The Clitheroe Prime Minister


The Clitheroe Prime Minister Book Cover

Clitheroe resident Steven Suttie has published his first novel at the website Amazon.co.uk, and the fun and entertaining tale is receiving 5 star customer reviews.

The story is the first modern day novel to be set in the historic rural market town, and it celebrates Clitheroe’s people, its places and the “straight speaking” attitude of the locals.

The Clitheroe Prime Minister is the fun and exciting story of a fictional Clitheroe resident called Jim Arkwright, who is shocked to find that his straight-from-the-hip political views have spread across the internet – and that the British public have overwhelming support for his no nonsense ideas. Within days, the national media have besieged the town in a bid to find Jim and get him to stand as the Prime Minister. The novel is set in the present day, at a time when Britain faces serious challenges with its economy, crime and disorder, youth unemployment and many other social problems.

Steven said “I started writing this last year. It seemed that everybody I spoke to thought that they had better ideas of how to run the country than the government did, and I just started from there. I did lots of research and looked at the issues that are causing so many problems. From there I began creating the lovable, no-nonsense character Jim Arkwright. I wanted to set the story in the Ribble Valley constituency because it really is one of Britain’s finest places, with low high crime, high employment and its a place with tremendous community spirit – all major aspects of the story.”

Steve Suttie Castle Park The Clitheroe Prime Minister

The Clitheroe Prime Minister is a fast paced, exciting novel with lots of laughs along the way. The interesting part is the fact that it isn’t too difficult to believe that such a situation come actually happen. The story could quite easily come true, thanks to the internet age and the manner in which stories, videos and clips get shared around on the web – coupled with the British public’s general apathy for traditional MP’s and politicians. Politics has never been so widely ignored, as election counts average turn-outs under 40% in most constituencies. It was these two facts combined that inspired Steve to write The Clitheroe Prime Minister.

“Although Jim Arkwright is a fictional character, he is very believable because we all know somebody just like him. There is a Jim Arkwright on every street in Britain, in every pub and at every bus stop and these people know the solutions to society’s failures because they are living in amongst the problems, seeing the fall-out from the mad laws and hair-brained policies day to day. Jim Arkwright’s main point is that the government and the Ministers who make decisions on behalf of the British people don’t have a clue what they are doing. Ordinary, working class people would be in a far stronger position to govern than these pampered, sheltered millionaires who enter politics purely for career and ego reasons, according to Jim Arkwright!”

Clitheroe Library

This photograph of Clitheroe Library formed the basis of the books cover, which is supposed to resemble a cartoon vision of Clitheroe town centre with Big Ben included. The author wanted a cover that would capture the imagination of the locals, and tourists too.

000001 Clitheroe CLITHEROE

Steven has set the majority of the story in Clitheroe, with most scenes taking place in well known locations all around the town. “That was the really fun part –I wanted to draw on all the positives of Clitheroe and the Ribble Valley. I’ve  done my best to describe what a very special place this is. Readers from outside the area will certainly be attracted to the town for a visit after reading all about this fantastic part of Lancashire.”

During the day, Steven works for the RSPCA as the East Lancashire Branch Administrator. In order to get the story written, he dedicated two hours per night to his writing. After setting himself a target of writing one chapter per week, the first draft of his book was finished in six months. There then followed several months of editing, rewriting and tweaking the manuscript. The novel has now been launched on Amazon for download onto Kindle readers, tablet computers and even smart-phones. Readers can sample the first three and a half chapters for free.

The book is also available in paperback.

“Although it’s only supposed to be a light hearted “David and Goliath” story about a working class man getting one over on the great and powerful, there are many aspects of the story that are hugely relevant. It won’t be popular with politicians because they get lots of criticism, but I’m very confident that the average, hard-pressed, frustrated person will identify with Jim Arkwright and many of the points that he raises,” added Steven.

STEVEN SUTTIE THE CLITHEROE PRIME MINISTER AMAZON CHARTS NUMBER ONE 1 BESTSELLER POLITICAL HUMOUR LANCASHIRE BB7

On April 2nd 2015 the book reached number 1 in it’s Amazon category of “Political Humour.

This is the books blurb:

“Brilliant fun”

“LAUGH OUT LOUD”

“What a hoot!”

THE CLITHEROE PRIME MINISTER

A funny and politically incorrect satire novel that straight talking folk just can’t get enough of.

