Author and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg shares experiences of growing up in Cumbria

  • Watch the full interview with Melvyn Bragg.

Broadcaster and author Melvyn Bragg has been a familiar figure on tv and radio for half a century.

But, at the age of 83, he recently presented his final editions of his long-running arts programme The South Bank Show.

He grew up in Wigton, and used it as the setting for many of his books. He spoke to ITV Border about those vivid memories of his childhood in Cumbria.

Melvyn said: "Yeah more time to get back to Cumbria, more time on my hands yes. The South Bank Show was a big haul.

Melvyn Bragg grew up in the Cumbrian town of Wigton. Credit: PA

"I started doing the South Bank Show 46 years to the month. I started making the programmes because I knew we were going to go on air on 8 January, so I had to get some programmes under my belt, so I got Paul McCartney, the Royal Shakespeare, the Berlin Ensemble, Dennis Potter, lining them up so we could start and keep going."

Melvyn says that he did not believe the show would be ongoing for so long.

He said: "After the bad reviews in the first 2-3 months I didn't think it would go on for a year."

Melvyn has fond memories of growing up in Wigton. He believes that the town is still recognisable from his childhood.

He said: "They've hollowed out the middle, all the little streets round the middle Water Street, Church Street and places like that - which I regret because it had a medieval feeling about it, all those little back alleys.

Melvyn Bragg received a Fellowship award at the BAFTA's. Credit: PA

"There's still enough though. Yes the structure's still there. What isn't there are my best friends, who were and continued to be my best friends until my death from when I was four years old. They're gone, they've been dying, dying, dying, that's not good, that's no fun."

Melvyn still has fond memories of the town in the 1940s and 1950s.

Sharing these experiences in his childhood, he said: "I remember it in great detail, I don't quite know why I remember it in great detail, but I do.

"My dad was away in the war so my mother looked after me, she had a job in a factory at that time making clothes, she made button holes. And as soon as she got married to dad she was fired, those were the good old traditions, and she'd clean people's houses. And I went round with her in the holidays.

"We lived in a two-up two-down at the bottom of Union Street and then we moved to what was called a council house. It was a fairly substantial house that the council had bought and various families lived in it.

Melvyn Bragg at the BAFTA's in 1984. Credit: PA

"My mother was illegitimate, and she had been fostered there, so had other people who stayed in the house, there was another family who lived in the house, so it was quite a community in the house itself. It was very busy in that sense.

"Uncles, I called them 'uncle', they weren't my uncle. I called them 'aunts', they weren't my aunts. 'Cousins' who weren't my cousins. It doesn't seem to matter very much. It was all very vivid.

"Council House Yard just off station road which is still there, that's where the people in Station Road hung out their washing, so there were these sheets, these ghostly sheets, you could dodge in and out of them. The fire station was there, which was very exciting, when the hooter blew the guys got on their bikes from the factories and went down there."

Melvyn throughout his career championed the arts. He believes that Cumbria can improve on cultural opportunities for residents.

Melvyn Bragg presented his final episode of the South Bank Show. Credit: PA

He said: "I don't think they do, but it's not their fault. It's a very thinly populated area, and to have a cultural mass you have to have audiences, you have to have not just audiences, regular audiences.

"They come and support this theatre regularly, that choir regularly, and that isn't easy to engender in a small place. But yes Sheila Fell, all sorts of people coming out of Cumberland, I think it holds its own."

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