I love this
place. I have
Harry Gration is no ordinary journalist. In fact, most people wouldn’t describe him as a journalist; he’s more of a friend. Harry has been broadcasting for the BBC for 40 years, including sports commentary, local reporting, presenting. And for the most part he’s stayed up North. He’s a true Yorkshireman. “I love this county,” he says.
Over the last few years, he’s been a familiar presence on the Look North sofa, as well as the streets of Leeds. Many people will have seen him covering local events in Leeds and Yorkshire. Some will remember his reports from disasters such as the Leeds Market fire of 1975, the Bradford City fire ten years later and the recent floods all across the county. As well as reporting on the news, he also cares deeply about people. His charity work has been almost as important to him as his journalism.
To every story and interview he brings heart, integrity and charm. Harry is now 70 and has had an eventful couple of years. In 2019 he became a father again and this summer he found himself in hospital with pneumonia. Luckily, he came through it, even when Covid-19 was a huge risk. He retired from his BBC work in October so we thought it was the ideal time to get Harry’s thoughts on his long career and how he feels being an older person.
Try and break the habit -
which we all do – of associating
ageing with negative things & youth with all good things
You retired from BBC Look North at the end of October. How did that feel?
I’ve had nearly 40 years presenting. It has been my life. It was a difficult decision in one sense but easy in another because they were moving down from two presenters to one. My co-presenter Amy is a young lady with a family – and I’m not. So, it was a logical time to step down. And, as I hit my 70s, it felt right. The surprising thing was the amazing reaction. Thousands and thousands of messages. I received hundreds of cards to my house in York, half of which I still haven’t got round to opening. Well-wishes all along the line. To me, that was a lovely way to bow out. I realised that there was a real affection out there. It was very humbling. I’ve always regarded presenting Look North as a privilege and I had that privilege for a lot longer than many people. And I say thank you to the viewers at the same time as they’re saying thank you to me for what I’ve tried to do over the viewers.
A lot of our readers have a lot of regard for you – they feel like they know you.
I’ve noticed this for some time. My wife drew my attention to it initially! Certainly, over the last 5 years. I’ve had a simple philosophy: I’ve tried to give something back to society, having had a good life out of the media. And I think that may well have come through in my broadcasts. I’ve always tried to be fair. I’ve never been one of those aggressive interviewers you see on TV now. It seems that you’re supposed to really rattle people and get toe-curling answers. I’ve never been one for that. I think one of the reasons that perhaps people do relate to me is that whenever I’ve covered a story, I’ve really owned the story and it’s become very personal. Floods, for example. The Jo Cox murder. They’re not just any old story to me, they are like an assault on “my Yorkshire”. It’s very personal.
You have an affection for this area, don’t you?
I love this place. I have a particular affection for Leeds. I lived there for many years. I very much embrace the work that Leeds City Council is doing. Leeds is a welcoming city. It welcomes all kinds of different people, all kinds of persuasions. And it has that umbrella of support when people arrive. I do think that makes Leeds a bit special. The Council may have many problems, but it is a caring council. Leeds is a very genuine place.
I did have a stint down South. I was in Southampton for four years in the nineties. I presented South Today
down there, which was a great experience. At that time, I was doing a lot of work for BBC Sport – Grandstand
and Match of the Day. But I do enjoy my life in Yorkshire. I love Yorkshire. I’m very proud of this county and that’s why when bad things happen in our county I feet upset for it. I feel upset for the people. It’s a genuine thing too. It’s not manufactured. In fact, I got told off by my boss many years ago for making a story too personal! A few years ago, I was covering the floods in Leeds, Hebden Bridge and York. The floods came on Boxing Day. Terrible floods all over the county. I went in the next day and said, “we’ve got to do something about this.” I thought we could set up a charity to help get all these houses repaired. If myself and my co-presenters did a sponsored walk I could raise thousands of pounds. I mentioned this on a local radio station and my boss told me off. He said, “You can’t do that kind of thing, we’re not allowed to do it – you should know that Harry!” Of course, I did. But I’d got carried away by the story, that it happened at Christmas, these poor people without a home.
You were in the middle of other big news stories in the area over the years. The Bradford City Fire for instance.
