A Yorkshire filmmaker has found the recipe for success with a documentary about the century-old Sheffield relish and its famous fans. Daniel Dylan Wray reports.
It’s impossible to ignore Henderson’s Relish in Sheffield. A bottle can be found on almost every restaurant, café and bar table in the city, just sitting there ready to be dolloped on to pies, soups, chips and pretty much any meal you can imagine.
It also adorns the walls of galleries, shops and bars in the form of artwork from local artists paying homage to the spicy Yorkshire sauce which has now been made in the city for over a century.
Loved by locals and ex-pats alike, it is celebrated by many famous Sheffield figures; David Blunkett even took a bottle with him when he appeared on Gordon Ramsay’s television cooking show The F Word as the secret ingredient in his Shepherd’s Pie.
However, the level of veneration for the relish has now hit new levels with an entire documentary being made on the stuff. Produced and presented by Sheffield-born Coronation Street and Shameless actor Ian Reddington, it recently received its world premiere at the city’s international documentary festival, Doc/Fest.
“The screenings were great,” he says. “They were all cheering and screaming – it was wonderful.”
A lifelong fan of Hendo’s, as it is known locally, Ian noticed he wasn’t alone. “I’m from Sheffield, I was brought up on it. When I moved away I would ask for Henderson’s and would take it with me. My other friends were doing that, my mum – who lives in Australia – was doing that, so I started to ask, why are we so obsessed with it?”
He teamed up with a young film crew he had previously worked with and began making the 30-minute documentary, which includes a whole heap of famous fans from Sheffield, including singer Richard Hawley, Heaven 17’s Pete McKee and the aforementioned David Blunkett, as well as a series of local artists who do work inspired by the relish.
One photographer featured in the film, Matt Brewin, even shot a striking Kim Kardashian-inspired promotional picture. As for getting the big names, Ian found it was all rather easy.
“I did some research and then just rang around. The only people I knew before were Heaven 17 because they were my mates from school, but other than that I picked up the phone and said I wanted to make a documentary on Henderson’s. As soon as I said that word they said ‘Yes, of course I’ll speak to you’.
“There were people at the festival that spent years making films, shooting hundreds of hours and I just turned up and put the cameras on them. They were naturally funny and it all just fell into place.
“I came to the conclusion the whole Henderson’s operation was typically Sheffield,” he reflects. “No marketing budget, underplaying the whole thing. It perfectly represents the city – it’s traditional, being made for over a hundred years and it has this little bit of hokum about it with the secret ingredient.”
So, has Ian come any closer to unearthing what makes the relish so precious to so many people?
“For me it’s because it has ‘Made in Sheffield’ on the label. When you went to a London restaurant and the cutlery said ‘Made in Sheffield’, you’d brag about it. It’s not unique to Sheffield but it’s the idea of missing something where you’re from.
“I didn’t realise people loved it that much. I met people who had tattoos of it. I didn’t realise Richard Hawley was as obsessed as he is and that he launched his album in the factory.”
The experience even reminded Ian that the relish played quite a pivotal role in his own life.
“My gift to all my friends who came to my wedding were bottles of relish that we gave out in these specially made boxes with mine and my wife’s name on them. That was our gift and Henderson’ relish is Sheffield’s gift to the rest of the world.”