IS GREAT BRITAIN ABOUT TO GET A WELDER IN AS PRIME MINISTER?

This is a laugh-out-loud adventure about an ordinary egg & chips eating kind of man, who finds himself accidentally becoming the most famous bloke in Britain.

Jim Arkwright is having a really weird week. After learning that a video of him messing about and talking politics in the pub has gone viral, he finds himself on the radio, wiping the floor with the experts and politicians live on the air. The British public, sick to death of the sleazy, money grabbing, out of touch political figureheads are instantly endeared by the straight-speaking Lancashire man. They love his ideas and his friendly, warm nature.

Jim hears the things that ordinary folk say, on buses, in cafes and down the launderette. Big Jim is a man who is in touch with the public, unlike the nation’s politicians.

The following morning’s newspapers start a campaign demanding that Big Jim should become Prime Minister. But Jim has got a really big job on at work. He doesn’t have any time for all this nonsense.

Can Big Jim be tempted to join the Government? The people of Clitheroe hope so, as the picturesque little Lancashire town has become over-run with media gangs, press trucks, television channels and happy go lucky tourists.

This is a fun, cheeky, exciting and endearing satire novel that readers can’t put down. Britain really has found a new kind of Leader. A working class welder from up north.

DISCLAIMERS…

WARNING: CONTAINS EFFING and JEFFING! Aye, excuse the french.

WARNING: THIS BOOK IS NOT A SERIOUS POLITICS BOOK. It’s in the humour section.

WARNING: IF YOU DO NOT POSSESS A SENSE OF HUMOUR, DON’T WASTE YOUR MONEY ON THIS AWFUL RUBBISH. It’s a load of crap!

The Clitheroe Prime Minister is available now. It can be bought locally at Banana News and Clitheroe books, priced £7.50

You can keep up to date with the latest news and information about the book at the facebook page.

Click here for the Northern Life magazine article about The Clitheroe Prime Minister “Arkwrights Revolution.”

A Video-Promo for the novel is here.

Clitheroe Workhouse 1873 -1930

UPDATE: 2nd February 2017: PREVENT THE DEMOLITION OF CLITHEROE HOSPITAL PETITION LAUNCHED 
002 building siter

Clitheroe Hospital is currently in the process of being rebuilt. Local people will be well aware of the heavy construction site at the top of Chatburn Road where the new, modern building is very quickly taking shape ahead of its official opening planned for 2014. Adjacent to the diggers, cranes and heavy machinery stands the original, historic structure which we know as Clitheroe Community Hospital.

001 hospital frontThe building is still providing a hospital service whilst its successor takes shape in the field next door. An artists impression of the new look hospital is below. Personally, I prefer the original building in the picture above – even though the charming architecture conceals a very dark past.

new Clitheroe hospital

The original stone building needs to be replaced by a modern facility that can better cope with today’s medical demands. Sadly, the existing development does not date back far enough to be covered by a preservation order and its long term future remains uncertain, although it is hoped that the fine 140 year old building will be renovated to create affordable housing.

Clitheroe Hospital Entrance

This solid and rugged Victorian building on the very edge of town was opened in April 1873, but its main purpose back then was not as a hospital. This place was a prison in everything but name – the home to 200 inmates; people that were referred to simply as paupers and imbeciles in a time long before political correctness. Although it wasn’t that long ago in real time, it was an unrecognizably dark and squalid era before the welfare state was introduced in Britain to look after folks who were facing hardship. Its hard to imagine today, but here in Clitheroe in the 1800’s – if you couldn’t pay your way in life, you were taken into the Workhouse, along with your entire family if necessary to earn your upkeep. It was as simple as that.

Poor people have always existed, and sadly probably always will. Today, the plight of our poorest members of society is constantly grabbing the news with headlines about benefit restructures, welfare reform and food banks. But even today, in the hard economic times that families are facing, being poor is nowhere near as distressing and humiliating as it was when Clitheroe Workhouse was built to alleviate the problem locally.Clitheroe Workhouse

History tells us that society has always struggled to deal with the poor. In the 1500’s, under Henry the Eighth’s rule – beggars would be whipped and sent on their way. Communities in places like the Ribble Valley would only have enough work, food and shelter to go around the existing population, so strangers who turned up in the hope of a fresh start were viewed suspiciously. Many of these beggars had become displaced for various reasons, including huge numbers of warriors who found themselves having no purpose left after the Wars of the Roses. These hardy, strong men would find it extremely hard to find a new job in a new place. They would quickly be sent packing, despite many being starving, sick or injured. There simply wasn’t the resources to feed an extra mouth.

