A tribute to Harry Gration MBE

Harry at the Yorkshire Society Awards in Leeds in March  

Harry at the Yorkshire Society Awards in Leeds in March - Credit: Roth Read Photography

The sudden death of Harry Gration shocked Yorkshire to its core. Without doubt he was ‘Mr Yorkshire’ and full of love for the county and its people

Since his unexpected death on June 24, plenty of words have been spoken about Harry Gration. All of them as warm as you’d expect. 

He felt like everyone’s kindly neighbour, wise friend or that pal who was great to share a drink with.  

Gracious is a fitting word too. An ability to make you feel you were doing him a good turn when he was the one who should be thanked. 

Last year Harry, 71, spoke to Yorkshire Life about life after leaving TV. He had long been a friend of the magazine, presenting the Yorkshire Life Food and Drink Awards over the years. 

Harry in ebullient mood at the Yorkshire Society Awards 

Harry in ebullient mood at the Yorkshire Society Awards in March - Credit: Roth Read Photography

He was a familiar face in Yorkshire homes too - from the BBC studio sofa or that spot in the street with a microphone, bring Yorkshire its daily news. He’d done so at BBC Look North for 38 years and even after retiring he never stopped being the guy from the telly, so cemented was he in the Yorkshire psyche. 

When he stopped working at the BBC, Harry wanted to spend time at home and wrap himself in the joy of family life in York with little boy Hamilton and wife Helen, as well as his older teen twins Harvey and Harrison. We joined him in the garden at home as he had a kickabout with the happy toddler. He talked about the future. 

Most Read

‘The only thing I try to do is give something back. I’m involved with a number of big charities and with whatever time I've got left I'm going to continue to do that.’ 

And he did. He was awarded an MBE for services to broadcasting and charities and helped raise nearly £2 million over the years. As a huge supporter of charities, he loved the sociability of presenting awards and mingling with guests; one of his last such events was hosting the Children’s Heart Surgery Fund in Leeds at the end of May which raised more than £54,000. 

Harry was a proud Yorkshireman, DL, and fierce champion of the county. After retiring he became vice-president of The Yorkshire Society, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes all things Yorkshire.  

‘Yorkshire means everything to me. I spent four years working in Southampton [on BBC’s South Today in the 1990s], which was a wonderful experience because I could do my missionary work down there and tell them how wonderful Yorkshire was,’ he told us.  

‘The people here are completely different to anywhere else in the country. They’re warmer, friendlier and they’ll tell it to you straight. That's why I love this place, absolutely adore it.’ 

Harry himself grew up ‘in a very modest house’ on Toller Lane in Bradford.   

‘As a kid I’d try anything with a ball and was always doing commentary. I’d memorise the football results and get my dad to test me on them.’  

In the 1970s, he was working as a history teacher and commentating on sports for Radio Leeds in his spare time when asked to cover for the sports editor during the summer break.  

‘At the back end of that, I was told I was good enough to be able to apply for a full-time job,’ recalled Harry who joined the station on a permanent basis in 1978, covering news and sport, ‘the perfect job for me’. 

It was following the pope’s visit to York in 1982 that the editor of Look North ‘knocked on the door and said would you like to try a bit of TV?’.  

Harry and Christine Talbot teamed up for their Grand Yorkshire Night Out theatre show -

Harry and Christine Talbot teamed up for their Grand Yorkshire Night Out theatre show - Harry's son Harrison made his debut singing hits from loved stage shows - Credit: York Theatre Royal

He cringed at his early endeavours on screen, telling us, ‘I've looked at myself and thought my goodness, you look so wooden, but the style of broadcasting has changed. It's now much more informal. You're allowed to do anything you want within reason. In those days you still had to be a bit prim and proper although I think I was seen as somebody a bit different to that. I used to do the lighter items in the programme, to get people to laugh, and that's what connected me with the audience straightaway.’ 

Harry covered the county’s biggest news stories, including the miners’ strike, the Yorkshire Ripper, the murder of Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox and in 2014, he travelled to Afghanistan to report on the work being carried out by military from Strensall barracks. 

