The Hebden Bridge Connection

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Fred DibnahExtraordinary unseen images of Fred Dibnah taking his wife up a 200 foot mill chimney, actually shot by local filmmaker Nick Wilding, precariously perched at the top of it, will form the climax of a rather surprising special event at Hebden Bridge Picture House in October. The event is called, simply, ‘Fred Dibnah Night’. Tristan Haley of Blackshawhead was filming from the bottom at the time of the chimney climb and the event will feature animation by local cartoonist Mike Bryson.

These interesting links between Hebden Bridge and the much-loved steeplejack who died in November 2004, whose popular BBC documentaries stretch back to the 1970’s, are not widely known. At the time Nick was making such popular local documentaries as ‘A Tale of Two Towns’ and ‘Race through Time’, would on other days be sneaking off to film Fred. This was, he says, without telling his wife or anyone else, so that he could go and cling, without ropes, perilously to the tops of mill chimneys, filming the steeplejack at work.

His wife Hebden Bridge chiropodist Jean Wilding says that she is actually quite relieved that she did not know what he was doing at the time! This is film footage that up until now has remained in his personal archive and has only been seen by Fred, his family and friends. He hopes that eventually it will feature as part of a series on television.

Fred DibnahIt was a pivotal moment in Fred’s life, when his second wife had just left him and taken the kids. To add to his troubles, the BBC had just informed him that they would no longer be filming any more programmes, which was why he rang Nick and asked him to take over the reins from the BBC, capturing his life and work.

In doing so, Nick, without realising would be the only cameraman to ever film Fred from right at the very top of the mill chimneys he was repairing. As it happens, by doing so he captured him on the very last steeplejack contracts he ever undertook, as well as recording much else. It’s undoubtedly a very rare opportunity to see some extraordinary footage of the man, never seen on TV or anywhere else.

Of course, we all know that Fred was back on the BBC, some time later, to record his popular industrial and architectural heritage programmes, but his own life at home only featured when it illustrated the engineering involved. This would all be the future, but nobody knew this at the time, which is why Nick calls his series ‘The Lost Years’, the continuing story of his life in the mid 1990’s throughout his courtship and third marriage to Sheila. Sheila Dibnah has since earned for herself a reputation for her charismatic award-winning talks throughout Britain. She personally feels that Nick captured the real Fred, the man she loved, which is why they have been collaborating on these programmes.

When Sheila Dibnah attended Nick’s popular ‘Hebden Royd at the Movies’ at the Picture House, last year, she offered to do one of her talks, to help him fund the restoration and screening of the lost 1920 Cecil Hepworth classic silent movie ‘Helen of Four Gates’. Nick had found this film, the first to be shot in the Hebden Bridge area, in Canada. On the strength of this funding, provided he fills the cinema, Nick is hoping to make it possible to screen it at the HEBDEN 500 Festival, in 2010, the first time ‘Helen of Four Gates will have been seen in Britain for 90 years!

Sheila and Nick have now spent several years editing this material and on Fred Dibnah Night will, they say, combine Sheila’s talks, with anecdotes from Nick himself and some programme extracts. These will include Sheila’s terrifying chimney climb, but they are not letting on as to whether she makes it to the top! For that, they say, you will have come to Fred Dibnah Night!

Doors open at 7pm for 7-30pm show on Thursday 15th October!

Tickets are now available at Hebden Bridge Tourist Information Office and at the Picture House, only when it is open, at £8 entrance fee with concessions £6.

Fred Dibnah

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