Sunday 23 July | 10am
The Old Swan Hotel | Harrogate

Weekend Feat

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Seven series of Vera have been broadcast in the UK – to know the brilliant and much-loved Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope, is to love her. At our 2015 Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, ITV’s VERA was crowned the inaugural winner of the Lee Child Award for Best Loner or Detective, at the first ever Dead Good Reader Awards.

Making up this exciting panel and discussing all things VERA will be author of the novels on which it is based, Festival Favourite Ann Cleeves, Kenny Doughty who plays Vera’s right hand man, DS Aiden Healy, BBC Breakfast and Watchdog’s Steph McGovern, who, as Chair, will be digging deep for all of that inside knowledge we want to know so badly and finally, of course, Vera Stanhope herself Brenda Blethyn!

Now, with viewing figures topping 8.4 million, it’s fair to say that Vera is one of the most watched police dramas on television. Speaking to The Guardian, Brenda said “Ann is riding the crest of the wave at the moment. She says that when she is writing Vera she hears my voice, which is lovely. From an actor’s point of view, to feel like you have got close to what the writer has envisaged is such a compliment and a real feather in your cap.”

Soon after they married, Tim was appointed as warden of Hilbre, a tiny tidal island nature reserve in the Dee Estuary. They were the only residents, there was no mains electricity or water and access to the mainland was at low tide across the shore. If a person’s not heavily into birds – and Ann isn’t – there’s not much to do on Hilbre and that was when she started writing. Her first series of crime novels features the elderly naturalist, George Palmer-Jones.

For the National Year of Reading, Ann was made reader-in-residence for three library authorities. It came as a revelation that it was possible to get paid for talking to readers about books! She went on to set up reading groups in prisons as part of the Inside Books project.

Ann Cleeves is currently celebrating the publication of 30 books in 30 years. Her latest book is Cold Earth, a Shetland mystery featuring Jimmy Perez, published in October 2016; her most recent Vera Stanhope novel is The Moth Catcher.

Ann Cleeves grew up in the country, first in Herefordshire, then in North Devon. After dropping out of university she took a number of temporary jobs – child care officer, women’s refuge leader, bird observatory cook, auxiliary coastguard – before going back to college and training to be a probation officer.

While she was cooking in the Bird Observatory on Fair Isle, she met her husband Tim, a visiting ornithologist. She was attracted less by the ornithology than the bottle of malt whisky she saw in his rucksack when she showed him his room!

Brenda Blethyn plays the principal character in the ITV crime drama, DCI Vera Stanhope. Vera is an employee of the fictional Northumberland & City Police, who is obsessive about her work and driven by her own demons. She plods along in a constantly dishevelled state, but has a calculating mind, and despite her irascible personality, she cares deeply about her work and comrades.

Born in 1946 in Ramsgate, Kent, England, Brenda started her career at British Rail in the 1960s.Saving money during her time there, she took a risk and enrolled herself at The Guildford School of Acting in Guildford, Surrey, England.

Brenda then left her British Rail years behind. Her risk had paid off; by the mid-1970s she was working on stage, eventually joining the National Theatre Company in 1975.

It is without a doubt that 1997 will be remembered as her biggest year to date. She was cast by her old friend Mike Leigh in the film Secrets & Lies as Cynthia Rose Purley. The film received storming reviews and Blethyn won a BAFTA Film Award and subsequently received an Academy Award nomination for her role, along with Jean-Baptiste.

After twenty years of hard work on stage and both television and film, there are not many other actresses who deserve the success, recognition and stardom which Brenda Blethyn OBE has now achieved.

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