Unearthed – the many talents of James Gregson

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THE rags-to-riches tale of a playwright, actor, journalist and broadcaster has been published for the first time.

The life of James Gregson, who was born into a poor family in Brighouse, has been brought to life by Barry Smith after stumbling across his work by accident – and with a little help from a former Brighouse Echo editor 50 years ago.

Mr Smith, from Clifton, said the discovery of the book came about through his involvement with an extra mural class in local history at the University of Leeds.

“We were set the task of comparing Yorkshire writers and what influences made them into regional writers. I remembered as a young boy and seeing his name in the press and for the last twenty years his name seemed to have disappeared.

“I looked in the Calderdale Archives and found that a former Echo editor, Ernest Sands had deposited press cuttings, pictures, and his unpublished autobiography in 1984. If he had never of done I wouldn’t have been able to do this.”

After consulting with Alan Petford, one of his tutors, it was decided that the autobiography should be published in its entirety, with notes and images.

Gathering photos, images, scripts, plays, and information has taken Mr Smith across the country and has taken around five years to complete.

Mr Gregson played an improtant figure in the development of amateur theatre, not only as a playwright but also a performer and manager.

Fascinated by theatre at an early age, he began writing and his first play was performed in 1917.

He also became a journalist working for the Leeds Mercury and his experience as an actor compined with his reputation as a journalist, his services were called upon by the BBC, broadcasting on the radio during the Second World War.

Mr Smith has also unearthed some old watercolour paintings by a Brighouse artist called Miles Stone which have been included in the book, and shows Brighouse in the early late 19th century. It is believed that these are the first of his portraits to be published in a book.

Permission was also needed from Mr Gregson’s next of kin for the autobiography to be published. He managed to track down Mr Gregson’s son in law Patrick Dowling who lived in Sydney and was happy for the work to be published and would very much like a copy when it was completed.

However, he died just before all the work was published.

An official unveiling and talk about the book by historian Alan Petford will be given at the Smith Art Gallery, Brighouse, on Saturday at 10.30am. Copies of the book can be obtained at Just Books on Commercial Street, Brighouse, and Fred Wade booksellers, Halifax.