Yes, the Bradford Fire hit me on a personal level. Some friends of mine were lost in that fire. That was the first indication of how a news story affected me. I couldn’t regard it as “just another story”. My editor actually
took me off that story, he said I was too emotionally involved in it. He was probably right. When you are associated so much with an event, it’s very difficult not to be affected by it. I’m a very emotional person. As you’d probably know if you saw my last Look North appearance. I was a gibbering wreck for about 30 minutes!
I would never have been any good as a network news reporter, going from one disaster to the other. It took me a long time to get over covering the fire and the floods. I feel for people. As a journalist, you are encouraged to become desensitised. But that’s just not me. Someone said the trouble with me is that I’m too soft. I had a surprise chat with Michael Parkinson in my last week. They got him on the line – and I just burst out crying. Parky’s been a great pal of mine over the years. It was a great chat between two experienced guys who’ve been through the ups and downs of life.
You mentioned working at Grandstand and Match of the Day. What are your favourite sports memories?
I was very lucky. I was Sports Editor of Radio Leeds from 1978. I covered Leeds United and Yorkshire Cricket. So, my encyclopaedia of sporting memories is quite significant. For me, the highlight was going to the
European Cup Final in 1975 when Leeds United were there. The result wasn’t so good though. I do have a story about Brian Clough. Clough was appointed Leeds United manger after the great Don Revie and he only lasted 44 days. At the time I was working as a teacher up the road. I was called by the BBC Sports Editor, who said, “Harry, you’ve got to get up to Leeds United - quick as you can - because Brian Clough is about to be sacked!” So, I got on my Honda 50 scooter with my tape-recorder. I got there and saw Brian Clough moving from one side of the car park to the other, on his way to the manager’s office. I ran up with my tape-recorder
and said, “Brian, can I have two words for Radio Leeds?” And ... I got them. I’ve still got his response on tape somewhere!
We’ll leave it to our readers to imagine what those two words might have been! Time to Shine has an Age Proud campaign to combat ageism. How do you feel about getting older?
Well, I am older. I’m in my 70s now. I’m no spring chicken. To be honest, there have been people who have been pretty horrible about my age over the last couple of years. Sending anonymous letters being nasty and vitriolic. That upset me. When people say horrible things about your age it does have an impact. So, there is some ageism.
I always intended to leave the BBC when I felt I was still in a good place, in terms of my professional ability. Once I started to think of my ad-libs 12 hours too late, then it might be time to move on. I wanted to be functioning properly. I know I was on pretty good form towards the end. So, age didn’t come into it. Age only becomes an issue when it starts to affect you mentally or physically. It never has done for me.
I accept that, yes, I’m 70 now. I’m lucky because I’ve got a little child and my wife is incredibly supportive. My little son is 14 months old now. He kept me sane in lockdown. But I’m a better parent now I’m older. I’m still a grumpy so-and-so at 3 in the morning! But I’ve also got two older twin boys, they’re 17 now. They are adorable and they love the little one too. It’s joyous. But being a parent of a baby when you’re 70 isn’t for everyone. It’s something to do with my wife’s determination. She’s a nursery owner and has a great love of children and babies. She wanted to go down this route. I can’t tell you how satisfying it is. It’s wonderful! I hope I have a few more years to enjoy life best I can.
How are you going to spend your retirement?
Harry completing his charity 3-legged walk with weatherman Paul Hudson. So, I hope that continues in some way. But it’s time to move on and make room for other people. I’m not actually watching Look North. I thought I’d give it a break for a while – at least until Christmas. I’ve tried to be a decent person who people can approach off the television screen. And have a chat. It’s lovely and humbling to know I might be missed.
I’m going to be doing a lot of charity work. I’m heavily involved with a number of charities. Various hospices and cancer charities. I’ll have more time for them now. I’ll do different things in the media. I’m just turning away from news broadcasting as much as possible. Some commercial opportunities. But I’m also going to be watching a lot of cricket. I’m determined to and watch Yorkshire play. There’s a couple of grounds I’ve never been to – I’m hoping to visit them this year, if I’m allowed to with the current restrictions. I’m going to enjoy life as much as I can for as long as I can, so long as I’m lucky enough to be alive.
Happy Christmas Harry!
You too, I wish all your readers a very merry Christmas. I’m very thankful for people’s support over the years. It’s very gratefully received. Thank you.