8:23am Tuesday 6th September 2011
By Emma Clayton
o the little girl with pigtails running through her grandmother’s back yard, it was all quite an adventure.
She watched wide-eyed as her family’s little terraced house became full of cameras, filming everyone going about their daily lives, and she remembers the man in charge telling her to run across the street, beneath lines of washing blowing in the wind.
She had no idea that this man was Yorkshire-born Ken Annakin, who would go on to become a renowned Hollywood film director, or that the little film he was making about her family would be shown around the world.
The film, We Of The West Riding, was Mr Annakin’s snapshot of life in a northern town. Filmed in 1945, it focused on the Coldwells as a typical Yorkshire family.
Sponsored by the British Council, it was translated into 23 languages and shown overseas as a documentary of work and play in northern England towards the end of the Second World War.
More than 60 years later, the film has returned to Bradford, where it premiered in 1946. A print has been donated to the National Media Museum by Mr Annakin’s widow, Pauline, who travelled from Los Angeles for a recent screening.
She was joined by Pat Hillam – the little girl in the film – who was thrilled to see her family “come to life” on the big screen.
Now 70, Pat is the grand-daughter of the Coldwell family and was four when the film was made.
“The rest of the family who were in it have died, so it was wonderful seeing them on the screen. How many people get that chance?” smiles Pat, leafing through cherished stills from the film at her home in Norwood Green.
“People didn’t take many photographs in those days, let alone have video cameras.
“I remember the filming like it was yesterday. It created a lot of excitement – people peeped through curtains to watch. The film crew came to the house a lot. They took the kitchen window out to bring a camera through. There were cameras everywhere.”
The family – Pat’s grandparents, Albert and Ethel, and their children Ivy, Eva and Kenneth – lived at Woodside, Halifax.
Pat, whose father was serving in Burma, was looked after by her grandparents while her mother was in the ATS.
“Someone turned up looking for locations and happend to meet my grandmother in the street,” says Pat. “My grandparents had eight children. Three of them were away in the forces.
“There was a lot of artistic licence in the film. None of the family worked in textiles, yet they were supposed to be mill-workers and were filmed operating looms!
“My grandfather was shown with racing pigeons, but he didn’t keep pigeons. The crew brought various ornaments into the house – I remember two big pot dogs they placed on the range – and my aunt was filmed with a choir, even though she couldn’t sing a note!
“The scene I’m in, showing me running across the street to my grandmother scrubbing the yard, was shot about 20 times. I remember being told to do take after take. Now, when I watch a documentary, I know all is not what it seems.”
The film opens with a lingering shot of Ilkley Moor, moving on to soot-blackened mills and workers pouring through gates on to cobbled streets.
Women in pinnies are hanging out washing and sharing a laugh over their backyard walls.
The cameras move on to clattering looms in the mills, where cloth is bound up ready to be shipped around the world.
Up in the hills, away from factory smoke belching into the air, a group of cyclists are pedalling along country lanes, singing Ilkley Moor Ba’h Tat.
The camera follows a stream trickling downhill, against a narrative explaining how mill towns evolved from their surrounding landscape.
The cyclists reach Skipton Castle then, against bleak rural scenes, the narrator mentions the Brontes and the “brooding loneliness of the west moorland hills”.
In domestic scenes, the family are filmed around their dining-table, and Pat’s grandmother sits knitting by the blackened range.
An amateur dramatic society is rehearsing for a production of Jane Eyre, and there are shots of Queensbury’s Black Dyke Band, and the Huddersfield Choral Society singing the Hallelujah Chorus.
“There was a lot of choral singing in those days,” says Pat. “What really struck me when I saw the film was how many children are playing outside. You don’t see that so much now. Whenever I went out, I knew there’d be other children in the street. Everyone looked out for each other. It was a strong community.”
We Of The West Riding was one of Ken Annakin’s earliest films. He lived in Ilkley and later moved to Los Angeles, where he died in 2009. His career included British seaside comedies and epic war dramas.
His Yorkshire film, a tribute to those getting on with life on the home front, was written by novelist Phyllis Bentley, who described those in it as “sturdy, independent people”.
Now a grandmother herself, Pat recalls the premiere at Bradford’s New Victoria Cinema.
“My grandparents were taken on stage with Ken Annakin and Phyllis Bentley. The cinema was packed and suddenly my little voice piped up: ‘Have you got your new handbag, Grandma?’ I was so embarrassed!” she laughs.
“Ken Annakin loved Yorkshire and wanted to capture it before life changed after the war.
“I was too young to have a fear of the war – all I remember is blackout curtains and my Mickey Mouse gas mask. I just remember a wonderful childhood; I felt safe and loved, with aunts and uncles around me.”
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