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Wakefield Civic Society

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This Sporting Life - memories

Posted on 23 September 2014 by

We've had a really good response from people who remember the filming of the 1960s classic film This Sporting Life. Many of the scenes were filmed in and around Wakefield - at Wakefield Trinity's ground at Belle Vue, the Dolphin public house, the top of Westgate, and the former Mecca (Locarno) Ballroom that used to stand in Southgate. There are also scenes featuring Richard Harris driving his Jaguar along Leeds Road in Newton Hill, Outwood and Lofthouse - although what purports to be a continuous drive in one direction is actually a series of shots of the car being driven in both directions and with segments of the journey being mixed up. Look closely and you'll see the old County Library at Newton Hill (although closed for many years, the building was only recently demolished in 2014 to make way for a new housing development).

Other scenes beyond Wakefield, include graveyard scenes in Drighlington and a day out at Bolton Abbey.

It seems that the daily pay rates offered to people to come down to the Trinity ground proved very tempting with a number of parents taking their children out of school - or older children skiving off school - at least until the truancy officer caught up with them!

Perhaps this memory, sent by Sandra Hutchinson, best sums up the memories of the day:

During the filming of This Sporting Life I was a teenager living in a back to back terrace house in Belle Vue with my parents and 4 siblings. Don Metcalf lived behind us and Harold Pointon lived lower down our street.

Before filming started a car or van toured the streets of Belle Vue and, using a megaphone, invited people to turn up at the Wakefield Trinity ground on a specific day and time to work as extras in the film. The pay was 10s per person per day plus lunch. My Mum took herself and 5 children to the rugby ground to work as extras. My then youngest sister was in a pushchair, another sister was below school age.My brother and I and yet another sister should have been at school but my mother felt that the opportunity for our family to earn £2 10s per day plus lunch was too good an opportunity to miss. My sister in the pushchair did not get paid but still.....! We all felt it worth missing school for. We were absolutely thrilled to discover that lunch was a Hamburger each: a new American food not widely available in this country. No one we knew had eaten a hamburger before.

I cannot remember our family being as financially well off as we were during those days of filming This Sporting Life.

Unfortunately, things came to an abrupt end for the kids skipping school to be "film stars". Half the kids in my school were extras as word of easy money spread. One day the Kidcatcher aka Truant Officer was waiting at the entrance of the ground to send us all back to school. My mum and pre-school kids continued to be extras as long as they were needed.

I am afraid I spent much of the time I should have been cheering and shouting on cue collecting the autographs of stars and film crew as well as the Trinity Rugby Team. That autograph book is still one of my most prized possessions.

Many people got in touch to tell us that the crowds at Belle Vue were not quite all they seem - to help swell the size of the crown, cardboard cut-outs were used. As Keith Megson says:

When This Sporting Life was filmed, I was 17 years old. At the time, I worked at Joseph Rhodes Eng, at Agbrigg, opposite the Belle Vue ground. Prior to filming, they wanted extras. I and others wanted to go but it was not easy to get time off work and we were not allowed to go, so they had to use cardboard cut-outs for the crowd scenes inside the rugby ground which can be seen when watching the film. The filming was good for Wakefield. The place was buzzing; the cast and everyone connected with the film kept the pubs busy in town, the Dolphin in particular.

Peter Hanmer, who was in the forces at the time, was in Wakefield and took part in the filming. One scene was outside the doors to the Mecca. They were meant to be trying to get in and were filmed pushing against the doors, which had been closed against them. However, they pushed so hard that they broke the doors in!

Thank you once again to everyone who contacted us: we're still returning phone calls and adding to the list of memories people have given us.

And thank you to everyone who attended the special screening of the film at the Theatre Royal Wakefield on 22nd September. It was a very good turnout - cardboard cut-outs were definitely not required!



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