Lights, camera… the action is in North Yorkshire
A combination of the writing genius of Alf Wight and the power of prime-time television thrust North Yorkshire into the lives of many families across Britain in the 1970s.
The BBC hit show All Creatures Great and Small became a Saturday evening staple which introduced the county’s landscape, and an interpretation of its characters, to a national audience.
Although the town of Darrowby may have been fictional, that introduction to North Yorkshire was powerful enough to remain lodged in the memory for decades and became an early indicator of the influential power of the screen – both big and small.
Fast-forward several decades and the importance of film and television industry to North Yorkshire’s fortunes has been magnified many times over.
Today, the county is a regular host to cameras operated by the full industry spectrum, from Hollywood to independent television production companies.
So, while it is still big enough news to spark media interest, it is no longer unusual to find actors with the pedigree of Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise in the area, working on tomorrow’s blockbusters.
The list of big-name movies which feature North Yorkshire is already impressive, from Harry Potter to Mission: Impossible and is sure to grow as the county’s reputation in the industry grows.
Some locations are tailor-made for the film industry, of course, with Harrison Ford making an appearance in Grosmont for an Indiana Jones movie in 2021.
The North York Moors Railway saw Goathland Station emerge as Hogsmeade Station for Harry Potter and Pickering Station was used for the 2016 re-make of Dad’s Army.
While it may be gratifying to see the county’s glories portrayed on the big screen or television, there are many other tangible benefits.
As the film industry grows, it creates a whole new range of opportunities for skilled workers in the county.
That has already helped many, and will assist more in the future, to find professional employment in areas beyond North Yorkshire’s historic agriculture and rural industries.
According to Screen Yorkshire, the organisation established to promote the industry across the wider Yorkshire and Humberside region, in just three years between 2015 and 2018, numbers of jobs in the sector grew by more than 80 per cent.
It is now estimated to account for 12,000 jobs in the region. While that includes the other Yorkshire counties, it is a remarkable contribution to the economy.
Screen Yorkshire works to promote the region, its filming locations and its workforce within the industry and North Yorkshire is an important element of that.
It helped in the early years of Yorkshire Studios, based on the old RAF Church Fenton site, arguably tailor-made for the job, with former aircraft hangers providing the space needed for filming, with a highly accessible location also making it a tempting prospect.
One of the big-name shows to come out of Church Fenton was Victoria, the ITV show about Queen Victoria, which ran to three series.
Today Screen Yorkshire acts to promote all such businesses and has taken a leading role in ensuring a workforce of skilled specialists is available.
That includes working in conjunction with many universities and colleges in both North Yorkshire and the wider region.
Its Connected Campus initiative aims to help students looking to find a way into the industry by bringing employers and the education sector together and Screen Yorkshire also ensures other vocational courses are available, producing candidates with the knowledge and skills to give the region the most talented and versatile film and TV workforce in the country.
Chris Hordley, who is responsible for production liaison and development at Screen Yorkshire, said: “We are often the first port of call for production companies.
“It is really important to our regional economy. It is not a conventional industry, which is why we do what we do. Our team are from an industry background.
“Filming in Yorkshire doesn’t happen by chance, there is a lengthy decision-making process.”
Important factors in that include finding the right locations and crews with the best talents.
“We have a great diversity of locations in Yorkshire and a film-friendliness from the local authorities,” he said.
“You can only have a flourishing industry with the right skills and we need new people joining the workforce, including local young people.
“We want to bring in people from diverse backgrounds and make a really healthy workforce and we have a great track record in terms of skill delivery.
“There is a big gap between what happens in the classroom and in the industry; it is about getting professionals in for masterclasses and getting students out on set.”
The benefits to North Yorkshire do not stop when the cameras stop rolling, because the county’s on-screen profile also helps to draw in visitors.
Enthusiasts who enjoy the films or television programmes are often keen to see at firsthand the locations they recognise from the screen.
That means additional overnight stays, spending in restaurants and footfall in shops as a secondary benefit.
It can also help to support visitor attractions like the heritage railways, which have stations which frequently attract interest as historic film locations.
The opportunities for future development of the industry are highlighted by proposals for a new screen industry campus, near Barrack Bank at Scotch Corner.
A decision has yet to be made on whether it will be granted planning permission, but if it went ahead, it would include six soundstage buildings, with the potential to create up to 300 jobs, including some for those with production skills.
North Yorkshire Council’s executive member for culture, arts and housing, Cllr Simon Myers, said: “There are many good reasons North Yorkshire is being chosen so often for film and television recording.
“But the reason we are attracting so much attention goes beyond just the geography.
“North Yorkshire is keen to welcome the film industry and there is a growing market of specialists able to fulfil the industry’s needs.
“That should help to ensure the industry continues to thrive and provide our communities with alternative employment opportunities, as well as keeping our profile high both nationally and internationally.”
The lasting appeal of All Creatures Great and Small is proven by the decision by Channel 5 to revive the show, with a new band of actors and a channel-swap for a 21st Century interpretation of the Herriot stories.
Grassington finds itself with a starring-role, thinly disguised as Darrowby, and is no doubt bringing fresh cohorts of visitors to the county.
They will follow in the footsteps of many others, keen to see for themselves the locations for some of the country’s best-loved shows, like Heartbeat, which also capitalised on North Yorkshire’s charm to help secure its long-term television success.