Neville St. ClairJust over 150 years before the Clitheroe Workhouse was opened, in 1722 the Workhouse Act was passed which gave Overseers and Churchwardens the power to build Workhouses to house the poor. At that time, the problem wasn’t too bad here in the Ribble Valley and two tiny Workhouses managed to keep up with demand. But as time went on, local churches started to become over run with beggars and scroungers and pleaded with community leaders to help them solve the problem.

By 1836, The poor problem was nationwide, and was rapidly becoming worse as the population exploded due to the Industrial Revolution which was completely changing the face of the previously agricultural north. Action was urgently needed to tackle the issue properly. The problem of vagrants and beggars soon affected every parish of the geographical region that now makes up the Ribble Valley.

Clitheroe Poor Law Union was formed in 1837. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 35 in total, representing its 33 constituent parishes of Aighton Bailey and Chaigley, Chatburn, Chipping, Clitheroe, Downham, Little Bowland with Leagram, Mearley, Pendleton, Thornley with Wheatley, Twiston, Whalley, Wiswell, Worston in the County of Lancaster. In the West Riding of Yorkshire, the parishes consisted of Bashall Eaves, Bolton by Bowland, High Bowland Forest, Low Bowland Forest, Easington, Gisburn, Gisburn Forest, [Great] Mitton, Grindleton, Horton, Midhope [Middop], Newsholme, Newton, Paythorne, Rimington, Sawley, Slaidburn, Waddington and West Bradford.

Clitheroe Workhouse rear

The districts two small Workhouses in Bolton by Bowland and Aighton could no longer cope with the ever increasing numbers of poor people. The problem gradually became worse, and as a result the Clitheroe Poor Law Union began planning a large, purpose built Workhouse to cope with the numbers. The Workhouse building was designed by Jonas J Bradshaw, and took three years to build.

Clitheroe Hospital from gate signs

What we recognise today as Clitheroe Hospital was officially opened on the 21st of April 1873 and it became home for 200 destitute men, women and children. Without a home or an occupation, these “paupers” were forced to work all day, and in return would receive a meal and a bed. The work that took place there centred around the cotton industry. If any Workhouse member refused to work (and some did) they would be dragged by horses to Preston Prison where they would be locked up. The regime really was as harsh as that, and it is difficult to imagine how distressing life must have been inside those walls at the top of Chatburn road, and in the hundreds of other Workhouses throughout the UK just a century or so ago. The only form of entertainment for the Clitheroe inmates came at Christmas time, when the Mayor would visit the poor and spend the evening telling them exciting and fascinating stories about life outside of the Workhouse.

In 1930 the Poor Law system finally ended and most of the workhouses were closed down for good. That year, Clitheroe Workhouse became Coplow View Public Assistance Infirmary – a general hospital for the local population. Eighteen years later in 1948, it became part of the newly formed National Health Service and was renamed Clitheroe Community Hospital.

Overhead Plan of Clitheroe Hospital

This plan shows the site of the existing facility to the left, with the new structure on the right of the picture.

Coplow Staff from Keepers of the House

This picture is taken from F.H. Lofthouse’ “Keepers of the House”  and shows the staff of Clitheroe Workhouse in the 1890’s. This book offers an in depth history of the institution, even including stories about the “inmates.” The link above goes to Amazon, who stock the book, a fine bibliography that was very carefully compiled and written by Frank Lofthouse, the Great Grandson of the first Master and Matron of the Clitheroe Workhouse. The book is also available for loan from the community reference library in Clitheroe.

CLICK HERE to read about Steve’s debut Novel, The Clitheroe Prime Minister

Whalley Viaduct – a Victorian Wonder

Cutting dramatically through the breathtaking rural scenery of the Ribble Valley is a supreme example of Victorian era engineering at its very finest. But this seven million brick super structure is completely upstaged by the spell binding views in all directions, and as a heartbreaking consequence the dignified and noble Whalley Viaduct attracts very little attention.

Whalley Arches Viaduct 1903

For its time, this viaduct was ground breaking, totally ahead of the game. Had this audacious feat of railway engineering been built anywhere else, it might just attract a little bit more attention and affection towards itself, as its younger brother that spans the river Mersey thirty miles away in Stockport does, for example.

