Percy Monkman – An Extraordinary Bradfordian. By Martin Greenwood. PlashMill Press (www.plashmillpress.com), 2018. 226 pages. Softback. A4 format. ISBN: 978-0-9572612-9-7. £24.49.
A job in banking, a life in the arts.
The above quote from a section heading in this book neatly epitomises the life of Percy Monkman (1892-1986), a local celebrity in Bradford and the West Riding. He was born in Bradford and after spells as an office boy in Swan Arcade and Manningham Mills, and by another in army service (1915-19), Percy worked in Becketts Bank (which later became a branch of the Westminster Bank). He worked in the same bank for forty years, ending up as chief cashier. By night, at weekends, and on holidays, however, he was an entertainer, actor, cartoonist and watercolour painter of the Dales, the Brontë country and Bradford, whose work was acclaimed by the public and held in great respect by colleagues. He had many friendships, including a life-long one with near neighbour J B Priestley.
Percy came from a humble, non-conformist, working-class family in a closely-knit local community in the Toller Lane area of Bradford. Leaving school before he was fourteen, he received only a basic education. War service saw him develop his entertaining skills! He joined the Bradford Civic Theatre in 1935 and was made a Hon. Life Member in 1974. He was the solo actor in The End, which was awarded one of the Ten Best Cine Films of 1960. His appearances on stage at the Bradford Civic Playhouse are listed here and we learn that from 1935 to 1958 he performed on 214 occasions in plays by such as Gogol, Ibsen, Shakespeare, Emlyn Williams, Christopher Fry, Jonquil Anthony, James Bridie and Priestley.
Percy was highly creative, talented and energetic, a man who achieved high standards in all his artistic activities. He joined the Bradford Arts Club in 1922, was Vice Chair in 1950, Chairman in 1963, and President in 1977. He won numerous prizes for his watercolours, many of which are reproduced here, and received commissions and made sales. He was also a member of the Yorkshire Watercolour Society.
In passing we note Percy’s family life – four brothers and three children; his friendships with lawyer Roger Suddards, artist Ashley Jackson, playwright J B Priestley and others; his dedication to his family with its trials and tribulations, and joys; and his passion for Bradford City FC (he was present at the Valley Road fire disaster). A nice feature is a chapter ‘Ten Perspectives of Percy’ which reproduces articles and letters about Percy from people who knew him, including the Branch Manager at the Westminster Bank (1952), an article in the Dalesman by Ken Feakes (April 1992), and family memories by his daughter, Dorothy (1990s).
This is a large book; not one to be read on the bus or propped up by the sugar bowl in a café. But in this case the extra size is used to good effect, giving the book a relaxed feel with the A4 pages facilitating a good-sized typeface and clear layouts, and, in particular, enabling justice to be done to the many excellent reproductions of Percy’s delightful landscape paintings. In all there are over ninety images. The book is superbly produced. There are several useful appendices including sources of further information and a timeline of Percy’s life with family information, lists of places where he lived, places of education and work, of his artistic achievements, and his appearances on stage at the Bradford Civic Playhouse: a veritable documentary history. The book is well-indexed. I was particularly pleased to see full credits given for the illustrations used and sources consulted, features often skimped. The author is one of Percy’s grandsons. The prose reads well, coverage is comprehensive, and browsing the book an enjoyable experience.
Retired Reference Librarian