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The Interview

Andrew Smith

Local writer and storyteller, George Murphy interviews local characters and personalities


The latest interview features photographer and B&B owner, Andrew Smith.

Andy's Q&A reveals a genuine, whole hearted man, whose responses are amusing, moving and life affirming.

Discover how his early fascination with photography, and friendship with fellow law student, Keir Starmer, made headline news in recent times - and why he happened to be in the right place at the right time!

Many of you will know and enjoy Andrew's photographs of people and scenery in Upper Calder, but here he also reveals his adventures on the ocean waves. I have been fascinated by his tales of family and friends in good times and bad. Andrew Smith: human dynamo!

Andrew Smith Q&A

Andy, how was life in Nottingham back in the 60s?

I had a very happy childhood in Nottingham. I attended Nottingham High School which was in the city centre. The family home was within walking distance of both the splendid Wollaton Park and the University Campus which also had lots of open spaces.

I loved sports, in particular football and cricket. There was a path that went right round our house; my brother and sister, Mark and Amanda, and I would have bike/trike races round and round the house – we acted as characters out of the cartoon series Wacky Races. Mark was Peter Perfect. Amanda was Penelope Pitstop. And I was, of course, Dick Dastardly!

Your father was a professor?

Yes. Professor Sir John C Smith, CBE, QC, FBA. We called him "JC!" He was an academic lawyer and Head of the University of Nottingham Law Department for many years. He was author of many law textbooks covering Criminal Law, Contract Law, Evidence and Theft.

The reform of the criminal law was a cause close to his heart, and gave him the opportunity to work alongside senior members of the judiciary. In 1960, he was co-opted on to the Criminal Law Revision Committee to work on the first of many projects, this culminating in the Theft Act 1968, and his book, The Law of Theft. He also served as a member of the policy advisory committee of the Home Office, the May committee, which inquired into the Guildford Four case, and the House of Lords select committee on murder and life imprisonment.

He was knighted for services to academic law in 1993. The College of Arms worked with my father to create him a coat of arms. The Latin motto on the coat of arms is Ad Meliorem Legem – Towards Better Law.

Can you tell us about the rest of the family?

My beloved mother, Shirley, was very much the housewife, running the family and supporting my father in his exploits. As we got older we very cheekily started to call her "Big Shirl", and that stuck!

My schoolmates loved coming round to the house; they enjoyed her banter (always having the mot juste), and the fact that she was very knowledgeable about sport. She once dreamt she was stuck in a lift with Des Lynam!

She did The Times cryptic crossword every day, and would toss the paper onto the breakfast room table with a flourish when she had polished it off in double quick time! Sadly, she died aged only 66 which was a dreadful blow to us all. It was partly her death in 2000 that prompted me to get out of the tax profession and do something different . . . life is too short!

She loved cricket. Mark and I try to attend a day at a Test Match or ODI at Trent Bridge once a year. It's like a pilgrimage back to Nottingham and a remembrance of Shirl all in one! Derek Randall was my hero! Do you remember his 174 in the 1977 Centenary Test at the MCG? I stayed up all night listening to the commentary; my bedroom wall was subsequently plastered with the newspaper cuttings! I was once in the pavilion at Trent Bridge with Shirl, and Derek Randall came up to say hello. She was really chuffed! As was I!

My older brother Mark is a retired barrister, specialising in shipping law, based in Temple, then Lincoln's Inn Fields. He lives in Surbiton and visits a number of "Offices" which are all cafés. I too have a number of "Offices" . . . Old Gate, The White Lion, Vocation to name just three.

My sister Amanda, or Maudie for Equity purposes, was initially an actor but is now an author of children's books. I designed her website showcasing her portfolio of books. - maudiesmith.co.uk

You followed in the footsteps of your father and older brother. You studied Law at Leeds. Did you try to hide the fact that you were an eminent professor's son?

