Dear Reader - Fightback for town centre shops + I apologise to John Craven

A personal column by the Harrogate Advertiser's Graham Chalmers

Friday, 15th November 2019, 11:28 am
Updated Friday, 15th November 2019, 11:28 am
Sorry John - Well-known BBC broadcaster John Craven of Newsround and Countryfile fame who started his journalistic career at the Harrogate Advertiser.

If the jam-packed cafes were anything to go by last Saturday afternoon, the festive season has truly arrived in Harrogate.

It was good to see the town centre looking so busy.

Not that that will stop the complaints.

The only thing which matches the number of shops lying empty is the number of groups now calling for something to be done about it.

So far, it has been a case of more talk than action but it would be wrong to take this as a sign of the town being hopelessly divided.

If you take a look at the various surveys into public attitudes on Harrogate town centre over last two years, including one carried out by this newspaper, there is usually agreement on most of the ideas floated for supporting the town's retail sector.

That is, except for the heated debates over free parking and pedestrianisation.

In any case, things may finally be starting to happen in the fightback to revive the town centre.

Harrogate Business Improvement District is becoming increasingly active and Harrogate Borough Council recently drafted in marketing company Thinking Place to pep up the town’s marketing.

Anyone who cares for the future of the town centre could do worse than heed the words of Chris Ramus, the Harrogate independent businessman who his week emerged from retirement to call for businesses to take their own steps to prosper and stop blaming everyone else.

As he built up one of Yorkshire’s most famous seafood shops from absolutely nothing, he should know.

Everyone has to start somewhere and John Craven started here.

By that I mean the Harrogate Advertiser or Ackrill Newspapers, as it was known then in the 1960s at a time when typewriters were the cutting edge.

Now, I wasn’t there for John’s arrival in Harrogate 50 years ago but I was for his brief return 30 years ago. Was it really that long ago?

I still remember the day this familiar face on our TV screens popped back into the Harrogate Advertiser's old offices at the bottom of Montpellier Parade which is now the Slug Lettuce bar.

It was 1989 and John had come to say hello to an old colleague of his (and a then new one of mine), the late Rod Palmer, a larger than life character I still miss all these years later.

They talked of the days in the 'swinging Sixties' when they were both young reporters and Ackrill’s had its own fleet of little vans buzzing round the streets of Harrogate.

At one point Rod alluded to some shenanigans or other which did or didn’t take place in 1966 involving one of the vans.

John didn’t seem much interested.

Anyone who has read his new book Headlines and Hedgerows: A Memoir will know the man who has been a reassuring presence on the BBC is a bit of a straight chap, nice but serious.

As the two ‘old’ guys chatted, we younger ones began to get bored sitting there as their stroll down memory lane went on.

Journalists have to live on their wits a lot of the time and aren’t known for their patience.

The final straw came when the man who first became famous with John Craven’s Newsround misremembered a Harrogate street name, Cold Bath Road, as “Cold Harbour Road.”

I think we might have taken the mickey a bit in response.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned since that brief encounter 30 years ago, it’s this: I wouldn’t behave like that now.

Sorry, John.