Why did BBC Radio 4 come to visit the cemetery on Tuesday 29th January at 9a.m?
It is all because Holbeck Cemetery contains Tony Harrison’s parent’s and grandparent’s grave plot.
In case you don’t know, Tony Harrison is a world class poet who became notorious in 1987 for his poem ’V’. The film of the poem was due to be broadcast on Channel 4 but it sparked outrage because of its language and was even debated in Parliament, before eventually, being aired later in the evening.
The poem ‘V’ had been written in 1985 and it tells of his visit to the family grave-plot only to see it covered in graffiti of the worst kind.
Tony Harrison was born in Leeds in 1937 and gained a scholarship to Leeds Grammar School and later attended Leeds University.
Being a working class scholarship boy he is interested in class and one of his earlier collection of poems is ‘The Loiners’(1970)( Loiners are residents of Leeds) where he writes of his anguish of class , family and the struggle to acquire culture.
In 1985 when he visited Holbeck Cemetery it took him some time to locate his family’s plot only to see it daubed with offensive words of graffiti. His poem captures that moment in history where the mining industry and other traditional industries were in decline. Football hooliganism was at its height and lager-swilling yobbos seemed to be taking control.
Portrait of Tony Harrison by Christopher Stevens 1993 (postcard)
Holbeck Cemetery is built above the Beeston seam of coal and Elland Road, the home of Leeds United can be clearly seen from its grounds and all these elements are contained in ‘V’
So Blake Morrison, poet & writer, and Lucy, researcher and sound recorder, came to interview Eve to discuss the changes that have occurred in the cemetery and the area about it since Tony wrote his poem. Some of this discussion will be aired on BBC Radio 4 at 11pm on February 18th just before Tony Harrison reads a new version of ‘V’.
One of the main differences to the cemetery is that the Harrison plot is now easy to find. The Friends of Holbeck Cemetery have had erected two colourful signs at either entrance which guides the public to various points of interest throughout the cemetery. The other difference is there is little graffiti, thanks to the ‘Anti- graffiti team’ at Leeds City Council.
More people come into the grounds to walk about, gaze at the view towards the city, visit family graves, look for family history, take beautiful photographs or just walk their dogs. So it very different since that day in 1985 when it was visited by a poet who was so upset at seeing what had happened to his family’s grave.