in York; one’s at Exeter University, the other’s in London, but my wife Helen’s businesses are in Yorkshire, running two children’s nurseries in York and two in Leeds, and York is our home.”
As for Christine: “I’d never dare leave Yorkshire. My husband’s a Huddersfield Town fan!” she says.
A Grand Yorkshire Night Out with Harry Gration & Christine Talbot, York Theatre Royal, tonight (11/4/2022), 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.