A view backstage at Beverley Minster

Fame at last

Neil Pickford wonders if it’s time to get himself an agent.
I’ve been asked for my autograph six times this week so far, and it’s only Tuesday. Mind you, I don’t think all of them really meant it.
This sudden outpouring of friendly sarcasm from some of the welcomers and volunteers at Beverley Minster was prompted by a rather splendid piece about us on Look North over the Bank Holiday.
They, and Radio Humberside, had both taken a fancy to the news that we virgers planned to allow some of our hidden treasures, the carvings above the misericords, to be displayed to the general public (see previous witterings for details).
As far as we knew, this would be the first time in nearly 100 years that any of the wooden statues had been viewable at ground level.
I was asked to attend the BBC studios on Saturday morning to tell Helen Philpot and her listeners why we were doing this and I accepted with an easy conscience, knowing that John and I had a simple day ahead of us.
After all, we (alright then, John) had already removed the figures from their elevated perches so there wasn’t much to do.
We’d previously turned all the chairs in the church round for a major concert by the County Choir that night, there were no weddings and we expected a reasonably normal routine of roof tours and preparing for Sunday services.
How wrong can you be?
Even while I was travelling to Queen’s Court with a couple of statues in the back of the car Look North were on the phone to my wife, wondering if they could bring a crew to the Minster.
“Why don’t you ask him yourself?” she replied. “He should be walking through your front door round about now.”
And so I was, which is why I’d barely had time to take my coat off before I was propositioned by Jo Makel and agreed to help with a piece to camera about the exhibition.
A swift, but speed limit-obeying drive back to Beverley as soon as Helen had had her chance to admire young Master Baker’s work, and I was back in the Minster before the cameraman arrived.
Now I’ve been involved with a bit of filming before now so I was expecting a fairly routine visit – the crew turn up, we discuss the subject material, agree on camera shots and then just do it. (two or three times to cover up those irritating moments when your mouth keeps going but nothing intelligent comes out – but that’s a trade secret).
This time, however, the craftsmanship of the statues threw normality out of the window and, in fact, it was almost impossible to prise the cameraman away from them. Jo and I ended up chatting quietly in the background while he filmed and filmed and filmed..
We even got locked in the organ loft because John saw the door was open and assumed I’d left it and gone to lunch. I gave him such a glare when he went by – if looks could kill he’d have a bad leg by now.
 Anyway, I eventually left Look North to it and went to lunch – and they’d gone when I returned.
I won’t bore you with details but, for the rest of the day John and I were busy and we finally got home after the concert at about 11.30.
I was in at seven the next morning to get everything ready for the 8am service, breaking off en route to do a live radio interview with Blair Jacobs about those flipping statues, which were starting to annoy me
Then, on Monday, we were ready to show them to any visitors. People wandered in all day, many of them commenting how they’d heard about the show on Humberside or seen it on the telly.
We didn’t have huge crowds, but perhaps that’s just as well as it took the pressure off everyone who came. It was a privilege to watch as they walked slowly past them, moved on then glanced back, then looked more closely, then opened their eyes and, finally, really studied them, sometimes for many minutes.
You could tell that one or two were almost overwhelmed.
One of my glib-sounding lines to Look North had been something like: “these are truly world-class” and suddenly I could see that other people were feeling the same. This hadn’t been the hyperbole of a cut-price Max Clifford, it was true and they had been uplifted.
It was a very good day. John and I went home satisfied and, exhausted, I flicked on the telly. Look North was just coming to the end of its bulletin and, suddenly, there was the Minster again. I sat back to watch.
It’s a strange thing – I was told the camera adds pounds to you. That’s rubbish – I looked at least four stone heavier on the screen than I really am.
Mind you, it didn’t seem to work that way on John Dell – he seemed pretty normal to me 
Odd that.
 First published May 2009

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