He told us, ‘I listen to what people say, to what they're going through, and I'm affected by it. Maybe the success I’ve had is because people realise when I've done a story, I've done it genuinely, sympathetically and I've lived the story as well, which sometimes you don't see on television now. People move on from one story to another and another. I've never been able to do that. 

This year Harry teamed up with Christine Talbot, a former ‘rival’ from ITV’s Calendar news programme and as ‘Yorkshire broadcasting legends’ and they took their ‘Grand Yorkshire Night Out’ show to theatres across Yorkshire. It was a huge success. 

Christine was shocked by Harry’s death, ‘My dear friend Harry - a true Yorkshire legend We’ve had such fun together, she said on social media.  

‘Harry had so much to live for and so many plans. He has been taken far too soon and leaves a massive void in the heart of this region - I just wish he knew how loved he was. I’m just grateful that Harry and I had this lovely friendship and the time after our TV jobs, to nurture it and work together over the last year. I’ll always treasure the honour of working with a man who was not only a TV legend (though he never thought of himself this way) but who also became such a close friend.’ 

An outpouring of love and respect:  

Michael Parkinson

Michael Parkinson was good friend of Harry's and the pair caught up again at the Yorkshire Society Awards this year. ‘Whenever I think of him, I smile,’ said Parky. - Credit: Roth Read Photography

Broadcasting legend Michael Parkinson was full of respect for Harry; ‘Whenever I think of him, I smile,’ Parky told the BBC in a tribute.  

‘He was a good man and a good mate. Trust is important, particularly if you’re delivering the news to people particularly in a county like Yorkshire where there’s a very close relationship between the media and the Yorkshire folk too. I think he was content just to do a good job with the people he loved – I mean he loved the Yorkshire tribe...and they loved him. ‘As one journalist to another I admired him greatly. And not many journalists say that about other journalists.’ 

Retired cricket umpire Dickie Bird remembered the former Look North presenter, as a ‘great friend, colleague and man’. 

A tearful Bird, 89, told the BBC how he would ‘have a good laugh’ while staying with Gration and his wife Helen. ‘He will be missed. I tell you now, he will be missed,’ the Yorkshire cricketing legend said. 

Former Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu described him as a man of journalistic integrity. 

‘He didn't wear his faith on his sleeve,’ he said. ‘He wanted his charity work to tell people, 'I am actually doing this for someone called Jesus who sent me and people are in poverty'. 

‘I remember during Children in Need when he got on a very long cycle ride – for him what was driving him was a love of God, love of neighbour, a love of anybody who was in need – and a real good man to have at a party because he would tell you endless jokes.’ 

Co-presenter Amy Garcia, his colleague at the BBC for many years, presented an emotional tribute to him, reflecting on their shared adventures, including many charity marathons.  As a colleague, she said: ‘He held our hand every step of the way.’ 

‘On these charity challenges no matter how exhausted he was, he’d see people cheering him on, he'd put on the smile and he’d be having selfies, chatting to people; ‘thankyou so much for coming out.’ 

Paul Hudson, Look North colleague added: ‘He was a very humble man, he didn’t quite get how loved and liked he was, and that was part of Harry.’ 

Harry’s Yorkshire favourites:  

Favourite Yorkshire spot? ‘Scarborough in the winter. Nothing finer than going to watch a rough sea pounding. I absolutely love walking in the Dales and I'm a great fan of marvelling at York Minister.’ 

 Proudest achievement? ‘Getting my MBE in 2013, which is really a tribute to all my colleagues really, rather than myself and taking part in three huge charity events alongside colleagues that raised thousands of pounds.’  

 Any regrets? ‘I was a decent cricketer and stopped playing it far too soon, but I had to give it up because broadcasting on a Saturday meant I couldn’t play.’ 

 Most memorable interview? ‘I did a terrible interview with Edward Heath. He was so grumpy and off-hand. It taught me not to go in just with set questions. I was a different broadcaster afterwards.’