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29 October 2014
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Bard of Barnsley revisits painter's Sunderland hideaway

Inside Out, BBC ONE (North East & Cumbria), Monday 16 June 2003, 7.30pm

Artist LS Lowry is best known for his portraits of Salford's satanic mills and matchstick figures, but few also know that Sunderland was very close to his heart.

The painter regularly visited Seaburn. It became his secret hideaway and he even considered moving to the coast.

At the height of his fame, when Lowry was known throughout the world, he could have travelled anywhere he wanted, yet he spent weeks at a time on the North East coastal resort.

In the second programme of the third series of BBC ONE's Inside Out (North East & Cumbria edition) - which tells surprising stories from familiar places - "poet of the people" Ian McMillan retraces the steps of the famous "painter of the people."

Ian, who is the Barnsley FC poet-in-residence and Beat Poet for Humberside Police, talks to Simon Marshall, the son of a gallery owner in Newcastle who was the artist's driver when he visited the region.

Simon recalls: "Like any elderly person, he could be wonderful or be an absolute pain.

"He had an amazing visual memory so it was quite rare for him to sketch.

"However, there was one marvellous occasion on this bit of beach and there was a three-piece suite sitting there. That was one of those very rare occasions I saw the old boy get out and draw the sofa because it was surreal and he gave that one to me.

"He was hardly ever recognised. On another occasion at Newbiggin-by-Sea when they were bringing in the fishing catch, he got this amazing feeling of hostility and it was only later I realised they thought the man in the grey three-piece suit and trilby hat was the VAT man or tax man."

But Lowry was sometimes recognised around the Sunderland resort.

Bus driver Bob Coates was waiting for a bus when he spotted the artist.

His wife Edith says: "My husband told him I would never believe he was sat next to Lowry and he said he must do something about that.

"He did a little sketch and he said 'you give that to your wife with my best wishes'."

Lowry stayed in the same room at the same hotel - room 104 at the Seaburn Hotel - every time he visited.

Head waiter Archie Laidler says: "All he wanted for dinner was cold roast beef, chips, gravy and orange juice and sliced bananas with fresh cream and coffee nearly everyday.

"No-one knew who he was; he was just an ordinary man.

"He used to tell me that people used to come to his house and knock on his door and the only way he could cope was to come here and get away from it all. He did not like people pestering him."

In a radio interview in 1966 Lowry's friend, Sir John Rothenstein, who became director of the Tate, said: "He happened to be lunching with me one day talking about the North East coast and he said 'I am thinking of settling there'.

"I said to him I suppose you think you have discovered a place even more forbidding than Salford. There was a long silence and he said 'I think that's just about it'."

Sunderland does not make much of its connections with the famous artist, but clues can be found in the ordinary people who met him.

Catherine Duff, an art student in 1966, remembers Lowry watching her sketch men leaving the shipyards in a hurry.

She says: "He came over and said 'nee lass, that's not the way to draw a man in a hurry' and he promptly doodled a couple of men in a hurry.

"I am afraid it was not until the announcement of his death that I realised who he was and it's upsetting for me to say that I now have no idea where that sketchpad is."

Notes to Editors

An exhibition called Lowry's Travels is being held at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens from Wednesday 16 July to Sunday 12 October.

BBC ONE's Inside Out must be credited if any of this story is published.

Pictures for media use only are available by contacting BBC North East & Cumbria Press Office.

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