Sunday 25 October 2015

As Seen On TV

I love TV.  Properly love it.  I can't see how you can't.  It's lots and lots of entertainment, delivered to your front room, and you don't have to do anything to get it except press an occasional button on your remote and pay your TV licence.  I don't understand people who don't own a television, and people who are proud about this are the worst.  No, wait; the actual worst people are the ones who say "I don't own television, I watch it all online so I don't need a licence."

Well said, Joey, and yet more evidence for Grace Dent's theory that there is an appropriate quote from Friends for every occasion.

I've grown up loving television in all its forms.  It's family legend that I would watch the Open University as a baby, and that one of my first words was "tellyon."  As in, "can I have the telly on?".  It didn't stop me from reading books or thinking for myself or any of the usual criticisms people level at the "idiot box".  It was just another fantastic way to spend my time.

A side effect of all this TV watching is the thrill of visiting a fictional location in the real world.   When I was in New York earlier this year, I visited the spot for Monica's apartment from Friends, and 168 Riverside Drive, home to Liz Lemon.  I visited Loser Cafe from The Apprentice while I was in London, and my trips to Coronation Street are well documented.

Getting off the train at Hadfield, then, carried with it an extra thrill.  It looked like another cosy, purple and white Northern Rail station.  Shift perspectives, squint a little, and you saw the darkness underneath: this was the station for Royston Vasey, the end of the line, the place where Benjamin arrived and his nightmares began in The League of Gentlemen.

I was a big fan of The League of Gentlemen, the comedy show broadcast on BBC Two between 1999 and 2002.  I have all the DVDs - even the incredibly disappointing film.  I saw them live at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.  I have their books.  This was the first time I'd actually visited Hadfield, the place where the series was filmed, chosen by the stars because it was "shitty".

I'd left it too late.

I didn't realise that, at first.  I left the station forecourt and was immediately presented with the iconic War Memorial, the one featured in the titles to every episode.  Since the show filmed here, they'd added a seating area and gardens, but the wreath-bearing angel was still recognisable.  I could hear the bouncing notes of Joby Talbot's theme tune as I looked up at it.

Meanwhile, the D&D Newsagents had a window devoted to the show, its main feature being a poster for Papa Lazarou's Circus.  They sold postcards of "Royston Vasey", too.

A turn, and I was on that famous high street... but it had changed.  Obviously, I didn't expect the townsfolk to have preserved it exactly as it was when they filmed: I mean, in one episode, the army was called in to oversee a panicking populace, so you'd hope they'd at least tidy up.  But gentrification had crashed into Hadfield, and I imagine that the League would be disappointed if they returned for a fourth series.  It just wasn't that shitty any more.

Coffee shops had infested the main road, pastel coloured and filled with comfortable warm furnishings.  There were florists and a children's music school.  If I'd not known it from my telly, I'd have seen it as just another pretty Derbyshire town.  There were no references to its famous past.  Admittedly, I didn't expect the butcher's shop to refer to its "special stuff", but neither did I think it would now be an award-winning artisan sausage maker.

Even the Cafe Royston, still visible on Google Streetview, had changed its name to the Food Stop and advertised itself as cyclist friendly.  I'd hoped for a pint in the Mason's Arms, scene of Les McQueen's heartbreaking realisation that Creme Brulee had reunited without him, but it was a Tesco Metro now.

I headed into the back streets, in search of a bit of Royston Vasey shaped darkness, but it was disappointingly charming.  The coming of the railway shifted Hadfield's centre of gravity to Station Road, meaning that behind the Victorian streets was an old-fashioned village left preserved.

There were the occasional oddities; a cottage called The Old Slaughterhouse, a pocket-sized barber shop that could probably have been a bit sinister if you concentrated hard enough, but most of it was just... ordinary.  I rounded a corner and found the greatest sadness of all.

The Job Centre, the location for Pauline Campbell-Jones' petty torments, was now a development of charming flats.  It had become desirable and chic.

I realised that not everyone carried their televisual history around with them.  I've not watched The League of Gentlemen properly in years, apart from catching the occasional late-night repeat on Dave, but I could still see it overlaid on Hadfield.  I thought they'd still enjoy their moment in the sun, but it was just a tv show.  It was just a thing that happened once, folded into the history books and quietly packed away.

I walked back to Station Road, wishing I'd come sooner, when there was still League-fever.  I'd have to move on I guess.  The League have: Mark Gatiss is now a television magnate, with Sherlock and Doctor Who, and Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith have gone on to produce the equally dark, equally brilliant Psychoville and Inside No. 9.  Still good telly.  Still important to me.

I headed out of town, up a steep hill that quickly turned to countryside.  If I'd come here a few decades ago, there would have been more stations for me to collect, at Crowden and Woodhead.  Hadfield only recently became the end of the line; until 1981 the line continued up and through the Pennines via the Woodhead Tunnel, re-emerging on the other side to call at Penistone and proceeding on into Sheffield.

The Woodhead Line was a pioneer, electrified with overhead lines in the 1950s as a test ground for the brave new post-steam world.  Technology moved on and abandoned it though.  The electrics chosen were of a relatively low voltage, and when it came to the rest of the network, British Rail went with a different system.  It left Manchester-Sheffield via Hadfield as an orphan line; it had to have its own special trains that couldn't run anywhere else.  Combine this with the general feeling from the Sixties onward that trains were too much hassle, and bits of the line were closed down; passenger services beyond Hadfield ended in 1970, while freight services lasted another eleven years.  Then the Hadfield line was converted to the same electric system as the rest of the country.

