Yanks (1979)

About 800 people from the area appeared as extras in Yanks, starring a young Richard Gere, about US troops said to be “overpaid, over-sexed and over ‘ere” during the Second World War.

Filming took place in Keighley, Silsden, Steeton and Halifax, among other places, between April and August, 1978, and was released in time for Christmas 1979.

Based on screenwriter Colin Welland’s experiences of life as a boy in wartime Britain, Yanks focused on romances that blossomed between English women and American soldiers stationed in the Yorkshire countryside.

Director John Schlesinger used Welland’s warm, funny script to produce a poignant, evocative tale depicting the clash of cultures in an austere Yorkshire town. He cast Gere in one of his first starring roles, playing a GI who falls in love with a local girl, played by Lisa Eichhorn.

The story centres on three couples thrown together by war as thousands of American troops arrive in Britain prior to the D-Day landings at Normandy.

It was 28-year-old Gere’s first experience of West Yorkshire. He seems to have been impressed. “I like the great feeling of space up here. There is something remarkable about the way industry is cheek-by-jowl with such wonderful landscape,” he said.

The cast also included Vanessa Redgrave, William Devane, Rachel Roberts, Lynne Perrie, Joan Hickson and Derek Thompson.

The extras each earned the tidy sum, then, of £15 a day.

Last year many of them were reunited for a special screening of the film at the National Media Museum.

Chris Blanchett, from Keighley, was among the extras with his wife Jennifer, their threeyear-old daughter Victoria, and baby son Neil.

“All our scenes were in Keighley and Steeton,” recalls Chris. “I was in the last scene at Keighley station when the GIs leave town, and Richard Gere and Lisa Eichhorn’s characters say goodbye to each other.

“My wife and I were in the boxing match scene together – it took a whole day to film that. John Schlesinger suddenly noticed a man sitting behind us whose hair wasn’t quite right so he ordered a make-up artist to paint Brylcreem on his head!

“It was shot in the old ammunitions factory in Steeton, which was also used as the army base in the film. The building was filled with costumes and we went there for make-up.”