Whalley Arches by InkedSandra

But this modest and majestic 49 arch viaduct stands strongly and proudly in quiet splendour, drowned out by an area of outstanding natural beauty that goes on in all directions and for as far as the eye can see. This was not a good place to build anything to be admired since nature had already raised the bar so highly with magnificent sweeping panoramas of Whalley Nab, Pendle Hill, the Forest of Bowland, Kemple End and on especially clear days, views as far reaching as Blackpool Tower to the west and Pen Y Ghent in North Yorkshire to the east. Facing straight ahead is the mesmerising Trough of Bowland and directly behind is the village and the delightful Whalley Nab – a hilly tree lined meadow so tall, pretty and dainty, you could be excused for believing it was a fictional painting. See pic below.

Whalley Nab

But enough about the scenery… Back to the Viaduct. The 605 metre long super structure known locally as Whalley Arches was built by the Blackburn and Bolton railway company, under the supervision of chief engineer Terrence Wolfe Flanagan. Building began in 1846 and was completed in 1850. The line opened on Saturday 22nd June 1850 and the 340 strong work force behind it enjoyed a celebratory party thrown in their honour, which included a ride across their very own arches in a brand new 15 coach train. The local population came along to witness the opening, and twelve men were armed with truncheons at Whalley station in a bid to keep the peace – such was the fervent enthusiasm to ride on one of the trains that “rode through the sky.”

Judge Walmesley and Whalley Viaduct

It’s difficult to believe that a structure so gigantic and heavy has weathered the Lancashire climate for over one hundred and sixty years and still stands so solid and proud to this day. But then again, when the Victorians built things, they were built to last forever. The red bricked viaduct still carries hourly passenger trains from Clitheroe to Manchester and provides passing for goods trains from all over the north and Scotland.

The work of building the structure that was to remain the tallest and longest railway viaduct in Lancashire came as a huge boon for the tiny village of Whalley, three miles away from the nearest market town hamlet of Clitheroe. All seven million bricks that were used in the construction were made in Whalley, formed from clay taken from Hardle common.

The picture below shows the Arches coping with regular flooding as the river Calder swells onto farm land on the banks of the river. Hilariously, the council are fighting to win a legal battle to build houses on this land. What a hoot! Don’t say anything to them will you?

Whalley Arches River Calder Flood Clitheroe

On a more serious note. Tragedy struck when the viaduct was close to completion. Three lives were lost on the 6th October 1849, when two of the arches collapsed during construction. Builders Johnny Forsythe, Thomas Keefe and Charles Harrison were killed. The arches that fell are numbers twelve and thirteen, counting from the Billington end of the structure. A period of heavy rain was blamed for the arches not setting properly when their timber supports were taken down.

So the next time you are nonchalantly ignoring the Whalley Arches as you drive alongside them on the A59, or as you walk carefree in the beautiful countryside all around them – or as you sit on a train that is quietly rumbling across them, take a moment to consider what an extraordinary structure you are just taking for granted!

After publishing this blog, I was told about an excellent video that has been produced by John Whipp, detailing the repairs to the arches in 2011.This is an excellent film which must have taken many months to film. Click here to open it, and thank you John Whipp for putting such a great film together.

CLICK HERE to read about Steve’s debut Novel, The Clitheroe Prime Minister

Hartley Calling Juliet Bravo

Back in the early 80s, one of the most popular Saturday night TV shows on the BBC was Juliet Bravo. The programme regularly attracted 20 million viewers, as the nations families sat down on their brown three piece suites and allowed a very Northern drama to unfold in their front rooms.


The popular characters from Hartley police station dealt with many crimes of varying seriousness throughout the six series that were broadcast between 1980 to 1985. As a young boy, I connected with the show because it was the first TV series that I was allowed to stay up late to watch, and mainly because it looked like it was made down the bottom of our street.

Juliet Bravo was as Northern as a pie butty. Without fail, each episode celebrated the regions industrial landscape with many crimes taking place down by the canal, in a disused cotton mill or at the allotments. Many a petty criminal was chased along the cobbled streets before having their collar felt by Sergeant Beck. My wife bought me a DVD box set of Juliet Bravo, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the nostalgic trip back to 1981 in the North of England. So have my kids. Looking back at the programmes today, the landscape of Hartley has moved on quite dramatically. In fact, Juliet Bravo was filmed during a time of huge regeneration in Lancashire and Yorkshire.

