In 2019, Alan Ayckbourn celebrated his 80th birthday – sharing the same anniversary with The Dalesman magazine. To celebrate the joint anniversaries, the magazine interviewed the playwright.
As we look forward – hopefully- to the months ahead when we can begin to travel more freely around the country, it seemed a good time to reprint the interview which celebrates Yorkshire and the playwright’s long-standing connection and commitment to the county.
You can find out more about The Dalesman magazine at its website here.
Talking Yorkshire with Alan Ayckbourn
The Dalesman: How has Yorkshire changed over the time you have lived and worked here?
Alan Ayckbourn: I can’t really speak for the whole of Yorkshire (it’s vast!) but the bits I do know well have changed a great deal since I first arrived in Scarborough in the summer of 1957. The town itself at that point was thriving but, over the years, there’s been a sad decline brought about by some ill-judged building decisions and a shrinking of the domestic holiday trade. Happily, there’s been a recent reversal with a new mood of determination to re-establish lost pride and to attract investment in the region. Elsewhere Leeds, where I worked in the sixties at the BBC, is transformed of course. Similarly, Hull, since its award as City of Culture has also undergone a great revival.
What is the best thing about Yorkshire?
I have to say the people. It might sound a cliché but they’re warm, friendly (once you get past their quirky deadpan humour), honest (occasionally brutally frank), generous (don’t believe those Lancastrian rumours of meanness) and once a friend they’re yours for life (whether you like it or not!)
What is your favourite Yorkshire view?
It has to be a sea view. Either standing atop Oliver’s Mount, any place you choose to stop on the Cleveland Way between Scarborough and Whitby or just looking out of my own attic window towards Filey Brigg.
How has Yorkshire shaped your writing?
I’m not sure. I’ve lived here for so long it’s in my writing bloodstream. I’m even writing Yorkshire characters these days though it took me a couple of decades to pluck up my Londoner’s courage to do so!
Do you have a particular memory of Yorkshire that stands out?
As a child we lived inland miles from the sea. One of my special treats would be a trip to the seaside. The memory of the very first time I stepped off the train from York and breathed in the sea air will stay with me forever.
What do you find most inspiring about the county?
I think its variety and scale. I used to write very often whilst walking along the virtually empty beach, shouting out trial dialogue for some new play. You’d never get away with that in Hampstead.
Is there a local phrase, or piece of dialect that you find you use a lot, or you particularly like?
Not every day, no. I’d feel a bit self-conscious if I did, particularly in front of the real thing. These days, I save it for my fictional characters who say ‘anyroad’ and ‘by heck’ all the time and occasionally ‘well, bugger me!’
What, for you, defines a Yorkshireman or woman?
How has Yorkshire shaped your life or career?
I think, in the main so far as my theatre career is concerned, by keeping me away from London where supposedly ‘it’s all at’. But in my view where it all isn’t, not at all. It’s here for me. Yorkshire’s kept my feet on the ground.
What is your favourite Yorkshire book or play?
JB Priestley was a major influence on my early writing, especially his so called ‘time’ plays, Time and the Conways, Dangerous Corner etc, When I was starting out, soon after my first West End hit, (nobbut a lad, at the time) I was fortunate to be introduced to the grand old man. “You’re a very good dramatist” he growled. I smiled, accepting the compliment with what I hoped was suitable modesty. Then, after a slight pause he added with a throaty chuckle, “Or so I’ve heard.” What could be more Yorkshire?
Is there a Yorkshire event that you particularly enjoy?
A County game at Scarborough’s North Marine Road Cricket Ground (sea fret or not!)
Is there anything from the county’s past that has gone and you wish could be brought back?
I think it’s a bit unhealthy for us old blokes to start bemoaning what’s past and sounding off about what we consider has been lost. I prefer to embrace the new. I prefer to look forward to what’s to come. Though I must admit that, as years pass, the vista is getting smaller.
Can you sum up Yorkshire in one sentence?
These days, in one word, Home.