1 9 7 4 (UK)
13 x 50 minute episodes
Based on Winifred Holtby’s 1936 novel of the same name, this Yorkshire Television production was voted the Society of Film and Television Arts’ Best Drama Series for 1974.
Beginning in 1932, the series delved deep into the lives of the people of the (fictional) South Riding of Yorkshire in a period of poverty and change. There are new forces at work inside the council chamber, whose decisions are to affect the lives of workmen and gentry alike.
Idealistic schoolteacher Sarah Burton (Dorothy Tutin) MA, B. Lit (Oxon) is a liberated young woman and staunchly Labour. A blacksmith’s daughter made good, she is a free thinker ahead of her time and is not frightened of expressing her views on socialism and women’s rights.
She becomes the headmistress at Kiplington Girls’ High School after returning from London in the first episode and eventually falls for fox hunting gentleman farmer Robert Carne (Nigel Davenport) of Maythorpe Hall.
Carne is of the old school, the uncrowned squire opposing change. But this is the 1930s where the Depression shows no favour to rank and his farm crumbles beneath the crushing economic pressures and his social standing becomes as dilapidated as his barns and outbuildings.
Midge (Judi Bowker) is Carne’s daughter, a neurotic, over-protected girl who takes after her aristocratic mother who is now in a mental home. Unlikeable and unhappy, Midge later comes into contact with Lydia Holly (Lesley Dunlop) – a slum child to whom school is the passport to fulfilment – at Kiplington school. The poorer but brighter Miss Holly and her neighbour do not take to each other . . .
Formidable Mrs Emma Beddows (Hermione Baddeley in a superb performance) is the first female alderman in the county (based in part on Winifred’s mother, Alice Holtby). She loves being a councillor and has made herself indispensable to her community in compensation for an embittered marriage.
Rich bachelor Alderman Anthony Snaith (John Cater) is Squire Carne’s fiercest opponent whose manipulations just manage to stay within the law, but who has a genuine desire to improve his community. He is a lonely man whose only emotional outlet is his love for his cats.
The socialist fire still burns in the belly of Alderman Joe Astell (Norman Jones) but he is also consumed with sickness. The disappointed idealist has travelled widely preaching his creed but now he is slowing down, with his dreams haunted by the painful reality of tuberculosis.
Councillor Alfred Ezekiel Huggins (Clive Swift) would like to follow the way of the Lord but he has a predilection for the way of the flesh. A lay preacher, he works hard as the Pidsea Buttock haulage contractor.
Barney Holly (Ray Mort) is a happy-go-lucky work-shy builder’s labourer who lives in a converted railway carriage known locally as the “Shacks” with a permanently pregnant wife.
South Riding was filmed on the coast of the East Riding of Yorkshire near Spurn Point – the area which Winifred Holtby transformed into her fictitious county. “Riding” means a third part, so there could of course be no South “Riding” – the existence of the North, West and East Ridings precludes a South.
So, on the new map which Holtby carved out for the county of her birth, Hull becomes “Kingsport”; Beverley is “Flintonbridge”; Bridlington is “Hardrascliffe”; “Kiplington” is a combination of Hornsea and Withernsea, and the River Humber becomes the “Leame”.
Eight months in the planning, the production featured over 100 speaking characters in the most ambitious drama production of its type mounted by Yorkshire Television.
Winifred Holtby was suffering from Bright’s disease while writing South Riding and under virtual sentence of death. She did not live to see her greatest triumph, dying in 1935 at the age of 37. The novel was published the following year to immediate acclaim.
Alderman Mrs Emma Beddows
Councillor Robert Carne
Alderman Joe Astell
Alderman Anthony Snaith
Councillor Alfred Ezekiel Huggins
The Powers That Be | A Land of Hope and Glory | Those for and Those Against | A Time to Live and a Time to Die | The Facts of Life | In Sickness and in Health | Dreams and Destinations | Beggars and Choosers | Take What You Want and Pay for It | The Lord Giveth and the Lord Taketh Away | The Number of Our Days | Forgive Us Our Trespasses | Give Us This Day