• Neil Ritchie

Ken Loach bought me Fish & Chips

I admired Ken Loach the movie director since he made the famous Barnsley film, Kes. I was taught at school by Barry Hines, the writer’s Brother. Ken Loach made many down to earth films including Cathy Come Home, Looking for Eric and Carla’s Song. In 1979 he made a film called Black Jack. Set in Yorkshire in the 18th Century, maybe because people in Yorkshire sounded like they were from the 18th century, the film followed children’s adventures alongside an escaped ‘ruffian’. I auditioned for the part of Tolly, the kid who helped Black Jack escape. I didn’t get the part. I got to the last 2 and a classmate Stephen Hirst got the final role. I remember listening to Ken in fascination having filmed what was for us Barnsley folk a classic film in Kes. He even treated us to lunch, well actually Fish & Chips at the nearest chippy to the Queens Hotel in town where the auditions took place. The whole experience was fantastic despite not getting the ‘lead’. I was offered a small part. My scenes of the hanging were filmed in York. I often look out for the area when I'm in town. So 38 years later i tell my 17 year old son the story. Of having fish and chips with a major artist. He thought i might have played a tree but i didn't. I found the DVD on Amazon. I needed to prove to him i wasn’t a tree. I ordered it and with a BBQ pizza sat him down to watch. I froze the screen at the scene i was in. He was amazed i wasn’t a tree and even more amazed to hear i was paid £4 for the privilege. Hey £4 in 1978 wasn’t bad. I bought an album by The Tubes, Called ‘What Do You Want – Live’. Every time i hear the track ‘white punks on dope’ i think of the film that earned me the cash to buy the album. Leon Garfield wrote Black Jack, but Barry Hines wrote many stories close to our Barnsley hearts including the play, ‘The Price of Coal’. Barry was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2009. Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease where many don't accept they are ill including Barry. There is a common theme here in that many people struggle to understand what its all about and awareness is important. My Mother suffered the same way and after escaping from her care home on many occasions starting a Police helicopter search you tend to realise it affects more people than the one who is ill. This is why Barnsley Independent Alzheimers and Dementia Support (BIADS) has been an important charity for us. Barry Hines died in March this year. But nostalgia can be funny and we will remember Barry for his writing for the working class. When i watched my scenes in ‘Black Jack’ i thought i looked ok in a three cornered hat, long beige coat and neckerchief. You couldn’t really see my long stockings, heeled / buckled shoes and blackened teeth but hey still looked better than a tree. Ill keep the DVD for posterity and a symbol of my first (and last) attempt to reach Hollywood and wonder whether they are memories to cherish or forget!


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