My Yorkshire: The man behind the firm which created Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre

HIGH FLYER: James Cundall.
HIGH FLYER: James Cundall.
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James Cundall is CEO of Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, which has created Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre and village in York.

Born near Malton, James, 61, lives in Westow with his wife Rebecca, and their son Oliver.

What’s your first Yorkshire memory?

My father was a farmer, and an auctioneer for the local livestock markets in Malton and York, and I’d often be taken along with him to see him selling the animals – he had a great rapport with the people at those events. All the auctioneers had something of the showman in them, slightly larger than life. York was my favourite place to go to, purely because it was a bit further away, and that meant that there would be a nice lunch on the way home.

What’s your favourite part of the county – and why?

Ryedale does it for me every time because the countryside is superb and has an unbelievable palette of colours. The area is peppered with wonderful ruins – among them Rievaulx and Byland, the latter of which has fragments of absolutely stunning medieval tiles.

What’s your idea of a perfect day, or a perfect weekend, out in Yorkshire?

I am lucky enough to have a helicopter pilot’s licence and I’d take a flight up over the county, looking down at all the wonderful landmarks – like Castle Howard. It would be a bright, sunny day and the view would be of the Wolds, and Thixendale, both of which I love. We’d land near one of our celebrated country pubs and have a great lunch, and then it would be back home to Westow.

Do you have a favourite walk, or view?

It’s from Westow to Kirkham, along the river, and it is about six or seven miles, and you pass the restored mill, the ruins of the abbey, and also the glorious Kirkham Hall on the top of the hill.

Which Yorkshire sportsman, past or present, would you like to take for lunch?

There are so many, but it will have to be Geoff Boycott, purely because the man knows no fear when he’s talking about something.

Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, past or present, would you like to take for dinner? Charles Laughton, the Scarborough lad who became one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, in films like Mutiny of the Bounty and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

If you had to name your Yorkshire ‘hidden gem’, what would it be?

It’s over in Skipton, in the Craven Museum, and it is a very rare First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays. I was lucky enough to go over there a few weeks back and they removed it from its case and allowed me to hold it for a few moments.

If you could choose somewhere, or some object, from or in Yorkshire to own for a day, what would it be?

The county has really made a name for itself in recent years, with so many fine producers of food and drinks, so it would be one of the very best of them – a company called Sloe Motion which makes quality liqueurs and gins. I’d be able to sit there and do my own tastings.

What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity? It’s a combination of things, and they include the characters, the pride in the place itself, the ability to work hard and the cussed dourness of the sense of humour.

Do you follow sport in the county, and if so, what?

Leeds Carnegie, who can, at times, be a source of screaming frustration for their fans.

Do you have a favourite restaurant, or pub?

One of them is the Wheatsheaf at Egton, on the North York Moors. It’s a solid, good pub run with skill and staffed by friendly people.

Do you have a favourite food shop? Anywhere that is local. I love going into Woodall & Sons in Malton, which sells rope and canvas and things like that.

How do you think that Yorkshire has changed, for better or for worse, in the time that you’ve known it?

Generally for the better, I think, in that it has embraced change. But there are (as always) things that need improvement. Rail services north-south are fine, but try to get across the county east-west, and you’d be tearing your hair out!

If you had to change one thing in, or about Yorkshire, what would that be? Easy one. It would be the appalling propensity of people to take a ride out into the country in their cars, and to simply throw all their rubbish out of the window and into the hedgerows.

Who is the Yorkshire person that you most admire?

My father, John. He was both a gentle man and a gentleman. He was wise, a man of complete integrity, with great values and common sense. He taught me about hard work and respect for others.

Has Yorkshire influenced your work?

I believe that it has. I always like to think that I’ve taken Yorkshire values to whichever part of the world I’ve been lucky enough to work in.

Name your favourite Yorkshire book/author/artist/CD/performer?

Four words. The incomparable David Hockney. The nearest I shall ever come to owning one of his works is by buying a postcard. He’s got that combination of an eye for beauty and the clever ability to interpret it. Those Wolds paintings are breathtaking.

If a stranger to Yorkshire only had time to visit one place, it would be?

We would meet at Duncombe Park, and we would walk down to Rievaulx. There’s a brow of a hill where you look down at that great abbey and you see why all our medieval ancestors believed so firmly in the Almighty.

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