The Full Sheffield: True stories from the naked city

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The Independent Online
Sheffield's new airport opens to commercial flights on Monday, placing the city of the Full Monty on the

international tourism arena. A fully clothed Bob Carter offers a guide

The sky's the colour of sheet steel, the drizzle is slanting down, and the canal-side mud seeps into my shoes. I'm in the east side of Sheffield, a city where the buzz-words are regeneration and service industry. This is a conurbation where the remains of heavy industry rub shoulders with mail-order firms and telebanking organisations. No place for a tourist, surely, yet Sheffield's best ambassador of late has been a low-budget film set in the city's grimier quarters, about the desperate lengths men on the dole will go to in order to generate some income.

There are plenty of places that proclaim themselves in film: the Rockefeller Building in New York has been in as many films as Michael Caine. We've seen Hollywood Boulevard, the canals of Venice and even the former warehouses of London Docklands enough times; now it's Sheffield's turn.

I call Sheffield's tourist information office to see if they have anything to offer. "We haven't, but there are people looking into it," says Jane, who gives me the number of Destination Sheffield, a non-profit, grant- aided company set up by stakeholders in the city including the universities and various commerce and tourism interests.

"We've had a couple of enquiries about Full Monty tours but as far as I am aware there are no official ones," they say.

Strange. Yorkshire people have long known that where's there's film, there's brass. Farther north you no longer move between town and district; you take your tour through Herriott Country, stop and admire Bronte Country and take a trip to the Sixties in Heartbeat Country. So what about Montyland?

Which is how I end up by the canal. The Sheffield and Tinsley Canal reaches the very centre of the city, an area that used to be pretty much derelict and was called, not unreasonably, the Canal Basin. It's now Victoria Quays, where the city's oldest surviving factory has become a "pleasant pub for nice people", or some such slogan. So far as business is concerned, it stands alone on the waterfront beside yet-to-be-let railway arch shop units. It's all restored and shines too brightly, with its newly scrubbed stone and painted moorings. I even suspect the kingfisher is in on the plot.

Five minutes along the towpath, and it's all changed, a bewildering mixture of new industrial buildings and old industrial ruins, quite atmospheric and just the place to open a film. Which is what they did, with Robert Carlyle balanced atop a sunken car.

The canal is also where you may one day find them cashing in on The Full Monty. Boat folk are canny. Paul Grange is a partner in Aitken Grange Cruising Company: "We don't run a Full Monty trip; we have thought about it, and we may sell the trip in Sheffield as being based in the land of Monty, but not for this year."

They do offer trips and short breaks on their boat, The Tiny Purple. From March to October it's a small floating hotel, cruising out of Sheffield on two- to four-day breaks, and from October to mid-January as a floating, one-table restaurant offering a two-and-a-half-hour trip with a three- course meal from pounds 15 a head.

"The film I think was excellent", says Paul. "It captured the essence of Sheffield in its way. Especially the canal scene where the guy walks past with the dog. That was totally coincidental. You could not get anything more natural than that."

Natural maybe, but for a tourist on The Full Monty trail, a man and a dog would not be enough. Where were the strippers to be found? "Male strippers?" asks Paul. "I don't know." His voice brightens: "I do know where there are a lot of female strippers - some of the local pubs." So I try one, just around the corner from Sheffield United's Bramall Lane ground.

Here, Jean, in exchange for a vodka and Coke, proffers the information that South Yorkshire really does have male and female strippers, in a pub in Barnsley, and it costs only pounds 1 to get in. Joanne (half of lager) thinks male stripping is, frankly, a bit passe. Fabian was doing it in a Sheffield night-club, and going all the way, long before the film came out. Obviously I've chosen the wrong pub.

Time, then, to return to the real locations: let's try the exteriors first, where the characters exercised. Taking my trusty A to Z I set off for Parkwood Springs. No luck; no middle-aged men in ill-fitting tracksuits here; but on this damp winter Saturday it was crowded with people - skiing. Just out of sight of filmgoers throughout those sequences is Europe's biggest artificial ski resort, and a climb or a ski-lift to the top rewards you with the best view over the city.

But no sign of The Full Monty here. Nor at the old Langsett School, which doubled as a school from the outside and job club inside. Part of it is now the Sheffield Boxing Centre, from which a group of young men with short haircuts and long arms emerged. I wasn't going to ask them where I could look at naked men.