Many of the endless streets of slum housing were in the process of being knocked down, gigantic Mills were being deleted from the horizon, old Victorian schools were making way for modern structures and Fred Dibnah was kept in steady work pulling the giant chimney stacks down. Whoever chose Juliet Bravo’s filming locations was obviously keen to include the run down scenery just before it was bulldozed away for good.

Hartley was of course a fictional town, and the programmes external shots were filmed all over Lancashire and West Yorkshire. Sharp eyed viewers from Bacup were quick to notice that Hartley police station was actually their very own local police station on Bank Street in the Town Centre, which is just about still in operation today.

Over the course of 88 episodes, many small industrial towns were used for filming the series. Burnley, Colne, Accrington, Nelson, Hebden Bridge, Todmorden, and parts of the Ribble Valley featured regularly, painting a very picturesque, but tough image of Hartley. The town had a bustling shopping centre called “the Arndale,” rows upon rows of back to back terraces, breathtaking countryside, plenty of factories and a couple of rough council estates.

Its not hard to understand why Juliet Bravo was such a smash hit, dominating the winter Saturday night schedules on BBC TV. Of course this was a time when choice was limited. We only had 3 television channels in 1981, Channel 4 came on air the following year, greeted with huge expectation from an enthusiastic public.

The basic premise of Juliet Bravo was to follow the newly appointed top cop at Hartley police station, Inspector Jean Darbley (played by Stephanie Turner, above)) who happened to be female, and as a result struggled initially to gain acceptance and respect from her junior male colleagues. From series 3 – 6 Inspector Darblay was replaced by Inspector Kate Longton (played by Anna Carteret, below.)

Juliet Bravo was created to highlight the difficulties that female officers faced in a chauvinistic world dominated by the old boys of the Constabulary. Nowadays its common place to have female police Inspectors. Indeed female officers have risen to the very top job of Chief Constable within many police forces in the UK. The Juliet Bravo TV show can take a lot of credit for this, along with many other social changes that have happened since it went on air.

In 1981 a prime time TV show was capable of educating as well as entertaining its audience, changing social stigmas and challenging established opinions. Many social problems and taboos were dealt with by this programme, offering positive and reassuring advice and guidance to the viewers through the stories that were told.

Nowadays, we are all aware of the facts regarding depression and mental health problems. In 1981, with less understanding and acceptance, problems such as this were not for up for discussion. In one famous episode of Juliet Bravo, a desperate young mother who was suffering from post natal depression convinced the Hartley officers that she had harmed her baby. It was a desperate attempt by her to get help, and it worked. This was the first time that this sensitive subject had been covered in such an emotive and reassuring way. Without doubt, this episode opened the door to a new way of thinking about these types of problems that had previously caused shame and embarrassment for those suffering. The episode had such an impact in challenging stereotypes about depression, a similar story was covered a few series later. It told the viewers that this was normal, and was nothing to feel ashamed about.

Juliet Bravo highlighted and educated its viewers on many crimes and modern problems of the day. No other TV show could manage to tell 20 million viewers of the deadly dangers of glue sniffing, how to deal with rogue callers and show vulnerable women that domestic abuse was not acceptable. It was done with great Northern charm and style, and genuinely helped to change opinion.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom in Hartley. In fact, there wasn’t very much gloom at all. Juliet Bravo consistently provided a conveyer belt of loveable rogues, rotten scoundrels, feckless thieves and denim wearing punks. There were serious crimes such as child abuse, rape and murder, and some not so serious. One episode centred round a young lads bike being nicked. In another, the local chip shop owner was in trouble for keeping a bear in his shed. It was never dull, it was always thought provoking and delightfully gritty.

If you have fond memories of the programme, and you love 1980s nostalgia, the DVD sets are a real treat. Wander down the North’s cobbled streets to a time when community spirit was stronger, when a pot of tea and a chat could solve many of the country’s problems and the Austin Maestro was a dream car.

Let’s raise a northern toast to Juliet Bravo. Put your pie down and raise your brew to one of our finest TV programmes, and the wonderful town of Hartley.

This article first appeared in Northern Life Magazine, June 2011, written by Steve Suttie.

