Residents of Craven have something else to smile about. A new Office for National Statistics survey of the nation’s wellbeing has concluded that the district in the southern Yorkshire Dales – which encompasses Skipton – is the happiest in the UK. The local council’s chief executive suggests that the award recognises Craven’s “beautiful countryside, brilliant schools, amazing communities and warm and friendly people”. It’s only two years since Harrogate – also in Yorkshire – was named as the UK’s happiest town, so is the northern region really the country’s most amazing place to live?
As someone who has lived in Yorkshire all my life, it would take bulldozers to get me to out. It’s not dubbed “God’s own country” for nothing. That beautiful countryside has inspired artists from Turner to Henry Moore. One thinks of the breathtaking views in Nidderdale or Swaledale or the natural, sublime serenity of David Hockney’s favoured Yorkshire Wolds. The historic architecture surely rivals anything in London: there are bleakly ruined abbeys and castles, ornate York Minster, and Castle Howard, where Brideshead Revisited was filmed.
Sometimes, it feels as if Yorkshire even has its own language. My dear late uncle Frank – a pit deputy in Normanton – practised this in its purest form. “Do it thee sen” and “Get thee down t’snicket.” I could listen to him for hours, even when I didn’t have the faintest idea what he was on about.
There is an image of Yorkshire that persists: flat caps and whippets, dark Satanic mills and the Yorkshire Ripper, the harrowing darkness depicted in Ossett author David Peace’s books. I’ve never worn a flat cap in my life, and my only whippet was a cross. But while you can find darkness anywhere – and the recent Rotherham child abuse case is as bleak as it gets – this is a place I no longer recognise.
The Yorkshire I love embraces community and cultural diversity, from the Leeds West Indian Carnival – one of the oldest such event in Europe – to Bradford, curry capital, to the Chapeltown-based Phoenix Dance Theatre and Opera North.
Yorkshire has always been a cultural colossus, the land of JB Priestley, Alan Bennett and Brian Blessed, three Brontë literary giants in one Haworth house, Bond film composer John Barry, Ian McMillan and Barbara Hepworth, Ted Hughes and the Grimethorpe Colliery Band.
Philip Larkin came from Coventry, but produced his finest work in Hull. Great Yorkshire-made TV and cinema stretches from Kay Mellor’s Band Of Gold and Sally Wainwright’s Happy Valley to the films Rita, Sue and Bob Too and Ken Loach’s mighty Kes. Is there a more definitely Yorkie scene than the one in which Barnsley’s Brian Glover coaches school football with magnificent brutality (“Who do you think you are, [Billy] Bremner? … Casper, get back in that goal!”)?
As someone who has written about pop music from a Leeds council semi and now a rural village for years, I’m often asked, “Why did thee never move to London?” Once I’ve asked offenders to scrub their mouths, I tell them that everything I need is here, bands and venues. Yorkshire has produced the Human League, ABC, Def Leppard, Pulp, Arctic Monkeys, Richard Hawley, bleep pioneers LFO, agit-rockers the Gang of Four and more recently Bolton upon Dearne’s the Sherlocks and grime music in Hull. Even David Bowie’s feted Spiders from Mars were from Humberside. Kaiser Chiefs may not have quite the cultural impact of a Beatles or Oasis, from the wrong side of t’ Pennines, but Leeds’ finest did take the phrase “I tell thee” into the Top 10.
The decline of Yorkshire sport from its 1970s dominance of football, rugby and cricket – when Leeds United’s televised 39-pass humiliation of Southampton led a nation to hate “Dirty Leeds” and the Yorkshire Cricket Club of Brian Close, Fred Trueman and Geoffrey Boycott insisted that its cricketers had to be born in t’ county – is documented in Leeds-born writer Anthony Clavane’s book A Yorkshire Tragedy, but boxer Nicola Adams and athletes Jessica Ennis-Hill and the Brownlee brothers have led a resurgence while Leeds United have a chance of being a top flight team again by May.
Many of the best things about Yorkshire are brilliantly random: the West Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Yorkshire puddings, the Knaresborough Bed Race and Yorkshire tea, Thomas Crapper (south Yorkshire-born inventor of the flushing loo), the cycling Tour de Yorkshire, Leeds shopping and nightlife, the city’s Brudenell Social Club venue, Otley pubs, Black Sheep bitter and Copper Dragon ale.
If Yorkshire has an achilles heel it’s that we’re too bloody reserved or stubborn to shout about this stuff. Our much gobbier neighbours wear a T-shirt: “On the sixth day, God created Manchester.” It’s time us Yorkies had our own: “When God created Yorkshire, he was showing off.”
• Dave Simpson writes about music for the Guardian and wrote the book The Last Champions, about Leeds United’s 1992 League title-winning team.