Yes, I planned to conceal my identity at Leeds University, and thought that would be easy with a name like Smith! The Head of the department was Professor Brian Hogan, who was originally recruited at Nottingham by my father and collaborated on criminal law textbooks with him. I knew him as `Uncle Brian'. There were a number of other academics at Leeds who had taught law at Nottingham, or had studied law there. In the first week there was a social gathering for the first year students and teachers. I had been allocated Peter Seago as my personal tutor. Peter had studied at Nottingham and my father was his personal tutor! In no time at all, Peter announced in front of my fellow fresher students how he remembered my parents hosting a party for third year Nottingham students at our family home, and how he remembered me running round dressed up as a red Indian Chief with my bow and arrows! Cover immediately blown!

One of the fellow students privy to that conversation was Richard Quest (became a BBC journalist, now News Anchor for CNN International). Being the great communicator that he is, everyone got to know I was the son of Professor JC Smith. Brian Hogan was known as `Uncle Brian' for a few years!

When did you become interested in photography?

My father always took transparency photographs; not always the best compositions, but family slide shows projected onto a big screen in the lounge were always exciting – his first projector didn't have a carousel, so he had to manually enter one slide at a time!

Did your interest continue at university?

My parents bought me a Nikon FE for my 21st birthday and I haven't stopped taking photographs since!

Always Nikon cameras; initially a mix of transparencies and film, finally going digital in 2005. I have over 12,000 images for sale on Alamy Stock Photography. I do various freelance projects, including photographing local businesses for the Hebden Royd Business Forum website. Quite a diverse range of businesses!

You can see a selection of more of my images here: fotosmith.co.uk

How did you get to know the young Keir Starmer?

Keir Starmer and I both studied Law at Leeds. My girlfriend at the time was in digs with him at 22 Chestnut Avenue, Headingley, so we got to know each other quite well. Keir's friend John Murray, who lived in the same digs, predicted that he would one day become Prime Minister!

I had met a guy called Fred Scott from San Diego – he was studying Fine Art, and the Fine Art Department had an excellent dark room which Fred and I used on many occasions. Fred didn't have a camera so he borrowed my Nikon from time to time. He went on to great achievements as a celebrated war cameraman.

Fred and I did a photoshoot with Keir and his housemates. My portrait of him made the front pages of The Times and The Guardian 38 years later!
And also appeared in Piers Morgan's Life Stories and Have I Got News for You!

Did you stay in Leeds after your studies?

I stayed in Leeds till 2014. I lived in a converted warehouse (Flax House) in Leeds City centre for approaching 20 years. The first Smithery! Dangerously close to Tetley Brewery and The Adelphi Pub!

What jobs did you have back then?

As a student I went back to Nottingham in the holidays and worked at Pork Farms making pork pies. I was the meat stuffer on the conveyor belt. A tin dropped onto the belt, a ball of dough would fall onto it, a big metal thing bashed the dough so that it lined the tin and spilt over the sides - me next - the meatballs were quite wet, round, but flat on the top and bottom. If you managed to drop it in perfectly it made a very satisfactory farting sound! Truly dehumanising work; though you can understand why factory accidents happen.

Last century I worked as a Tax Consultant for Arthur Andersen, KPMG and Halifax PLC. Tax was not for me! I gave it all up in 2000 and with my friend Polly set up Red Snapper Designs which produced business/ corporate personalised Christmas Cards, the sale of which included a charitable donation. All the cards were photographs taken by me. Minimum order 50 cards, printed and distributed by our printers in York. Some orders ran into thousands of cards. By the time the Christmas card industry was petering out, we must have sold about one million cards!

When did you start visiting Calderdale?

During my time in Halifax, I met Trizia who lived in Hebden Bridge. Over a period of about 12 years we would visit Leeds and Hebden Bridge in equal measure. I used to call it "City Breaks and Country Breaks". I think she found that a little exasperating! Hindsight is a wonderful thing!

You didn't settle in Hebden Bridge till 2014. Was that to start up the Smithery?

I kept coming over to Hebden Bridge, and helped my friend Sharon set up her B&B business - Garnett B&B. I designed a website for her, and would travel over from Leeds to cook the breakfasts while she chatted to her guests!

