THE vision of transforming the Milton Rooms in Malton into a leading regional theatre was given backing this week by broadcaster, comedian, writer and actor Griff Rhys Jones.

Hundreds of people attended a special ‘Tea and a Tale’ event presented by Griff, who also spoke about his own experiences of saving historic buildings.

Griff is also a long-standing ambassador for the Prince’s Regeneration Trust (PRT) which is working with the Milton Rooms to save and restore the theatre for community benefit and to develop it into a nationally-recognised arts venue.

“The Milton Rooms has the benefit of being right in the heart of Malton which has some beautiful streets and it is very rare to find such a place that is relatively unspoiled,” he told the Gazette.

“It is absolutely vital to look at the character of the town and to find a function for the Milton Rooms relative to the community.”

Griff said communities were increasingly less inclined to gather together. “We are encouraged to sit in front of the television and not talk to anyone while being force-fed stuff,” he said. “We need to preserve places like the Milton Rooms as a real resource for the community.”

Griff said the PRT had a proven track record of doing extraordinary work with buildings, demonstrating that they could be saved and transformed to work again.

“The trust doesn’t believe in preserving buildings in aspic but finding new uses and giving help and advice to these places,” he said.

“But at the same time, the public needs to be aware that these things are happening and get involved and I hope people in Malton realise what they have here and support it.”

Griff praised artistic directors Garry Cooper and Nick Bagnall, who have worked to revive the Milton Rooms during the past 18 months.

“Garry and Nick are visionaries and places like this need these sort of people – someone needs to be in place to follow these things through,” he said.

“The first act of maintenance starts when you put the last tile on the roof and it is a process that never stops – you have to have the commitment of people who want to see it through.”

Griff said the PRT would work with the Milton Rooms to give advice and ensure the project received the right support.

“It will not be a short process – there needs to be a unique selling point as to why the building is important and what makes it different,” he said.

“Once that aim is there of what they want to do, it can become an unstoppable bandwagon on which people will want to jump.”

Garry Cooper said they had been thrilled to welcome Griff to the Milton Rooms.

“Many of the people who came along had never been in the building before, which was encouraging, It was a real pleasure to have Griff here and listen to his views – he was really inspiring about the future.”


Review: Large audience left with much to ponder

RARELY has the Milton Rooms seen an event like this.

In the audience, the great and the good of Malton and district – two mayors, local councillors, and hundreds of interested local folk, all drawn by the magic of Griff Rhys Jones presenting Tea and a Tale – and much more besides.

Introduced by artistic director Garry Cooper as an ambassador of the Prince’s Regeneration Trust, helping the Milton Rooms as well as championing much broader movements around the country, Griff amused, challenged and moved us all with a combination of anecdotes, appeals and observations relating to planning and preservation, and a powerful reading of a short story.

We heard amusing references to a galaxy of people he has worked with – Joanna Lumley, Alan Ayckbourn, Rowan Atkinson, Mel Smith, Dara O’Briain, Pamela Stephenson the list went on. There was also the episode involving meeting Mohamed Al Fayed, an unflattering reference to Ann Widdecombe, and odd tales of Roy Jenkins visiting Pentonville prison and Willie Whitelaw meeting prisoners sentenced to life behind bars.

On a more serious note, Griff spoke of his passion for protecting our local environments and buildings. Two specific examples he gave were the Hackney Empire theatre in London, and the Bradford Odeon cinema. Both, under threat of demolition or change of use, were saved for their communities after concerted lobbying.

As president of the Civic Trust, a charity advising people across the country on helping preserve their local heritage, he spoke with years of experience. There was much of the recession, of the politicians’ blind faith in the building industry as an economic cure-all, regardless of the impact on our towns, with no place for the concept of conservation.

There was need and scope, he said, for our involvement in neighbourhood planning. All of this, plus his observations in an open question and answer session with the audience, left us with much to ponder.

The highlight of Griff’s performance was an extraordinarily powerful reading of The Monkey’s Paw – a short story by W W Jacobs. It was a simple tale – of an ordinary elderly couple, a magic talisman and death, but as Griff read it so sensitively, there was a clear sense of tension in the audience.

It was perhaps not a strange coincidence that the presence of a capacity crowd at this fascinating evening in such a treasured local venue seemed to underline precisely what our guest was saying.

Review by John Collins