The success of the new BBC/HBO drama Gentleman Jack has had an immediate effect with tourists from “over the pond” already visiting Calderdale after watching it.
Calderdale Council’s Chief Executive Robin Tuddenham says in his blog on the authority’s website that the TV show’s success should not be underestimated and is “a game changer”, moving tourism’s value to the borough’s economy up another level following its increasing importance over the last decade.
And at Shibden Hall itself – where the programme was filmed – visitor numbers are up a massive 700 per cent “and counting”, he additionally tweeted on social media following a visit to talk to staff and thank them for playing their part in giving good service to visitors.
HBO began screening the series, which stars Suranne Jones as diarist and heiress Anne Lister of Halifax’s Shibden Hall in April and U.S. visitors are already arriving in Calderdale to visit it as a result, he says.
Latest figures – showcased at the We Are Calderdale event hosted by the council and business, community and charity partners at Calderdale College in March – show tourism being worth £344 million annually to the borough’s economy, almost £100 million more than it was in 2010.
And in April the council’s Cabinet approved the authority’s Tourism Strategy, recognising it can be harnessed to drive economic growth.
Mr Tuddenham said in his blog that good writing, acting and production work coupled with great locations meant Gentleman Jack had received rave reviews and was the latest screen production to benefit Calderdale tourism.
Other building blocks for increasing tourism success on an international scale included Halifax Piece Hall, which has strong council support, he said.
Hebden Bridge has also been singled out by National Geographic as one of the “coolest” places to visit across the world with West Yorkshire a top destination.
In the case of Gentleman Jack he said: “Whilst it has been filmed in a number of locations, it’s Shibden Hall, and the valley, which shine through.
“The impact has been immediate with tourists arriving from across the pond, and I understand people almost fighting over places on the Anne Lister heritage walks!
“Let’s be clear – this is a game changer, with sustained impact, building upon the Piece Hall effect, with confirmation from the BBC just last night that it will return for a second series.
“The leadership team are working on how we harness this impact across Calderdale, taking tourism and our heritage identity to another level.
“This is a real example of delivering our Vision 2024 for Calderdale to stand out as a truly distinctive place to live and visit.”
Council policy is geared towards achieving vision goals by 2024, the authority’s 50th anniversary.
Mr Tuddenham went on: “Tourism is now worth a massive £344 million – £96 million more to our economy than in 2010. Both day visits and overnight stays have grown.
“This has been down in a large part to the hard work of the tourism and events team, and the brilliant efforts our Museums and Library Service.
“With Channel 4 relocating to Leeds the whole region is getting a lift, and the media are coming to see how this has happened.
“We are now seeing Halifax and Calderdale taking their place on the national and international map as destinations for culture, arts and heritage, thanks to our transformation of the unique and iconic Piece Hall, our thriving music and craft ale scene, our fascinating markets and museums and a year-round calendar of unique events and festivals.
“This is all set against the backdrop of the stunning landscape of the South Pennines, historic buildings and creativity.”
At the We Are Calderdale event Mr Tuddenham had spoken about promoting Calderdale as a national park, albeit of a different variety than the Lake or Peak Districts.
There is a long history of television and film projects using Calderdale locations not least through Gentleman Jack writer Sally Wainwright’s work – her recent successes gentle Last Tango
In Halifax and hard-hitting Happy Valley, as well as previous works such as Sparkhouse, have extensively used Calderdale settings showcasing the area to national and international audiences.