Will Sean Bean star as Knaresborough legend in Blind Jack: The Movie?

One of the Harrogate district's most legendary figures may be set to become the next Poldark.

Tuesday, 29th January 2019, 11:18 am
Updated Tuesday, 29th January 2019, 11:24 am
Bernard Higgins with 'Blind Jack' in Knaresborough.

So far the story of pioneering 18th century road builder Blind Jack has been turned into a beer, a T-shirt, a road sign, a musical and a book.

Now in a project already hailed as a "brilliant proposal" by Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones, plans are afoot to adapt the incredible life and achievements of Knaresborough's John 'Blind Jack' Metcalf for a big budget movie or a TV series.

The man behind the initiative, Bernard Higgins, says an approach has already been made to Yorkshire-born, BAFTA Award-winning actor Sean Bean to take the starring role in any production, although it's early days yet.

But the retired teacher from Knaresborough says if the project succeeds, the colourful life of the flamboyant historic figure, who is little known outside his native Yorkshire, won't just make for an exciting drama, it will also correct a historical injustice.

Bernard Higgins said: "The movie or TV would be packed with action, adventure and romance. But unlike Poldark, John Metcalf was a real, not fictional, character.

"As well as being fiercely entertaining, would correct the lack of a balanced view about his life and achievements and how he survived so incredibly well overcoming his disability. "

The retired teacher's idea for a dramatisation was inspired by celebrations in 2017 for the 300th anniversary of the birth of the man who was the first professional road builder to emerge during the Industrial Revolution.

Having led the Blind Jack Committee and successfully campaigning for a stretch of the A658 southern bypass between the A61 and the Kestral Roundabout in Harrogate to be renamed 'John Metcalf Way', Knaresborough resident Higgins thought it was high time the great man was as recognised as other famous road builders such as Thomas Telford who was buried in Westminster Abbey with full honours.

Despite lost his sight at the age of six from smallpox, Blind Jack went on to develop some of the first proper roads of the early Industrial Revolution, building 180 miles of turnpike road not only in Knaresborough but across North Yorkshire, too.

Born into a poor family in Knaresborough, Blind Jack married the daughter of the landlord of the Granby Inn in Harrogate in a life full of adventure and romance which also saw this skilled fiddler join Cumberland’s army during the Jacobite Rebellion.

He even played played for the King’s son and his entourage one memorable night in Aberdeen before the Battle of Culloden.

But making a movie or TV series about the man who was married in Harrogate and buried in Spofforth churchyard at the age of 92 is no easy task.

The script funding for the first episode alone is likely to cost in the region of £15,000 to £20,000.

But the determined Higgins has hooked up with London-based content consultant and producer Laurence Jones, who has more than 20 years of creative, production and commercial experience across television, digital, live and branded entertainment.

And Andrew Jones MP is among those giving a warm welcome to the project.

He said: "From musician to gambler, trader to road builder, Blind Jack really did lead the most intriguing life.

"It's a brilliant proposal. I can't think of any better way to educate and inform a modern audience about the life of Blind Jack than this."

The project's leader, Bernard Higgins believes Blind Jack's story is fundamentally one about overcoming disability.

If successful, the publicity boost for tourism in the Harrogate district could be substantial.

He said: "This story is not simply one of fortitude, however, of overcoming disability in the most amazing way, but of a truly historic character

"Rather it is the astonishing feats of John Metcalf the pioneer road builder in the North of England from 1752-91 during the greatest Industrial Revolution of its time.

"The implications for our town and district would be immense if film crews came and shot scenes by Knaresborough Castle, Knaresborough Market Place, the River Nidd, Conyngham Hall the Stray and more."