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John Morrison and Bernard Ingham

October 2001

JOHN MORRISON writes a regular column for the Green Page which is prepared by the media group of the Alternative Technology Centre for the Hebden Bridge Times — this month’s column (October 2001) was left out by the HBT.

An open letter to Sheila Tordoff of the Hebden Bridge Times

Dear Sheila,

I was mildly miffed — though not surprised — when you pulled my piece from the Green Page of last week’s paper, for criticising the views expressed in Sir Bernard Ingham’s column.

The Hebden Bridge Times is probably no worse than most local papers. There’s little point criticising it for being complaisant and relentlessly parochial; that’s what local papers are about. Mention everyone who’s been hatched, matched and dispatched’ (make sure to spell their names right) and the job’s half done. And as long as I’ve been living in Hebden Bridge, the paper has been a rich source of anecdotes and (mostly unconscious) humour. I buy it every week; I’m addicted.

No, what bugs me is Bernard Ingham. I am genuinely interested to know your justification for running a column by a man who left the town so very many years ago, and who now shows his face only when there’s a film crew in tow. Why do you give a (presumably) uncensored platform to a man whose beliefs and opinions are anathema to so many of the people who actually live here? There is a fine line between being thought-provoking, and being gratuitously offensive. It’s a line Sir Bernard gleefully tramples over, in hob-nailed boots.

In column after column he snipes at the town from his bunker in Purley. He promotes himself shamelessly, as well as those companies in which he has a financial stake. He tells us how we should live our lives. He discounts opinions that differ from his own as bunkum and balderdash. And he does all this in the hectoring tones of the playground bully.

In his last column, for example, he reminisced about what life was like before lesbians’, and commented that the town’s supposed status as the Lesbian Capital of Great Britain’ does not say much for the men of Hebden Bridge. No doubt he is aware just how offensive these words are… to lesbians and blokes alike. But are you?

Reminiscing about the good old days is what we do when we haven’t lived in our home town for half a century. But please let Sir Bernard confine his memories in future to his close friends in Purley, rather than give him any more column inches in which to insult the people who have chosen to live in Hebden Bridge. These are the real Hebden Bridgers now: the ones that stayed when times were hard, and the ones that came when they saw an opportunity.

By giving Sir Bernard a soapbox, and denying local people a voice, you are abusing your position of having a virtual monopoly on local news and views. No wonder the Hebden Bridge Times is seen as a joke. The inability to accept any kind of criticism — however well-meant — is the hallmark of the truly mediocre. The recent facelift is just that: a cosmetic improvement. If you were to spend more time making genuine improvements to the paper, and less time running to the company lawyers, the vibrant and creative little town of Hebden Bridge might have the newspaper it deserves.

This letter will be published on the Hebden Bridge Web which, in contrast to your paper, provides an uncensored forum for a wide range of opinions.

Yours sincerely

John Morrison

A Sideways Look — the column which did not appear with October’s Green Page of the Hebden Bridge Times

In one of his recent columns Sir Bernard Ingham fulminates against lesbians, liberals and — bizarrely — trees. He propagates the idea that Hebden Bridge has become the ‘Lesbian Capital of Great Britain’. This label, he suggests, does not say much for the men of Hebden Bridge. In a few ill-chosen words of jaw-dropping crassness, he manages the neat trick of insulting just about everyone in town. Is he really subscribing to the notion that lesbians can be ‘cured’ by a good seeing-to? On his next visit to Hebden Bridge I suggest he wears a cricket box.

Whose side are you on?, Sir Bernard continues, as he berates those who fail to give Bush and Blair their unquestioning support as the world slides into war. Well, unlike Sir Bernard I have little difficulty in condemning the appalling acts of September 11, while also wondering why the rest of the world fails to love America as much as Americans seem to love themselves. In recent years the US has developed the unfortunate habit of waging war on the poorest countries on the planet. A little soul-searching might be in order, starting with America’s foreign policy.

Sir Bernard then discovers the squalor that is hidden away in some parts of the town. And what’s getting him hot under the collar now? Yes, trees. One of the big attractions of Hebden Bridge, for those of us who actually live here, is being able to walk out of town in almost any direction and, within minutes, be out ‘on the tops’, enjoying fields, moors and woodland.

People travel miles to walk in Hardcastle Crags, and rightfully so. Yet Hebden Bridge is surrounded on all sides by beautiful — though less celebrated — woodland. Not the serried ranks of conifers that blight so many upland landscapes, but ancient deciduous woodland that supports a wide variety of wildlife. The woods are full of birds such as warblers, woodpeckers and jays; pied flycatchers, quite a rarity, are a particular favourite of mine. Even the trees in the middle of town help to soften the harsh gritstone scene. Sir Bernard reveals himself as a man who, in the most literal sense, can’t see the wood for the trees.

He likes to portray himself as a Yorkshire exile, but an exile is someone who is unable to go home. Sir Bernard, by contrast, simply chooses not to come home, unless there’s a film crew in tow. He’s not an exile, just an economic migrant. He left Hebden Bridge almost half a century ago (as he had every right to do), and now returns sporadically to wander down Memory Lane and tell us how much better things were in the good old days.

Tellingly, Sir Bernard reveals in his column that he popped into the Picture House for the first time in around 50 years. This is the man with his finger on the pulse of South Pennine life. This is the man who knows better than we do about how we should think and behave. Enough is enough. It’s time he turned his attentions closer to his actual home. Perhaps the Purley Gazette & Advertiser is looking for an outspoken columnist.

Sir Bernard recalls wistfully what life was like ‘BL’ (Before Lesbians). There are many people in this vibrant little town — original inhabitants and off-cumdens alike — who see things rather differently, and relish life ‘AI’… After Ingham.

  • View from the Bridge, John Morrison’s successful online column which first appeared here on the Hebden Bridge Web


John Morrison’s long-running, weekly, on-line column (98 episodes!), about life in a small South Pennine milltown not unlike Hebden Bridge, has now spawned three books. View From the Bridge and Back to the Bridge were published in 1998 and A Bridge Too Far in 1999. All three books are available from good bookshops, or online from Pennine Pens: the perfect present for uncherished relatives.

The Milltown Trilogy

There’s Willow Woman: inhabiting a world that shares a common border with Fantasia and Never-Never Land. Wounded Man: not gay, exactly, but happy to pitch in if they were ever short-handed. Town Drunk: intoxicated stalwart of the Grievous Bodily Arms, the naffest pub this side of the Crab Nebula. Dope Dealer: attempting to go upmarket by styling himself as a Substance Abuse Negotiator. Arthur and Martha Fustian: they look like everybody’s grandparents and, given the relaxed sexual attitudes that prevailed during the 1970s, who’s to say they aren’t? Yes, love may indeed make the world go round… but it’s lust that lubricates the moving parts.

Writer John Morrison has enraged locals in his home town of Hebden Bridge by penning… a tale of its ‘alternative culture’.
(Manchester Evening News)

The local weekly and evening newspapers have banned any reference to the book, after the weekly paper was ridiculed with headlines BUS ROUTE STAYS THE SAME and MILLTOWN MAN CREOSOTES SHED.
(Yorkshire Evening Post)

Read View from the Bridge online

Buy the books

See also

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