Gentleman Jack, in drama and song…

Lesbian period dramas with a romping heroine don’t come along that often, so we should be thankful to Gentleman Jack, which ended its first run on BBC1 last Sunday. A second series is promised.

I was predisposed to like this drama thanks to having interviewed the Huddersfield folk duo whose lively stride of a song ends each episode. O’Hooley & Tidow are great musicians and fantastic women, too. Perhaps I am biased as they liked the interview so much, they had it framed and put on the wall of the home they share.

The singer Kathryn Williams, a friend to Belinda and Heidi, gave them a song as a wedding present. It’s called Small, Big Love and Kathryn sang it on their big day. They later recorded their version on the album Shadows.

Their relationship, on and off stage, seems to be flourishing, and they are expecting a baby in the autumn.

O’Hooley & Tidow’s song Gentleman Jack predates the TV drama by Sally Wainwright, one of our leading TV dramatists, especially of dramas set in West Yorkshire.

They wrote the song after hearing about Anne Lister, an extraordinary 19th century woman who combined many roles. The drama to date mostly celebrates her sexuality and her scraps with men about mines. Lister kept coded diaries detailing her life and affairs, her financial troubles at Shibden Hall, and the unlocking of those diaries inspired the song, and later the drama series.

O’Hooley & Tidow popped up on Woman’s Hour last week, when they explained that Wainwright came to one of their gigs and asked if she could use the song to close her new drama.

That encounter has boosted the duo after ten years of happily doing their own thing. Now they are selling out shows and adding extra dates, all thanks to Anne Lister – and, of course, their own talent. Their songs are striking, different, sometimes unexpected, and always sung beautifully, as if they hit a shared note sometime ago, and have never lost it since.

The other day, Harry Christophers, founder and conductor of The Sixteen – a superstar among choral groups – picked Gentleman Jack as his favourite new song when appearing on BBC Radio 3’s In Concert programme. He said it stopped him in his tracks.

Suranne Jones played the title role in a series that finished with a charming gallop to Denmark and back, complete with swilling seasickness and a last-minute happy ending. The central casting has won praise, and Suranne had distinctive brio, although it would have been interesting to see a more anonymous actor in the role (less baggage).

There was a sort of sombre romcom going on here, amid all the coal mining and meetings about money. Just occasionally, the northern stock drama inched close to Brass, that old Granada TV comedy set in the Lancashire mining town of Utterley. It didn’t help that Timothy West appeared in that as well.

Lister had many facets beside her sexuality and her business prowess. She was a pioneering mountaineer who travelled widely and wildly with her wife, Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle, of Peaky Blinders fame).

Their wedding, if that’s what it was, took place in Holy Trinity Church off Goodramgate. Their route to the church was eccentric, if not impossible. One minute they were in what seemed to be Precentor’s Court by York Minster; the next they turned the corner into Holy Trinity.

That church is one of the small wonders of York. A larger wonder is to be found across the city in the 26 acres of York Cemetery.

There was a choir concert there last Sunday in the restored chapel. A walk around the cemetery, which is gardened just the right side of wild, reminded me what a special place that is.

If only someone had written a novel featuring the cemetery so it could be turned into a TV drama, too. Oh, hang on – I wrote that novel. It’s called Felicity’s Gate and is remembered by at least three people.

Leave a Reply