A short drive to the aptly-named Grimesthorpe area (yet to fall victim to the passion for renaming that has overtaken this city), and you can find, on Idsworth Road, the exterior of the "club" in which the troupe performed. Now those inverted commas denote that it is not a club at all; a former cinema, casino and bingo hall is now The Inter Home Furniture Warehouse.

It's run by the Masoud family, and Rasab took me round. Fascinating as beds, sofas and even their own little furniture factory are, they are not The Full Monty.

By now it is getting dark, and still no Monty. But I have one big chance: Shiregreen Working Men's Club. Inside the club, on a weekday at 10am, an audience of women club members saw from the front what cinema-goers only saw from the rear: the final, all-out strip.

Secretary Terry Green takes me round: to the bottle store which became a dressing-room, white paint covered with film-makers' grime for more northern realism; to the toilets, essential of course to any modern British film; and then to the committee room - not in the film - for a chat.

To the people of that area, he says, the desperate measures of the unemployed were a reality. It seems a million miles from the go-ahead optimism presented a couple of miles away by Sheffield's marketing arm. The divide, he concludes, is getting wider. Downstairs an insistent bass sound heralds the arrival on stage of that night's turn. At last, I think, a chance to see the real Full Monty. But it's just a duo with a keyboard, pretty good in their way, but not the Monty experience I am seeking. And they've even covered up the gold curtains the film crew left behind.

I get a bus back into town, and suddenly I am safely back in Sheffield, tourist town, with the restored Lyceum Theatre shining in the floodlights, the Crucible Theatre next door, and the wonderful Ruskin Gallery. I walk past the inspiring Victorian town hall (soon to be incorporated in a new development with an offshoot of the Victoria & Albert Museum) past the imposing city hall and into what is now known as the Devonshire Quarter, where Saturday night is in full swing, shirt-sleeved queues spilling out of bars, cafes and clubs. I fall into the one without a queue and order a beer, as a jazz trio ploughs through Summertime, taking 24-bar solos each. And so my search for The Full Monty ends.

As a footnote, for those who really want to discover Sheffield's industrial heritage, a visit to Kelham Island Industrial Museum would save a lot of shoe leather; it shows the huge industrial achievements of big men with larger-than-life dreams and even bigger machinery. And it doesn't skip the cost to the workers, either.

Sheffield Tourist Information Service (0114-273 4672); Aitken Grange Cruising Company (0114-243 0964 or 0802 471100); Kelham Island Museum, Alma Street, (0114-272 2106); Sheffield Ski Village, Vale Road, Parkwood Springs (0114-276 9459); Inter Home Warehouse, Idsworth Road (0114-244 4440); Shiregreen WMC, Shiregreen Lane (admission to members and CIU affiliate members only, 0114-249 2214).

FROM AMS TO SZD: THE CITY OF STEEL GETS AIRBORNE

You can fly to Sheffield City Airport from anywhere you want, so long as it's Amsterdam. KLM uk (0990 074074) is starting with three daily services during the week, with one on Saturday and two on Sunday. The main target is likely to be business travellers; you can't help wondering about their reaction to the sight of Doncaster and Rotherham as they make their final descent to the city of steel.

It would not take a cynic to say that the last thing Sheffield needs is an airport, what with Leeds/ Bradford one way, and East Midlands the other along the M1. This, though, makes the site ideal, at least to Jon Horne, the airport's managing director: four miles from the centre of Sheffield, five minutes from the M1, and a 45-minute drive for four million people - if they don't all try to do it at the same time.

He's come up from London City Airport to run this place, unkindly described as a tin hut on a slag heap, more kindly thought of as a small to medium terminal on a reclaimed area of open-cast mining. Sheffield, Horne says, with campaigning zeal, is the fourth largest city in England, and until now, the biggest city in Europe without its own airport. Now "SZD", as it will appear on tickets, takes its place in the OAG Pocket Flight Guide, its single service squeezed between Sharurah (Saudi Arabia) and Shehdi (Ethiopia).

The vision includes an adjacent business park, but at present the nearest building is large and dirty, with lots of pipes and a smoky chimney. An interesting welcome for the first airborne overseas visitors.

Bob Carter

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