Q&A: Happy Valley star George Costigan on his favourite people and places

Actor George Costigan talks to performing arts students at Calderdale College.
Actor George Costigan talks to performing arts students at Calderdale College.

Actor George Costigan rose to fame in 1986 in Rita, Sue and Bob Too. Most recently on TV in Sally Wainwright’s Happy Valley, he is also a patron of the Square Chapel Centre for the Arts in Halifax and divides his time between France and York.

What’s your first Yorkshire memory?

Growing up in Lancashire, with a father who loved to watch cricket, first memories are of a packed Old Trafford for the Roses match. Johnny Wardle, Freddie Trueman and an atmosphere. That sharp but warm rivalry seems to have faded, along with the notion you had to be Yorkshire to play for Yorkshire. Is this a good or a bad thing? Discuss.

What’s your favourite part of the county and why?

I don’t know the whole of the county well enough yet. I have only lived here a couple of years, and as a Manc I haven’t yet found beauty like the Derbyshire Peak District nor the grandeur of the Lakes. But the coastline is an endless treat. A retreating treat, but nevertheless and what’s not to love about Robin Hood’s Bay on a bleak, blowy day?

What’s your idea of a perfect weekend/day out in Yorkshire?

I would explore the coastline, have a pub lunch and run the dog daft in Filey.

Do you have a favourite walk, or view? The exploration of the place seems always to turn up something rewarding. The Calder Valley, Hebden Bridge, a day in Wharfedale, a visit to Knaresborough maybe and there’s always the possibility of seeing something like the sign I photographed in Grassington: “Mid-Life Crisis Re-launch. Children £5.”

Which Yorkshire stage or screen star (past or present) would you like to take for lunch, and why?

I wish Andrea Dunbar had lived, and her life and writing hadn’t been cut short. It would have been bouncy and marvellous to catch up with her and see where she’d taken her gifts.

If you had to name your Yorkshire ‘hidden gem’, what or where would it be?

There are so many. Terrington is gorgeous. So is Follifoot. But the standard of food people expect and aspire to is a gem all by itself. Oh, and Malton. Pickering, too...

What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity?

We went to a local village quiz recently, to raise cash for a memorial to a local lad killed in a pointless inner-city knife-fight. Part of the quiz was to design a family crest. The winner, to loud and warm cheering, was a picture of a rugby ball, with white roses around it and the slogan “If it int Yorkshire – it’s s****!” That seemed to sum something up. There are other places in Britain with a similar mentality – Liverpool for obvious example, and I love that place too. It’s always dangerous (and fatuous) to generalise but Yorkshire people seem to think – like the French – that everything necessary to life is contained within their borders. Living here, it’s easy to see why.

How do you immerse yourself in Yorkshire’s cultural life?

Well, I don’t think I do. Culture had better transcend boundaries or it’s dead, so I’ll travel to see whatever, wherever. Having said that I’m proud to be involved with Dark Horse Theatre Company in Huddersfield, and to be a patron of Square Chapel in Halifax, and we love going to the Palace cinema in Malton.

Do you have a favourite restaurant or pub?

Not yet, but I promise you we’re still looking. Some of the eating in York is fantastically good – The Rattle Owl, Cafe No 8 and we hit on a pub one day in a tiny village whose name and location we can’t remember and that was fantastic. Sorry for them, but boy was it good! It is possible, of course, to eat well everywhere, but it feels like you’ve got more chances in Yorkshire and that must reflect a demand for good food.

Do you have a favourite food shop?

Rafi’s in York, the Castle Howard food shop, plus there are two cracking delis in Malton – but my favourite is the Scoop Shop.

Do you ever find yourself ‘selling’ Yorkshire to others?

Yorkshire doesn’t need salesmen. It only needs visiting. It’ll do fine all by itself. What makes this place unique is the warmth of the people. Generally Yorkshire people look you in the eye, talk to you, tell it straight, have a sense of humour and those qualities, above all the beauty, the seriousness about food and dogs, means the journey back to Yorkshire is always a warm one.

Who is the Yorkshire man or woman you most admire, and why?

I think Middlesbrough was still in Yorkshire when Brian Clough was born there. He doesn’t need me to explain why he inspired admiration. Judi Dench for utterly uncluttered mastery of my profession, David Hockney – following his stars – inspiration to anyone. Philip Larkin. Alan Bennett, the Brontës and their modern counterpart, Sally Wainwright.

How has Yorkshire influenced your work?

Well, except that so much of it has been set here, and required the technicalities of whichever accent it had; mostly in the sense that part of the job is to capture – or rather accept – that mindset a fair few Yorkshire men have. Very cheerfully blinkered!

Name your favourite Yorkshire author/artist/performer and tell us why?

She might have been born in Kent, but I’d have to pick the actress Charlotte Bellamy who plays Laurel Dingle in Emmerdale. For my two bobs worth she’s the best actor on telly. Peerless work.

What are you working on at the moment?

I have a first novel, The Single Soldier, out now. It’s set in France in 1942 and is about a man who decides to move his house, using only a cow and a cart, six kilometres to the other side of his village. I’m also doing a show at the Edinburgh Festival this year – an adaptation of Oresteia by Zinnie Harris – and I always hope to be in anything that Sally Wainwright’s doing.