June 25, 1951 | Filed under:



THE guide to the Leeds Festival of Britain celebrations says that Leeds is a city in which the present over-weighs the past. “It’s vigour,” it declares, “is more noticeable than the intimations of a past age.”

I think these words might also be applied to the celebrations – or at least to that part of them which I was able to see in the course of a few lively hours on Saturday. The motif of the York celebrations was the traditional glories of the past. There were Mystery Plays revived from the dust of four centuries and a Georgian Ball in which the costumed participants danced the minuet.

In Leeds there was none of this. In stead of Mystery Plays there was the University rag-procession, with a mobile atomic-bomb factory exploding its way hilariously down Woodhouse Lane and bevies of Hawaiian maidens pirouetting in The Headrow and threatening very seriously to take policemen’s minds off their business. And instead of a Georgian Ball there was a mammoth display of fireworks in Roudhay Park, with set-piece elephants wagging both their tails and their trunks and set-piece battleships sending up showers of shot and shell. And because it was Leeds it was equally successful. For Leeds, you see, is a vigorous boy, whereas York is a dear old lady.

Something for all

Not, of course, that there was nothing for the more serious-minded in Leeds on Saturday! There were the travelling exhibition on Woodhouse Moor and enough other attractions in the near vicinity to cater for all grades of intellect. A notice-board in the street told you all about them. This way, it said, to the “Army and R.A.F. displays, Road-Safety Exhibition, Fair, National Savings, Lost Children, Red Cross and Fire-Station.” What more could you want?

And even that did not exhaust the possibilities. Over in Roudhay Park there were parachute jumping and a couple of concert parties, and at Temple Newsam there was a performance of “Merrie England.” At Kirkstall Abbey there was the Donna Roma ballet, and in Headingley there was “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” There were a Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra concert at the Town Hall, and a conference about the furniture trade organised by the Yorkshire Council for Further Education. There were so many other things that it would be tedious to recite them.

The fun started for most of us in The Headrow about three o’clock – a strangely gay Headrow with hydrangeas at the top of the street lamps and geraniums at the bottom. And Union Jacks everywhere. A solid jam of people pressed and pushed and peered to catch a glimpse of the Territorial Army parade on its way past the saluting base outside the Town Hall. We saw the stiff and straight young men and the equally stiff and straight young women – and, of course, we clapped the women. We also saw a lot of impressive fighting equipment. A very intellectual smal boy near me gave a highly technical

description of what it all was, but I was far too squashed to make a note of it and so must lump it all together as tanks and gun.

The rag-procession

As soon as it had passed, we set off in a wild scamper for Woodhouse Lane to get our places for the rag-procession which was due to follow so closely on the other’s heels that I suppose we all had secret hopes of their being mixed up. No one in the vast crowd seemd to be satisfied with the place he had got and the result was that we heaved and swayed about the road like a ship in mid-Atlantic. And we all seemed to think we were missing something. I gave up a splendid position behind two short heads in the fifteenth row to find out what a crowd had suddenly collected for in the middle of the road further down. All I could see was a bus with Cookridge on the front of it and a car with “Official” on the windscreen. The prospects of either of them getting anywhere were extremely remote.

The procession made the adults laugh and the children shriek with glee. There were students in almost everything except ordinary clothes rattling collection-boxes, and some of the tableaux revealed rare inventive genius. There were the missing diplomats, The Druids’ Union, a featherbed-farm and the Phoul-harmonic orchestra. There were others too numerous to mention. We all enjoyed them except Arnold. Arnold’s father and mother began arguing as to who should lift him up when the procession came in sight and were still arguing when it went out of it. So Arnold took a very poor view.

On Woodhouse Moor

After it had passed we all dispersed like magic and went our separate ways. I went up to Woodhouse Moor to have a look at the travelling exhibition. There was plenty of room to see things and, from the comments I heard, most people seemed to like it. The biggest crowds collected at the fashion show, the home cinema, the children’s theatre and the model trains. Groups of the more scientifically minded were also showing a keen interest in the gas-turbine engine. Unlike my experience on a South Bank visit, I heard no one complaining that it was above his head.

From that exhibition, by natural progression, to the others around it. I did not see all of them, but of those I did see my top marks go to the Code of the Road, which makes an important subject fascinating. There are cars you can drive yourself and, if you are a Leeds school child, there is a mistake-spotting competition with one of the most original prizes I have ever come across – a ton of wood blocks, delivery charges presumably paid. Instead of

exercising their talents here, however, I regret to say that nine tenths of the children of Leeds were standing in a giant queue near by for the privilege of climbing up a ladder into a Lancaster bomber.

A look in at the fairground, of course, with its lights and its noise and its dust and its apparently unlimited supply of cigarettes and chocolates for the supermen, and its ashtrays and small elephants for the merely brilliant. You have to knock down two coconuts to win one nowadays and a pie with peas costs you 9d. But despite the rising cost of winning, everyone was entering into the spirit of things.

‘Merrie England’

I chose to start the evening at Temple Newsam, seeing the Leeds Amateur Operatic Society in “Merrie England.” I only wish I were a dramatic critic so that I could give this open-air performance the praise I am sure it merits. Here, I felt, the spirit of the Festival was really captured. On the stage scene in front of you were the green trees of Windsor Forest. On each side of you were the real green trees of Temple Newsam gardens. Above the stage towered the so-English outline of the house. In your ears were those familiar songs – “O Peaceful England,” “Yeomen of England” and the rest of them. What matter if your thoughts did keep turning to Persia?

From Temple Newsam another frantic dash across Leeds to Roundhay Park for the fireworks at 10.30 The greatest crowd of the day here. Thousands and thousands of people sitting in squashed comfort together on the banks of the small lake. A buzz of excited talk. The crinkle of fish and chip bags. The shrieks of delighted children, staying up far too late. Some rockets swished and others boomed. We saw some set-pieces perfectly and others were spoiled by smoke. It was a grand display.

And so back into the city – as near a magic city as Leeds can ever be. The floodlit Parkinson building at the University gleaming out into the summer darkness like an enchanted castle. The Civic Hall almost as impressive. In Briggate the flags and bunting rustling in the breeze as though in some fairy grotto. Well, almost a fairy grotto.

It was not a sleeping city by any means. Not by midnight. There were people about everywhere. There were people sitting calmly on the benches in City Square as though it were half-past three in the afternoon. “It’s like London, isn’t it?” I heard a woman exclaim, full of surprise that such night life could exist in her native city.

London, madam, had nothing on Leeds on Saturday.

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