Do we need: Yorkshiremen?

They make great cooks and cricketers. They leave you in no doubt where they're coming from. But, depending on where you're coming from, they're grudge-bearing, tight-fisted, xenophobic, boorish and arrogant. Chris Maume asks...
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
The explorer Ranulph Fiennes has strict guidelines about who accompanies him on his jaunts to far-away places. "I would be happy to take anyone on one of my expeditions, with one exception," he said a few years ago. "The only people I would not even look at are people from Yorkshire."

The particular quality Fiennes was unable to stomach is the Yorkshireman's ability to bear grudges for all eternity. But he could have taken his pick, really: a refusal to acknowledge any other point of view; an innate belief in his own infallibility and the superiority of tykes as a breed. And, possibly the worst characteristic because it incorporates all the others, the way he wears his Yorkshireness like a uniform, or a suit of armour.

Despite what they think, tykes can be much-loved. In a week when Harold "Dickie" Bird, the umpire even cricket-haters have heard of, began his final Test match, it was difficult to keep the feet dry amid the waves of sentiment. When he took the field at Lord's on Thursday he floated on a feather bed of gush.

It's virtually impossibly for cricket fans not to feel at least a vague affection for Bird, if only because he has been part of the sport's fixtures and fittings for an aeon. What cloys is the sycophancy in the BBC documentary to mark his retirement. There's a scene where he leaves the field after an early-season game, saying: "I've had the wind in my face all day," as he walked through the crowd. They fall about laughing like courtiers hoping for favour. That's not his fault, of course, but it still sticks in the throat like a particularly dry Yorkshire pudding.

When Fiennes issued his tyke ban, perhaps he had been embittered by an experience not long before, when a T-shirt he had donated to a schoolgirl, for her to auction to help raise pounds 2,000 for a trip to China, attracted the magnificent sum of 45p. It happened in Yorkshire, of course. But then Yorkies are notoriously "careful" with their money. Think how many building societies are from God's own counting-house. And link that to Bird's reputation as a "not-outer". Legions of bowlers must have cursed him under their breaths as the finger failed to rise on an apparently plum leg-before. They don't give much away, the tykes.

Cricket, in fact, provides most of what we need to know about Yorkshireness. The xenophobia for a start, that desperate need to reinforce identity by a steadfast maintenance of the notion that the other five billion people on the planet are irretrievably inferior. It's that useful "no one likes us we don't care" trick personified by Don Revie's Leeds United (a team of men who were tykes either by blood or inclination), their football brilliant and brutal in turn, founded on the us-against-the-world philosophy which Yorkshiremen seem to find essential in dealing with life.

For a century of cricket's County Championship, an absurd rule operated whereby no one born outside the county could play for them, as if they were somehow a nation-state. Michael Parkinson, one of those tykes who got out as fast as he could but parades his roots like a badge of honour, moved his expectant wife back over the Pennines so his offspring would be eligible.

With a few exceptions, it wasn't until Sachin Tandulkar, the young Indian batting prodigy, was signed a few years ago that the doors opened. But there's perhaps more to it than that. For the last couple of generations there has been a vast pool of talent of Asian extraction which remains to this day untapped. The county's excuse has always been: "Well, if they were good enough ..." but I refuse to believe that in all those thousands of aspirants not one has been good enough to wear the white rose.

The fact that during that century of racial purity, Yorkshire won the championship 29 times, way ahead of any other county, shows up a slight problem for tykosceptics: history is full of examples of Yorkshiremen achieving excellence. But no one is accusing them of incompetence - Fred Trueman was one of the best bowlers in history; Parkinson was the apotheosis of chat show hosts; Lord Hanson has made millions buying big companies, breaking them up and selling them; Marco Pierre White whisks up a matchless feuilletee of roast rabbit with jus of coriander.

No, ability isn't the issue. No one is saying they're stupid (although a Yorkshire friend of mine, when I told him I was writing this piece, did recount the experience of his drinking pal who once had the white rose of Yorkshire tattooed on his arm. Except somehow he managed to get the red rose of Lancashire instead. Fortunately, tattoo-removing surgery is available on the NHS these days). The issue is how they carry their success.

