Julie Hesmondhalgh


by Norman Warwick´

Sixty years ago I was a kid kicking a ball about on a cobbled street, using dustbins as goalposts. There was an Ena Sharples who lived on the street, who wouldn´t give us our ball back when it went in her back yard, and there was an Elsie Tanner type who smiled and waved at all the older lads on the corner as she strutted by. One old codger, Albert Tatlock, would sit out on his donkey-stoned front step reading his Daily Mirror and tell us soft uns to get back up whenever we bruised our knees on our rock hard version of Wembley. I was nearly a grown up by the time Roy and Hayley Cropper moved on to the street, old enough to see them as an embodiment of a growing social awareness and responsibility, borne out of their own struggle to be accepted into a community uncertain of newcomers. Come follow your art down sidetracks & detours as we look at a character who encouraged us to celebrate our differences.  

When our friends Steve and Marlene Bewick came over here to Lanzarote for a holiday in May 2022, Mrs. B brought me, as she always does, a random selection of literature. This included pamphlets and fliers about the arts scene in Rochdale, a town I lived in for fifty years, and which I remember as being a constantly moving conveyor belt of assorted arts goodies. There was a community spirit in a town that was part of the Greater Manchester replicated in the locations and characters of Coronation Street. Indeed, long before I ´retired´ to Lanzarote I was proud to see several successful revenue-funded arts organisations, dance ensembles, circus arts, theatre, creative writing  groups and performance poetry casts accessible to all, and undertaking effective outreach work in the borough. I was amazed when I settled here on an island that, in demographics of area and population and social strata, it is a virtual mirror image of Rochdale and carries the same commitment to working with the arts for the common good, with similar revenue funded arts organisations in place.

Among the papers Marlene showered down on to my desk were some particular pieces that referred to either artists I had known personally whilst working as a writer in Rochdale, and others with whom I feel within the so-called ´six degrees´ of separation,

I was astonished to find a poetry anthology by former colleague, Mike Garry. He and I knew each other as colleagues, each of us being a writer commissioned by Artists In Schools, an organisation that placed practitioners from all  across the arts spectrum. I remember working with Mike on an installation for Bolton Market Halls in that capacity. I also remember that several years after we had moved in different directions and lost touch, he and I found ourselves together on a panel for a public debate put together by Simon Bell (another name in the pieces of paper Marlene had brought me) to discuss ´whether or not poetry is enhanced by the addition of music´).

If any readers out there would like to (very belatedly) add their comments to the discussion please feel free to drop an e mail to normanwarwick55@gmail.com.

As a not for profit organisation, I regret we cannot pay fees, but all submissions will be considered and included wherever possible, and of course, would be fully attributed. You might, therefore wish to include a jpg and brief biography with your Word document contribution.

It was a lively debate, held as part of that year´s Rochdale Literature And Ideas Festival. I´m not sure how alike were Mike Garry´s views and mine on the matter, but my overall recollection is that, in the words of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, we were ´Never Together But Close Sometimes.´ (a poetic song that I always thought worked well with its music !)

Over the next decade I lost touch again with Mike and became so busy as a creative writing facilitator and freelance journalist and occasional songwriter, that I lost touch with Mike´s career. Marlene´s present of his anthology, Men´s Mourning, sent me scurrying to web sites and on line references to see how Mike has been doing.

He has been doing fine, really fine, and I´m ashamed to say I didn´t know anything about it. You can see what Mike has been up to in our article Mike Garry: a poet who knows Men´s Mournings, published recently, by entering his name into the search button at the foot of our 650 archives. 

Also amidst the confetti Marlene Bewick threw at me was a flier about Julie Hesmondhalgh, and on that the actress made reference to her good friend, Mike Garry, in what theorists might consider to be part of ´the alchemy of creativity. Actually, though, most practitioners, it seems to me, consider the process of ´the alchemy of creativity´ to be simply a series of happy accidents.

It was by happy accident that I for a while was within six degrees of separation from this artist because she had once worked and advised a young writer I was mentoring at the time. My friend Louis Brierley was in his late teen years when I knew him and he was a prolifically gifted writer, far more talented than I am, and when he told me at one of our meetings that he was one of a group of aspirant writers working with Julie Hesmondhalgh on a piece about a notorious murder that had since become a cause celebre and, in the hands of writers, an agent for positive change, I was pleased to learn that even at such a young age Louis was using his personal skills for  the common good. 

Julie Hesmondhalgh was born in Accrington, Lancashire, in February 1970. She studied at LAMDA from 1988-1991 and, after graduating, set up her own theatre company, Arts Threshold, with a group of friends. Her TV roles have included appearances in The Bill, the Catherine Cookson drama The Dwelling Place, a care home worker in Victoria Wood’s comedy film Pat and Margaret, Dalziel & Pascoe, Cucumber and the 2016 series of Happy Valley. Her most famous role to date has been as Hayley Cropper in the ITV soap Coronation Street after first appearing upon the cobbles in 1998.

From 2012, Julie worked extensively in theatre, appearing as Sylvia Lancaster in Black Roses: The Killing of Sophie Lancaster (Royal Exchange, 2012); in Simon Stephens’s Blindsided; (Royal Exchange, 2014); in God Bless the Child (Royal Court, 2014); and as Vivian Bearing in Margaret Edson’s Wit (Royal Exchange, 2016). She is a founder member of Manchester-based grassroots theatre company, Take Back, and a member of The Gap collective in Manchester. In addition, she is a supporter of Arts Emergency and a mentor with the National Youth Theatre.

Actor Julie Hesmondhalgh’s working diary begins in November 2016 at the end of a full and exciting year of theatre-making with her company, Take Back. The company is a northern-based collective creating immediate script-in-hand responses to social and political events (of which there were many in 2016). Her work with Take Back fell between filming the third series of Broadchurch for ITV and starring in the award-winning play Wit at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester.

She kicks off as she prepares to start rehearsals for Mike Leigh’s epic film about the Peterloo Massacre of 1819; visits schools and colleges representing Arts Emergency – an organisation set up to promote opportunities for young working-class actors; and awaits news of a possible London transfer of Wit.

The book takes in Hesmondhalgh’s unique experiences of working in film, theatre, TV and radio drama, and through the ups and downs of life as a working actor and producer, while balancing family life. The events described throughout take place against the backdrop of the huge political change and upheaval as Britain votes in favour of Brexit and Donald Trump is elected as US president.

Throughout, Julie Hesmondhalgh considers the impact and challenges of starting a brand new chapter of her career after 16 years in Coronation Street; growing older as a woman in an industry preoccupied by youth and appearance; working with a legend of British film making; running a company; being a parent; experiencing first-hand the huge changes and pressures in the creative industries and arts education; and the lesser-known aspects of an actor’s life post-production and publicity. All the while, she attempts to pass on any knowledge or experiences she might have accrued to people starting out in the business in this fascinating year-long journal.

The work has brought admiring reviews.

“Hesmondhalgh is witty, insightful, self-deprecating and wears her intelligence easily.” ―Broadway Direct

“A real page-turner and eye-opener that will give readers a glimpse of the eclectic life that one working actress / producer has led in order to make ends meet but also make a difference.” ―British Theatre Guide

An Amazon reader in the UK, Cherry Mc, says ´Julie Hesmondhalgh has such an engaging style and writes with such passion and wit that I raced through this and have been recommending it to all my friends, regardless of whether they have any involvement in the arts. Julie’s activism and determination to respond positively even in the face of the most depressing political circumstances make for a genuinely inspirational read, but she never descends into preaching. I suspect I’ll be returning to this again and again whenever I need a shot in the arm.´

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