Then I saw 3 New Road was up for sale and decided it was time to move and open a B&B in Hebden Bridge myself. That was early 2014, so I'm well into my 10th year now. I believe I'm ranked #1 B&B in Hebden Bridge on Trip Advisor and have mainly excellent reviews. I also have Superhost status on Airbnb. I still really enjoy welcoming guests into my home. They like the location of the property, its history as part of an iconic row of weavers' cottages, and the fact that all the main rooms look directly onto the Rochdale Canal and over Calder Holmes Park.

Guests visit from all over the world and for many different reasons: Pennine Way walkers, cyclists, gigs at The Trades Club, vintage car rally, steampunk festival, arts festivals, Arvon Foundation and other literary events, weddings, or just visiting family or a weekend break. I have no idea how many breakfasts I have cooked!

Besides the B&B and photography, I have a CETFLA qualification (teaching English as a foreign language to adults) and taught English to Federica in Hebden Bridge, a lovely Italian who has recently married Remo, Marco's former pizza chef. The lessons were great fun; usually 2 hours from 10am in Old Gate with an espresso, or a pint of Guinness, or even a Bloody Mary!

How was Lockdown for you?

I obviously had to close the B&B during Lockdown. I agreed to go and live with, as companion and carer, my friend Polly's 96 year old mother, Mary, in the Vale of Belvoir. I have known Mary since I was 18; back then she was Head Tour Guide at Belton House, a stately home in Grantham, home of Lord Brownlow. She hired me to give guided tours there, which was a great experience. We have been friends ever since. My Lockdown stay with Mary lasted about 8 months. Apart from the companionship, care extended to cooking all the meals, bringing her a cup of tea in bed first thing in the morning, and even undressing her at bedtime. Mary had rejected all previous live-in professional carers so Polly asked me if I would be up to the challenge. It was a case of "Send for Smith!" We both survived - just! It was extremely challenging (I had to escape to the greenhouse or garden shed to let off steam periodically!), but also very rewarding. I never imagined, and nor did my family and friends, that I would ever be a carer in those circumstances!

Wow, that's remarkable. I see you have an allotment these days?

Yes, I was very lucky to get a plot just over two years ago. The plot owners recently set up Station Road Allotment Co-operative Society which bought the land from the very altruistic owner. This means the land should remain as allotments in perpetuity. The plot had been neglected for 4 years. Along with my friend Nik, we've built a pond which is really thriving; tadpoles, pond skaters, damselflies, and dragonflies. We're also growing herbs and flowers to attract as many bees as we possibly can. We do some veg production too. It's a wonderful haven trapped between the river and canal.

First piece of music you bought?

Starman by David Bowie. I still have the vinyl.

Favourite film?

John lived next door to me for 5 years. He was in his nineties and I took him to Mamma Mia Here We Go Again at the Picture House. He loved it. We both did. So we went along the next night too. Then we went again when the singalong version came along. Then we got the DVD and we watched it together in his bedroom. Finally, John needed more care and moved to Waterside Lodge in Todmorden. Just two days before he died last September we resolved to watch it again for the fifth time!

I was the Celebrant at John's funeral at Burnley Crematorium. That was a great honour, but very nerve wracking; not just delivering the eulogy, but also conducting the service including the committal ceremony, pressing all the buttons to play and fade the music, and to close the curtains.

Favourite holidays?

Lots. A couple of long trips to India - thousands of photos … obvs! I've done a lot of sailing and have over 4,000 sea miles in my RYA log book. The Solent, round the Isle of Wight, English Channel, over to Cherbourg and back to Dartmouth, the Mediterranean including the Northern Sporades in Greece and the Aeolian Islands off Sicily, and much of the Eastern Caribbean.

There are many tales of the high seas. I skippered a trip out of Grenada heading north to Tobago Cays with three guys from Hebden Bridge and one from Leeds. All rookies. I don't think the wind ever dropped below Force 6 for two weeks, even at night! Things got extremely lively at Kick 'em Jenny, an active submarine volcano! We all survived and the Hebden Bridge guys now call me 'Captain!'

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