CLICK HERE to read about Steve’s debut Novel, The Clitheroe Prime Minister

Stuart Maconie Interview August 2012

The following is an interview with northern broadcaster and author Stuart Maconie. It first appeared in Northern Life magazine August 2012, by Steve Suttie. If you can’t be bothered reading it… click here to listen to it instead

Its often said that pies have holes in the top of them so that Wiganers can carry 5 in each hand. Obviously it’s not true, but it’s this kind of northern folklore and banter that litters the writing works of Stuart Maconie – arguably one of Wigans finest exports since the meat and potato pie itself.

When he is not keeping the nations music fans informed and entertained with his radio shows, including the daily BBC6 Music afternoon show with Boltons Mark Radcliffe, Stuart Maconie will be found indulging in his other passion – writing.

Stuart has written several excellent books over the past decade, including one of the finest books ever written about the North of England “Pies and Prejudice – In search of the North” which is a first class account of the quirky, often funny, occasionally sad history of our region over the past few centuries.

But its not Pies and Prejudice that Stuart wants to talk about today – it’s his latest literary work “Hope and Glory.” The blurb says “These were the days that made us, and these are the day trips to find them. Should we do a flask? And are you sure you’ll be warm enough in that coat?”

In Hope and Glory Stuart Maconie goes in search of the places, people and events that have shaped modern Britain. Starting with the death of Queen Victoria, to the Battle of the Somme and the General Strike, and on to the docking of the Empire Windrush and Bobby Moore raising the Jules Rimet trophy, he chooses a defining moment in our nation’s story from each decade of the last century and explores its legacy today. Some were glorious days, some were tragic, or even shameful, but each has played its part in making us who we are as a nation. From pop stars to politicians, Suffragettes to punks, this is a journey around Britain in search of who we are.

In writing this book, you managed to grab national headlines after you created a public outcry in Accrington. What have you got against Accy?

To be honest I was a bit disappointed by that, because it wasn’t the people of Accrington that I upset – it was one or two councillors and civic chamber people, the kind of people who always misunderstand stuff. A similar thing happened in Wigan when people were trying to name a pub after George Orwell. The councillors were saying “Ooh he didn’t say very nice things about our town did he? He said how miserable it was!” But that wasn’t what he’d said at all, he said there was a problem in this town and something should be done about it. He wasn’t writing a tourism brochure for the local council. Some people are just very very small minded. In Accrington I was writing about the towns economic problems, unemployed youths, boarded up shops and its connection with the Battle of the Somme. They came back and said “its not all bad, we’ve got a Costa Coffee you know,” which was just so depressing.

So you don’t regret saying what you did?

To be honest the reaction I’ve had from ordinary people who know Accrington and who live in Accrington has been brilliant. My mum told me that Northwest Tonight had taken cameras down and they’d got the Mayor or somebody on TV saying that I’d done them down, but then they went out on the streets and read out the descriptions I’d written to people in the town centre who said “well, he’s right!” I’ve not got it in for Accington, I’ve not got it in for Wigan where I’m from but I’m telling it like it is, a lot of northern towns have had a bad time for years and years and years. But you can’t walk down the street in Accy and see all the boarded up shops and pretend everythings good. It was just one page of descriptions of what its like to walk through the town centre on a Tuesday afternoon, and lets be honest – its not Venice. I think it was a completely fair portrait of Accrington, albeit a very sad one.

You’ve become something of an ambassador for the North with your writing, TV and radio documentaries about the region. But you live in Birmingham, and you work in Manchester. That must be an awful commute every day?

I was based at BBC Birmingham for years and also worked a lot out of the BBC in London, and that’s how come I moved down there. But I also have a place in Cumbria so I spend my time between the two. I have only been at the BBC in Manchester for a couple of years, but I am looking at moving back up north permanently. I’m currently looking at lots of places like South Lakes, North Lancashire, Ribble Valley, or possibly Peak District or out near Hebden Bridge. Theres lots of great places to choose from and I’m looking at them all.

You’ve been described by the Times as a “national treasure” and by Peter Kay as “the best thing to come out of Wigan since the A58” do you have any other accolades that you are particularly proud of?

I’m quite pleased with my Celebrity Mastermind trophy from 2011, for my chosen subject of 20th Century Poetry! It was quite difficult and it was really nice to do something a bit different.

In the new book “Hope and Glory” you have chosen one major event from each decade of the past century that has shaped the UK that we live in today. Of the 10 different events you have covered which was your favourite to research and learn about?

