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This Sporting Life

Friday, 25th October 2002, West Yorkshire

storm clouds
The billowing storm cumulus piles up over the distant moortops of the Peak District. There are some heavy showers and in the afternoon a pale rainbow appears above Storrs Hill.

Puddles lie amongst the rough grass of the Springfield, near where I drew this quick sketch, looking towards the motorway. The flight of gulls seems more erratic than usual in the strong wind.

Richard Harris

Wildcats at Lowe HillRichard Harris (1930-2002), who died today, first made his name in films with This Sporting Life, much of which was filmed on location around Wakefield. He decided to take up acting when a bout of tuberculosis had forced him to give up rugby. He was Oscar-nominated for his portrayal of Frank Machin, coal miner turned rugby league star, in director Lindsay Anderson's 1963 adaptation of David Storey's novel.

Harris recalled that he got a friend to give him extra coaching before he turned up at Wakefield Trinity's Belle Vue ground. He claimed that, having convinced the team that he was a mere actor with no idea of what rugby was all about, he astonished them by kicking the ball between the posts at his first attempt.

The film is remarkable in the way it captures the down to earth brutality and the mythic power of the game.

Amongst the locations used in the film is the city's Mecca Ballroom captured in its heyday.

Harris's career went on to include Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator but whether going from wearing the number 13 shirt at Belle Vue to being Emperor of Rome is an upward move would be debatable in Wakefield.

Other memorable roles include Professor Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwart's, in Harry Potter and the aging gunslinger English Bob in The Unforgiven but, not surprisingly, I have a special fondness for his role as the misfit bearded conservationist-with-attitude in the television film of Paul Gallico's The Snow Goose.

My sketch shows the Trinity Wildcats, as they're now known, training in Thornes page

Richard Bell
Richard Bell,
wildlife illustrator

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