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Thursday February 22nd 2024

Kes | 1968

A glimpse of hope, in an environment where life consists of little more than getting by, is casually snuffed out in Ken Loach’s still heart-wrenching adaptation of Barry Hines’ book A Kestrel For A Knave.

It’s set in the industrial north of England, in the distant-seeming days when the area was still home to a thriving mining industry. Authenticity is heightened by the use of real South Yorkshire locations, around the villages of Hoyland and Tankersley, at Junction 36 of the M1 between Sheffield and Barnsley, and in Barnsley itself.

The home Billy Casper (David Bradley) shares with his mum (Lynne Perrie) and fractious older brother Jud (Freddie Fletcher) is 56 Parkside Road in Hoyland. Like most of the locations which still exist, it’s now much smarter than it appears on screen. As ever, please remember this is a private home and don’t disturb residents.

There’s quite a walk for Billy to collect newspapers for his delivery round, from the newsagent at 23 Princess Street at Beaconsfield Road in Barnsley itself. The shop has since been remodelled as a private home – and don’t confuse this street with the other Princess Street near the Casper house in Hoyland itself.

It’s even further to the foot of Lewis Road in Lundwood, northeast of Barnsley, where Billy nicks eggs and a carton of milk from the milk van, before cheekily chatting with the driver. The milkman is played by Duggie Brown, a well-known northern comedian – one of several stand-ups, including Lynne Perrie, who’ve become something of a trademark in the casting of Loach’s films.

A comic of another kind is The Dandy, with its fondly-remembered Desperate Dan cartoon strip, which Billy stops to read on Grange View in Blacker Hill, overlooking what was the old Coking Plant of Barrow Colliery, back towards Hoyland. Coke, in those innocent days, was the light, cindery product of distilling coal in an airless furnace, providing a high-carbon fuel which was ideal for iron smelting. The site of the plant is now open countryside.

Sadly, it goes almost without saying that gone too is Skiers Spring Colliery, where Jud worked, a satellite shaft of Rockingham Colliery, which stood on Broadcarr Road south of Hoyland.

In the evening, Jud and Billy’s mum unwind with a couple of drinks as a band plays Sixties favourites at Dard's, Pontefract Road at Sunningdale Drive in Cudworth, a few miles northeast of Barnsley. Formerly the Cudworth Hotel, the bar finally closed down in 2013 and its future is uncertain.

Billy’s school was St Helen’s County Secondary School, on Carlton Road, north of Barnsley, which later became Edward Sheerien School. This building was demolished in 2011 after the school had been amalgamated to form Carlton Community College.

Finally – something still standing, even if it is no more than a ruin. ‘Monastery Farm’, where Billy comes across the remains of an old wall housing a kestrel’s nest, is on private farmland on Black Lane, alongside the M1 in Tankersley – just south of the Casper house.

Fascinated by the birds, Billy – claiming he’s over 21 and his mum knows someone who works there – vainly tries to take a book on falconry from the library, which is the Old Civic Hall, Eldon Street, in Barnsley.

When this doesn’t work out, he resorts to stealing a book from the old Miles second-hand bookshop, which stood on Woodhouse Lane at Queens Square in Leeds. There’s nothing to see now – the whole area has been redeveloped beyond recognition.

It’s on Hoyland Common, off Hawshaw Road, just north of the Casper house, that Billy proudly puts the kestrel through its paces for his impressed teacher, Mr Farthing (Colin Welland, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Chariots Of Fire).

But this is no Hollywood fairytale, and the little moment of joy is fleeting. When Jud gives him five bob (the princely sum of 25p today) to place a bet, Billy takes some bad advice and makes the fateful decision not to waste good money on a couple of rank outsiders.

Surprisingly, the betting shop is still in business, as Betfred, 252 Pontefract Road, back in Lundwood.

Blissfully unaware of the consequences, Billy treats himself to fish and chips from the Harbour Fish & Chip Shop, 71A Princess Street, between Hoyland Road and Kay Street, Hoyland, before picking up beef scraps for Kes from a butcher’s van on Fitzwilliam Street, about a block to the south.

For more background details on the filming of Kes, don’t miss David Bradley’s own website at Kes-BillyCasper.