Closing a route across the Pennines, that stark impassable backbone that runs the length of England, seems like madness.  Worse, the madness has been compounded; the National Grid took over the tunnel and used them for cables, meaning it's impossible to reuse them for railways.  Meanwhile, the one remaining, still non-electrified route between Sheffield and Manchester strains for capacity.  Northern Powerhouse, though!

I'd thought about walking up to Woodhead, to see what was left - the railway line was turned into a long-distance path, the Longendale Trail - but it was gone three, and I didn't fancy being up in the mountains when it got dark.  Instead I climbed up and over the hill and descended into Glossop.

Walking amidst kids who hadn't even been born when The League of Gentlemen first aired, I found a surprisingly elegant town centre. Glossop became rich from cotton and calico and was home to many mills; the families who ran the mills acted as generous benefactors for the town and built stately churches and reading rooms to improve the lives of their workers.

I promenaded down the stately main street, wishing I had a walking stick or a top hat.  Admittedly, it probably would have drawn the scorn of the lively, just out of school teenagers who filled the windows of the coffee and sandwich shops, but it was that kind of town.  It demanded a dandy.

The Howard Town development - named after one of those local worthies - was less successful, a converted mill towering over a Wetherspoons and - spit! - an Edinburgh Woolen Mill.  It was a retail park wedged in where it didn't belong, though I expect Glossop's well-heeled residents were glad to have a Marks and Spencer Simply Food arrive.

I stopped for a pint at the Norfolk Arms, right in the centre of town.  There was a young couple in there with a new baby.  They were valiantly trying not to let the mewling child interfere with their life as grown up, chilled hipsters, with dad rolling his own cigarette and mum's purple hair, but it was a battle they were destined to lose.  Her brown roots were showing, and when he asked if it she minded while he went for a ciggie, her "if you really have to" was laced with tiredness and fury.  I felt like leaning over and telling them to give up; just stick the Baby on board sign in the back window of your hybrid and resign yourself to a life of primary colours and total acquiescence to your spawn's every desire.

Refreshed, I walked to the station, past a beauty salon called Giallo; hopefully it's not named after the genre of lurid Italian thrillers, because that'd mean an awful lot of blood to mop up on a daily basis.  Half of Glossop station is now a Co-op, which is always a disappointment, but it was still a sturdy, proud terminus.

The main line bypassed Glossop, but it was important enough to get its very own spur.  Now it's the point where the train reverses to take in the next part of the Dinting triangle.  I was pleased that I'd finally got to visit this quirky anomaly on the Northern map.

Inside, the station was cool but beautifully restored; proud plaques commemorated various prizes won for the work.  It was like much of the rest of the town - stately, refined, understated.

On the platform, signs declared that Glossop was the "Gateway to the Dark Peak", which sounds like a terrifying Fighting Fantasy novel.  I had a two hour journey to get home, and I hoped there wouldn't be any delays.  I needed to be back in time for Only Connect.


Jon said...

I used to live in Glossop, and later Hadfield, long before the LoG (which I have to say I never liked much). And Hadfield ... shitty? Granted, it's a bit more upmarket these days, but it was a perfectly pleasant little town then, I liked it a lot. If they'd wanted shitty, they should have gone to Hattersley.

Scott Willison said...

It wasn't me who said Hadfield was shitty! It was one of the League on the audio commentary!

Simon said...

The Trans-Pennine cycleway goes from Southport through Hadfield and onto Longdendale towards the portals of the Woodhead Tunnel, before crossing over towards Hull and the East Coast. One of these days I'll cycle it.

Andrew Bowden said...

It probably wasn't so much shitty as a little run down, like much of the area was back then.

Glossop, incidentally, used to have an annual Victorian Weekend. Sadly, for all your dressing up needs, it died a few years back.

Still the main park does have a little tiny narrow gauge railway.

Neil said...

Disappointed that the pub's shut. I remember as a student a few of us drinking it dry of bitter!

Scott Willison said...

I've touched the Trans-Pennine Trail over and over throughout this journey - bits of it all across the North. I should have done a tag.

patto87 said...

Been to Glossop today. I take it all back, I loved it. Never been before and guilty of the assumption that somewhere with the name Glossop has to be a shithole. Ok it was Saturday, Halloween and the sun was out, so maybe more people around than usual, but the place felt vibrant, alive and the people looked happy. The market had interesting stalls!! Compare this to Crewe market! That's what a real shithole looks like. I liked it immediately. One question.... How the hell do you find the road to Dinting station? I did an orienteering session through woods and past ancient derelict sidings before finally coming upon it from the wrong side. Whatever, still counts! Hattersley - where do you start. Found station by accident. Wish I hadn't. Thought I would be killed. Every scally and scumbag stared at me, as it was quite obvious I don't attend their local jobcentre. Thank god that's done

patto87 said...

Just read your review of Hattersley. Very charitable I must say -'looks an ok place to live'. Good god. If I had to live there I'd chuck myself in front of a Pacer if I didn't think that would derail it. The best thing you can say about it is to the casual traveller round the extremity of the Peaks you wouldn't know it was there, its just idiots who want to find the train stations who come across it. Oh and the Myra Hyndley thing - why does that not surprise me in the slightest