Ribble Valley’s women of substance

MEDIA STAR: Louise Hulland
MEDIA STAR: Louise Hulland

WHILST my search last month for local celebrities met with some success, it was noticeable that not a single one was female.

Therefore to avoid accusations of sexism – though it can hardly be my fault that no women from the Ribble Valley ever hit the headlines – this month I intend to focus on the search for our very own “women of substance” and desperately hope that the Pendle Witches are not the only high fliers!

Fortunately the World Championships and Olympics provide an ideal springboard, with the medal success of former Bowland pupil, Samantha Murray, in the gruelling modern pentathlon. However, it is the fields of entertainment, with violinist Gaynor Sutcliffe currently British Country Music’s Musician of the Year, and communications, which have probably proved most fruitful.

Few will have forgotten the abrasive style, gravelly voice and broad Northern accent of Pattie Coldwell – especially as they attracted hundreds of letters of complaint when she moved from regional reporting with Granada to “Nationwide”, “You and Yours” and Radio 4’s “Start the Week”. She even introduced the very risqué term “computer cock-ups” when campaigning for consumers suffering from failures in new technology – and got away with it because no executives were quite brave enough to tell her not to!

When she died of cancer in 2002, aged only 50, she left behind her a hugely impressive curriculum vitae as a talented, fearless journalist with a strong sense of justice. Whether it was the BBC’s phone-in show “Open Air” or DIY programme “On the House”, Channel 5’s interview show “Espresso” or, during her battle against cancer, ITV’s “Loose Women”, Pattie remained the Northerner “with a voice that could de-scale a kettle”, who horrified so many of the “posh” Radio 4 listeners in the 1980s.

Her compassion was best shown in her award-winning BBC One documentary on Aids sufferer, Terry Madeley, “Remembering Terry”, a quality that is clearly possessed by another celebrated local broadcaster, Louise Hulland, who not only won a Sony Radio Academy Award for the Radio 1 documentary about HIV, “Missing the Message”, but also produced the BBC’s award winning HIV awareness campaign “GI Jonny” in 2007.

Another former CRGS student, Louise seems to have worked just about everywhere in her short media career. Clitheroe Advertiser, Burnley Express, Evening Telegraph, Radio Lancashire – here she sharpened her journalistic skills before moving on to BBC radio programmes both local and national, such as BBC London, Devon and Bristol, Radios 1, 2, 4 and 6, though her accent – which would certainly not “de-scale a kettle” – even nowadays has proved a problem.

As she says: “Some people love it, some people can’t see past it and one ex-boss actually banned me from presenting news bulletins because of it.” He surely could not have been aware that not only did she have a degree in Theology, but also that she lived in Read!

As well as a partnership in her own production company, she is extending her television experience by freelancing for ITV and reporting for “Live with Gabby” on Channel 5. She has already produced “Amy Winehouse: Her Life and Legacy” for ITV2 and has interviewed world stars like Roger Moore, Tom Cruise, Michael Douglas, Kylie Minogue and Britney Spears and, to illustrate her dedication to her profession, she even sat her driving test on television!

However, for perhaps the valley’s finest communicator, just one broadcast was more than enough. According to her diary, when faced by an appearance on BBC’s “Northern Bookshelf” in October 1946, “My knees dithered and I feared my teeth would chatter.” Born above a grocer’s shop in Clitheroe in 1906 and latterly Langho’s most famous resident was teacher, lecturer and writer about the Lancashire countryside, Jessica Lofthouse.

As she wrote in “Three Rivers”: “I am glad mine was a Clitheroe childhood. It was a completely happy one, and the only unhappy day I can remember was the one when my family moved to Blackburn. It was May, and I vividly remember the armful of lilac into which my tears flowed all the way during the train journey.”

After she self-published her first book, “The Rediscovery of the North” in 1938, a collection of her articles already written for the Blackburn Times, it took until 1946 for an actual publisher to recognise her talent. With “Three Rivers” and “Off to the Lakes” proving hugely popular, her reputation was finally established, so that when she died in 1988, over 20 books and hundreds of articles had communicated to thousands of readers not only Jessica’s fascination with the landscape which dominated her life, but also the infinite beauty and pleasure that others could enjoy in exploring the many facets of the Northern hills and dales. “At every few steps I had to stop and survey the scene again. I loved it so. With York village left behind us Pendle confronted us, a lion sleeping with the sun playing upon its flanks. Dear old Pendle.”

This sentiment was no doubt shared by another Ribble Valley native who enjoyed an idyllic childhood at Downham Hall in the shadow of Pendle – Bridget Assheton, born in 1926 as the eldest child of Ralph Assheton, first Lord Clitheroe and Financial Secretary to the Treasury. One might assume that her aristocratic background would ensure that communication was no problem, especially as she joined the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art when she left school in 1943, but her work in that field was rather different.

In 1944 the family narrowly escaped a bombing tragedy when a treasure hunt caused them to be late for Sunday service in the Guards Chapel at Wellington Barracks, so Bridget was sent home to the safety of the Ribble Valley. Quickly bored, she volunteered to join the Wrens and was dispatched to Bletchley Park to work in the Japanese hut of the famous Enigma code-breaking operation, where the key was not only communication but also secrecy. In fact Bridget never revealed even to her parents the details of her work and was apparently most unimpressed when news of Enigma finally broke decades later.

The sense of adventure that saw her hitchhiking to London nightclubs from her billet at Woburn Abbey grew and after leaving the Wrens in 1946, she and a friend decided to take only basic provisions – a couple of cotton dresses, powder, lipstick, eyelash curlers – and hitchhike across Africa! Not surprisingly they were greeted with open arms wherever they went and on one occasion, when the fish wagon in which they were travelling broke down, it took the locals five days to get round to mending it!

They sampled the luxury of Lake Kivu in the Belgian Congo – the highest lake in Africa and apparently the Congolese version of the French Riviera – were arrested in Addis Ababa for taking photographs, interviewed Emperor Haile Selassie posing as journalists and, most exotic of all, were entertained to cocktails by the Kabaka of Buganda in Kampala!

After covering 9,500 miles in only four months, marriage in 1955 to Marcus Worsley, MP for Keighley and later Chelsea, then, as Lady Worsley, assuming the responsibilities of a politician’s wife and a member of the aristocracy, may well seem comparatively restful. However, with four children to bring up, her passion for horticulture, founding the Chelsea Luncheon Club and in 1987 her husband’s appointment as Lord Lieutenant of North Yorkshire, she had plenty to occupy her, especially as she always played a full part in local life in Hovingham, the Yorkshire village where her final years were spent until she died in 2004.

As these local celebrities illustrate, whilst women are always keen to highlight their ability to multi-task, it is their communication skills that would seem to be their outstanding quality, though a male view may simply be that they can talk the hind leg off a donkey.

From this evidence there must be quite a few three-legged donkeys in the Ribble Valley!