“…even down to making the Doctor, who was traditionally an aristocratic authority figure, sound like someone from Salford…” he explains “I’ve not just gone off and done `entertainment’ – I’ve done Hillsborough…I’ve done Our Friends In The North…I’ve done Second Coming…I’ve done Flesh and Blood…stuff that to a certain extent has a political content and that comes directly from Salford…”
He reflects for a moment…
“…and from a sense that I’ve been fortunate enough to run away with the circus, which is basically what I’ve done, so I’d better put something back…”
Christopher Eccleston might have run away with the circus but he’s taken Salford attitude with him. What he’s putting back is the notion that you can be from here and get to the top without compromising, without having to lose everything that you’re about. In the celeb obsessed world where the only message coming from yer Waynes and Coleens is `SHOP!’, with Christopher Eccleston you get a bit of integrity, a bit of realism. Although seen on tv and film with the likes of Kate Winslet, Nicole Kidman and an assortment of Daleks, he’s on the same wavelength as the rest of us. And it’s a very, very Salfordian wavelength.
He talks about having the city’s key values instilled into him by his family – a “sense of community”…”covering each other’s backs”…”not taking yourself too seriously”…”good manners”…”hard work” and “a healthy disrespect for authority”…
“…I think all those things I picked up from my parents and they manifest themselves in the community too, which is where expressions like `You can always tell a Salford lad, but you can’t tell him ‘owt’ come from…Dating right back to the Industrial Revolution, Salford’s always been a tough place to live and I think it’s encouraged a sense of community because everybody economically was in the same bracket, and a strong sense of humour sprung up in order to deal with those quite difficult physical conditions.”
Like Liverpool ?
“Yeah but far better” he sneers, adding that there’s no chip on Salfordian shoulders
“…The middle classes call it a chip, yet if we refer to them as having a poker up their arse they get upset. It’s not a chip, it’s just a sense of place and a sense of belonging. I never thought of myself as coming from Manchester, that was somewhere else. Salford was here before Manchester and is a city in its own right that has a distinct flavour to it.”
And, of course, virtually everything that’s credited with coming out of Manchester actually comes from Salford…
“Yeah” he agrees “The relationship between Manchester and Salford is fine as long as they understand that they’re not as important as us. About ten years ago there was an attempt to wipe Salford off the map and absorb it into Manchester. Quite rightly that was opposed and didn’t come about.
“If I say to an American I’m from Salford they’re like `Sa-a-a-lf-u-rd, where’s that ?’ and you have to unfortunately say it’s near Manchester. But when you start reeling the names off…Lowry, Riley, Finney, Leigh…they’re like `Ok’ and then they have this idea that it’s some sort of northern Hampstead…or some bohemian paradise…”
It was Salford’s stars of the big screen who inspired Christopher Eccleston to get into acting and helped to smooth the path to a career that was previously the preserve of the posh…
“When I started telling my family that I was going to be an actor the jokes would come out…`Oh bloody hell, another Albert Finney’…but in the 80s when I was applying for a grant to do acting it was made easier because of all the people who had gone before like Finney and Mike Leigh” he recalls
“Finney is very quick to say he’s from Salford and not Manchester. So that desire to establish an identity and have something to say about the world has always been there in Salford…
“…Sir Ben Kingsley is doing a very unSalfordian thing at the moment by insisting people call him `Sir’…Albert Finney famously turned down a knighthood and said `I would never call anyone `Sir’ myself and I certainly never expect anyone to call me `Sir’…and then you’ve got Ben Kingsley doing that…very odd…I’ll have to check his Salford credentials…”
For Christopher Eccleston there was never any danger of losing his Salford credentials, even though the family moved in the 60s from Langworthy to Little Hulton, technically in Salford but nearer to Bolton.
“I was thinking about this last night” he says “I grew up thinking `We’re not from here’ because of all the talk in the house – my brothers were eight when they left Salford and my mum and dad were in their thirties and there was always a sense that although we were happy there we didn’t quite belong.
“There was a tension between what we Salford people called the `Little Hulton Gobbins’ and what they called the `Salford Overspill’. They were a little bit snobbish about it – so I grew up in this house that was basically Salford in Little
Hulton and when we had to do anything family wise we’d go back to Salford – my mum even took me to the dentist in Salford because she was happier with the dentists there…”
The original Eccleston family home on Blodwell Street off Langworthy Road, where Christopher was born in 1964, is now boarded up and about to be knocked down as part of the Chimney Pot Park makeover…
“To a certain extent it’s inevitable” he says “Salford’s been torn down once before when the `streets in the sky’ (towerblocks) were put up and we’ve seen they didn’t work. I did a drama Our Friends In The North which dealt with all that quite strongly. But it depends on what they replace it with and how mindful they are of the communities living there and what kind of living conditions it’s going to present…”
Err, yuppy houses ?
“Yeah, that’s kind of the idea I’m getting really. That seems to be the way everywhere’s going. I’m not going to get on my soapbox because I don’t know enough about it really but you can’t destroy Salford’s sense of itself. Obviously it’s a tragedy if the communities are pushed out for yuppies and it’s wrong.”
Unlike upwardly mobile creative Mancs, most of whom fled to Brighton once they made it, Christopher Eccleston still lives in Salford - “in Eccles, the posh bit” - and hasn’t forgotten his roots after running away with the circus all the way to Hollywood at one point. He’s put something positive back into the city by narrating Past, Present and Future, a promo DVD about Salford’s internationally acclaimed Working Class Movement Library.
“I’d passed the building many, many times as a youngster without going in but when I found out about the content of the place and the story of the people who built it up it was a revelation to me, I was amazed” he enthuses ”They showed me the film first which I think is a cracking piece of work, and anything that goes to further the interest of the working classes who basically built this country is important to me, so I was happy to help.
“I don’t think enough people know of the Library’s existence and that was one of the ideas behind the film and one of the reasons why I wanted to do the narration” he adds “There couldn’t be a better home for the Library than Salford because Salford embodies the struggle of the working classes, doesn’t it ? It’s witnessed every stage of it, from the filth of the Industrial Revolution down to the destruction in the Eighties by Thatcher and…”
Now the yuppyfication ?
“Now the yuppyfication, yeah…”
Free loan copies of Past Present Future: The Working Class Movement Library DVD, written and directed by John Crumpton and narrated by Christopher Eccleston, are currently available from the Working Class Movement Library. Contact 0161 736 3601 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org