Tuesday, November 18, 2008

You can always tell a Yorkshireman - but not much

Last night's Richard Macer documentary on BBC Four was about Milner's, a tiny department store in the Yorkshire Dales town of Leyburn. Milner's specialises in garments with elastic waists for farmer's wives in their sixties and fitted curtains and blinds for their houses. The film, which is one of a short series, was also about the always poignant business of generations changing hands. Here boss David Milner had to be driven towards retirement to allow his daughter and son-in-law to take over.

But what kept me glued was its unflinching depiction of that readiness to squabble that seems so much part of the disposition of a lot of people in Yorkshire. David and his family were capable of arguing about the most trivial matters. The angle of a light, the precise wording on an invoice, the number of chairs they needed for their fashion show. All families can do that. But only in Yorkshire are people so determined to pursue their point no matter how much embarrassment is caused that they are prepared to let a man with a camera stand right between them as they have a raging fight about a matter so trifling that it's clear it's merely a cipher for a struggle that goes much deeper.

I'd recommend "The Department Store", particularly for anyone who's enjoyed the films of Molly Dineen.


  1. It's why the Four Yorkshiremen sketch is so spot-on - nobody wants the other to win. Let's also not forget the other distinguishing characteristics of a typical Yorkshire tyke; their bluntness to the point of being rude, and their 'carefulness' with money (Joke: who invented copper wire? Two Yorkshiremen arguing over a penny). Despite it all, I still think my Yorkshire half is the better one.

  2. curses! not wishing to fall into a stereotype you've alomst stifled any debate! ps. i think the whole thing about yorkshire folk being tight is entirely based on our undestandble reluctance to pay almost a fiver for a very indffierent pint just off Leiscester square.

  3. Anonymous9:51 am

    Why would you go for a pint just off Leicester Square? The pubs there are rubbish and designed to rope in tourists and northerners.

    Ain't no love in the heart of the city...

    1. Go to the Sam Smiths pub off Trafalgar Square called The Chandos. Northern prices.

  4. "Yorkshire born, Yorkshire bred; Strong in the arm...."

    I'm entirely Yorkshire, me. Both halves. I'm interested in which half of Clair is Yorkshire though.

  5. You never need to ask a man if he's from Yorkshire, because if he is, he'll have told you already.

  6. My dad's from Yorkshire and I have an aunt, uncle and cousins from Yorkshire. I haven't noticed any of them regard this accident of geography as a licence to behave in a certain way.

    Perhaps I should pay more attention.

  7. It is noticeable though that you can identify "yorkshire charcteristics" but couldn't do this for most other counties. With odd exception what for instance marks a man of bedford?

  8. Fair point but Yorkshire is one of the few English counties that has got an identity that most people recognise. Then it's further exaggerated by the fact that a lot of people from Yorkshire play up to it. Their least appealing characteristic is the "you can't fool me" one.

  9. It's interesting that DH remarks on the Richard Macer doc, and the Stephen Fry hurtle round America in successive posts, as they highlight the two ends of the story telling spectrum.
    The Stephen Fry travelogue was a sort of Palin-lite foray through the USA. It was as if the commissioning people didn't trust us to be able to settle down and watch more than a fleeting few seconds per story line. The saintly Stephen could be chatting to some banjo plucking dude in South Carolina; if you dared glance away for two seconds, you would find Fry repelling illegal immigrants on the Mexican border. While I typed this sentence, he would have found himself moved on to a farmers' market in Seattle.

    Meanwhile, in the Dales, the camera lingered and lingered (indeed, in a Dineen stylee) almost excruciatingly, on the domestic travails of the Milner family, as Milner Jr. tried to drag the ageing store somewhere into a bizarre world of catering for the Saga customer base, whilst trying to appeal to the youth of Leyburn.
    I feel we haven't seen the last of the Milner family, and their 'department store' with it's new £18,000 pound signage... (maybe old man Milner was right on that piece of expenditure).

  10. Are you seriously suggesting that the one characteristic someone from Whitby is bound to share with someone from Rotherham is the propensity to argue? Really?

  11. Anonymous12:04 pm

    More importantly, we have a complete inability to laugh at ourselves. It's what sets us apart from other men.

    Si'thee later,


  12. Anonymous1:51 pm

    Lots of good docs on BBC4 at the moment. Storyville's I'm Not Dead Yet was also very Dineen-ish (echoes of Home From The Hill), looking at an ageing posh family falling apart as the mum promises to leave her estate to only one of her twin daughters. Amazing footage peppered with remarkable archive shots of happier days as dark secrets start to spill out. Currently on iplayer.