Surprisingly to me, the Suffragettes interested me the most. I went to Emmeline Pankhursts house in Manchester and that was really interesting. I didn’t really know anything about the Suffragettes and I was intrigued to find out how politically forceful they were. I’d thought they were nice, genteel women in frocks – but they were a full on political force and I enjoyed finding out about their roots in Manchester. I also enjoyed going around and finding out about the Queens silver jubilee, pop rock and live aid. I also very much enjoyed working on the chapter about the Empire Windrush and went to look at where various immigrant communities had chosen to live in Britain.

One Chapter I found incredible was about Queen Victoria, and the fact that she was never supposed to become the Queen!

No, she wasn’t. And her Mum tried her best to stop her from getting to be the Queen as well, but she succeeded through force of personality really, she was a feisty kid. In her old age she became a rather dumpy figurehead and that’s generally how she’s remembered. She was the first person in Britain to be called Victoria!

That leads me on nicely to my next question, because what I like most about your writing is that you repackage well known historic stories and brighten them up with fresh new details. For instance, you tell us that Queen Victoria had 8 separate assassination attempts on her life. How do you find such fine, little known nuggets of information?

I go to all the places, and I wander around and talk to people, and a lot of my research takes place in the local libraries. And life has been made easier with the internet these days as well. But with researching you can work all day on a book and not write a single word and you look back and think its been a wasted day. But its not if you found a little detail out that can help you tell the story differently.

I grew up about 6 miles away from Boggart Hole Clough where, thanks to reading Hope and Glory, I have learnt that it was the birthplace of modern democracy. It was the meeting place of the Suffragettes and where the Labour party was formed. But I’d never heard of this place and if you google Boggart Hole Clough, nothing about its historical significance comes back.

No, it doesn’t. Until now this information has been kept in separate places like in the records at the Working Class movement library, which is a fantastic resource for things like that. And you talk to people like the girls at the Emmeline Pankhurst centre and you find out more stuff. But you’re right, it hasn’t all been put together like this before so hopefully I’ve helped with telling that piece of history now, so that’s good. But yes, it does show that google doesn’t know everything, and I certainly wouldn’t trust everything that’s written on Wikipedia!

Your Wikipedia profile is very kind. I saw it last night researching for this interview.

Is it? Do you know what, I try to avoid looking at anything to do with me because even if its nice I feel kind of stupid and a lot of the time I’ll think “that’s not right” and its just best to keep away from any reviews or things like that because its human nature to think “I didn’t say that” and take issue with it.

The Guardian describes this book saying “Copies should be available in every school” which is a brilliant endorsement. But what were you trying to achieve with this, what drove you around the country researching and telling all these stories?

I’m very keen these days on telling peoples histories. I’m getting more political as I get older and I make no bones about that in the book. I say that whilst it’s a history book, it’s a social history book told from my perspective. I hope is not biased, but there are lots and lots of historians, people like David Starkey and Simon Schama and their history books are about Kings and Queens and battles. I’m more interested in how ordinary people have lived and what shaped their lives. I wanted to tell another kind of history, the history of working class people, women, immigrants and their struggles, about strikes and pop music and a whole different kind of history that’s just as relevant – it isn’t about naval battles or coronations or stuff like that, and that’s what drove me on. I wanted to write a short, accessible peoples history of the 20th century, from a very British, very personal perspective as a kind of contrast to the other kind of pomp and circumstance history that gets celebrated all the time.

How are you finding time to do all the magazine articles, books, daily radio show and your TV work?

Good point, when I took on the daily radio show I did ask for a generous holiday entitlement so I could fit the writing in as well. My next book will be tied into a radio series, so that helps. Its called The Peoples Songs, and it will be on BBC Radio 2. Its basically a history of post war Britain told through pop records. But like a lot of people who are self employed I’m always working and I’m happy with that because the day will come when the phone doesn’t ring and nobody wants to ask me anything. So I’ll just make hay while the sun shines!

You have achieved an extraordinary amount in your career. Are there still any ambitions left to achieve?

I’m a big poetry fan, and one day I’d like to take the plunge and have a go at writing some poetry. But I know so many great poets I’d have to be very very sure I’d done it right before I’d dare let anybody see it.

Thanks for the interview Stuart, before you go, I have to test your Northern-ness. So, if you were forced to do something quintessentially Northern right now… what would it be?

Oh that’s an easy one. I’d pop into the nearest Booths and buy a steak and kidney pie!

CLICK HERE to read about Steve’s 5 star rated novel, The Clitheroe Prime Minister