The case for Raymond Illingworth to succeed the southern softie Ted Dexter as manager of the England team was based as much on his tyke qualities as his cricketing brain - unshakeable convictions, plain-speaking, all that back-to-basics stuff which is so often a smokescreen obscuring a determination to remain entrenched in received ideas. But for all his salt-of-the-earthness, this quintessential tyke for whom putting on airs and graces would seem as alien as donning a tutu and dancing round his local tap room, spurned the offer on being told he would be expected to do things like muck in and carry the bags. And he also hated the idea of being paid less than the players.

Eventually, the men in the Long Room turned to him in desperation, and for a while it seemed his abrasiveness might galvanise the players. But then came the Devon Malcolm affair in South Africa last winter when his crass insensitivity in comments to the media, the inevitable end result of all that grim, gritty, no-nonsense nonsense that passed for his managerial style, terminated the Test career of a fine bowler. It was a classic cock- up of the "speak tha' mind" genre. Malcolm suggested his skin colour might have something to do with it - almost certainly untrue, especially given Illingworth's honorary degree for "contributions to racial harmony", but this is a man who, after the furious row in Faisalabad between the then England captain Mike Gatting and the umpire Shakoor Rana, said, "Cricketwise, Pakistan has always been iffy, and Pakistanis in the main, difficult. Now they're becoming downright bolshy." Breathtaking.

Another typical tyke is Geoffrey Boycott, a great batsman and mono-maniac, the man who was so stubborn and so slow in compiling his innings that his batting partner Ian Botham was once alleged to have engineered a run- out. More in the Illingworth vein is Fred Trueman, who has forged a similar reputation as a verbal bruiser with all the same arrogance, the xenophobia, the sheer rudeness masquerading as honesty.

None of these qualities is confined to cricket Yorkies. Thinking of Marco Pierre White, a great cook but an overbearing, arrogant and paint-blisteringly uncouth man, who calls his customers "pompous assholes" - although that doesn't prevent him taking their money. And Sir Bernard Ingham, Mrs Thatcher's former press lackey, gave us an insight into the tyke approach when he was interviewed for a motoring feature. "I constantly wish I had a tank at my disposal, unlimited insurance and legal immunity, so that I could blast the bad drivers off the road." At least Sir Bernard was unequivocal about his Yorkshireness. There are others who want to be true to their race while kicking over the traces. Peter Townend, the society matchmaker and doyen of the Season, is the product of a Pontefract grammar school which he insists was really a public school because it had a few fee-payers. His accent is an odd blend of standard Yorkshire and manicured vowels and his much-flaunted frugality sits uneasily with the ostentation of the upper crust for which he was so keen to forsake Yorkshire.

Sir Jimmy Savile, king of the professional Yorkshire clowns (heir-apparent Brian Glover, the tyke with nowt taken out), sends conflicting signals with his carapace of eccentricity. Alan Bennett constructed a lucrative cottage industry out of the more twee aspects of Yorkshireness from the posh bit of Camden Town in London. Sir Marcus Fox, MP for Shipley and chairman of the 1922 Committee, is less confused. His pride in his Batley roots is his best political weapon. When there's infighting, he switches to bluntspeak mode and relies on the bruiser qualities that earned him the nickname "the Shipley Strangler".

There are legions of these hard-knock graduates who all seem to think it's tougher growing up in Yorkshire than anywhere else - Roy Hattersley with his deeply boring allegiance to Sheffield Wednesday, Damien Hirst, who is always quick to point out that he didn't come from an artistic background. Arthur Scargill, Harold Wilson - the list goes on. I've nothing against tykes making their way in the world. I just wish they'd do it more quietly.

Chris Maume is from Lancashire

What do you think?

Every Monday you can give the Do We Need...? subject the come-on- down or the thumbs-down. Send your verdict in no more than 100 words, to Do We Need...?, Section Two, the Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL or fax 0171-293 2182 no later than Friday morning.

Comments