We of the West Riding - The Life of a Typical Yorkshire Family

'A young Yorkshireman describes the life led by his family, who all work in the great woollen mills of the district. Their work is shown and their recreations, which include football, music, amateur theatricals and cycling over the beautiful countryside. They all love singing, and the film ends with the annual performance of Handel’s Messiah which is traditional in the West Riding.' [1]

Date: 1945
Duration: 21:05

Director: Ken Annakin
Production Company: Greenpark Productions
Producer: Ralph Keene
Cinematographer: Peter Hennessy
Composer: Leighton Lucas
Narration: Norman Shelley
Editor: Julian Wintle
Sound Recording: W.S. Bland
Script by: Phyllis Bentley [2]

Length: 35mm:1975ft. 16mm: 790ft.

Distributor: M.G.M.
Produced in association with the Film Producers Guild Ltd.
Western Electronic Recording at Merton Park Studios.

Yorkshire is divided into three areas, or ‘Ridings’, and it is the West Riding which becomes the focus of this 1945 film. Exploring the mill towns and textile industry within this area of Northern England, the film examines the structure of family life away from the British capital. Observed through the eyes of a little boy, he recounts visiting his family members who are all employed in different sectors of the local cloth industry. Much attention is paid to the dramatic rural landscapes and moorland that have become the focus for some of Britain’s most renowned works of literature, including Wuthering Heights and other novels by the infamous Bronte sisters.

This film is designed to show the solid community bases in all areas of the country and not just in the capital. This could be seen as a complementary film to Ken Annakin's London 1942, making sure that Britain is not depicted as ‘London-centric’ and values as well the diverse contributions to Britishness supplied by the far reaches of the country. It is a way of showing these differing areas in a positive light, diverting away from an idea that rural areas are somehow regressive. Highlight the fact that even though country lifestyles are perhaps different to those of people living in larger cities, there remain core values predicated on the importance of family, community spirit and supporting a greater ideal of Britishness.

It appears that the production of The Importance of Being Earnest seen in this film was being put on by the Halifax Thespians in 1944-45. This society also likely provided the actors and actresses playing various family members due to the war (see below). The script-writer for We of the West Riding, Phyllis Bentley, appears to have been the president of the Halifax Thespians at the time of production.
[Sarah - 29.06.11]

Still from 'We of the West Riding' - Taken from 'Films of Britain 1947-50'
'The Coldwells were selected to portray a typical Yorkshire household working in the textile industry as World War Two came to an end... The family - Albert, Ethel and three of their children, Ivy, Eva and Kenneth - became the ‘Sykes family’ in the film. The couple, who were both mill workers, had eight children altogether but five were away at war, so members of local amateur dramatics groups stood in for the rest of the brood. Mr Coldwell, who had always wanted to keep pigeons, got his wish as Mr Sykes and is shown in one scene releasing his beloved birds from Halifax railway station.

Also included in the movie is footage of the Black Dyke Mills Band and the finale features the Huddersfield Choral Society and the Holme Valley Male Choir singing the Hallelujah Chorus.

It is now 65 years since the film premiered at Bradford’s New Victoria Theatre in 1946. In an interview in in 1992, Ken Coldwell, then 71, said: “People used to gather round while filming was going on and watch what was happening. It caused quite a stir.” Eva, then 64, added at the time: “I felt just like a film star. Our mother had no hesitation in agreeing to the film and my father was pleased because he got to keep his pigeons. “We all enjoyed it and still watch the film when we get the chance - it seems like something from another world now.”' [3]

We of the West Riding
Certificate: U
Distributors: M.G.M.
Producers: Greenpark Productions
1970ft / 22mins
Glimpses of the life of a Yorkshire family. [4]
  1. ^ Films of Britain - British Council Film Department Catalogue - 1946
  2. ^ Phyllis Bentley (then-president of the society) produced a shore history of the Halifax Thespians, whose production of The Importance of Being Earnest can be seen in the film, some time after 1948. The Story of the Halifax Thespians: 1927-1948 can be viewed here:
  3. ^ Halifax Courier; 29.06.11
  4. ^ New Short Films Issued between December 18 and January 20 [1945-46]
    Index to Vol.13 / No.s 145-156 / 1945-46
    Monthly Film Bulletin of the BFI