Don’t ask Who, It’s The Art Doctor!


Everyone knows how rarely doctors make house calls these days, but on Friday 24th May 2013, a doctor of a very special kind made a home visit. Keith Fenwick is better known to millions who have seen him on Sky TV as “The Art Doctor”, and his visit to the town was made even more special by reason of the fact that Keith, as he willingly admits, is “A Spennymoor lad, and proud of it.”

Keith was born in Dundas Street in 1937; his parents owned a general dealer’s shop there until after the end of WW2 when they moved to 20 North Street. He was educated at King Street School, and after leaving there he completed a five year engineering apprenticeship at Westool in Bishop Auckland, then went on to further education at Bishop Auckland Technical College as it was then known.

Afterwards he completed a 4 year Honours Degree at Loughborough University of Technology, covering 24 subjects in all. His thirst for knowledge still unquenched, Keith went on to Sunderland Polytechnic, where he completed a Post Graduate qualification in Advanced Management Sciences.

But art was his passion, and for the last forty years Keith has been the principal demonstrator at major fine art shows for well known international companies like Windsor and Newton (UK and USA) Raphael (France) and Caran d’ Ache (UK and Switzerland) leading to him demonstrating techniques and materials on company stands at both the Design Centre and Olympia in London, as well as at the NEC Birmingham, the SEC Glasgow, and, much closer to home, at Gateshead’s Metro Centre. At these venues he not only demonstrated the art of landscape painting, but also ran workshops in designated Masterclass areas.

As Sky TV’s Art Doctor, a programme he presented for 15 months, Keith could be seen painting landscapes three times a day, six days a week. He also went on to present “Art School” for Granada TV, and BBC’s “Eleventh Hour Challenge”. He can currently be found on Sky’s Painting and Drawing Channel on Cable.

A relaxed Keith on a visit to his home town

A relaxed Keith on a visit to his home town (Spennymoor Today)

In spite of this busy lifestyle, Keith has somehow found time to author 11 books on Landscape Painting for three publishing houses: books that have been translated into Dutch, French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish; has produced more than 30 teaching DVD’s and hosts painting holidays in Venice, Spain, Sardinia, Tuscany and Malta, as well as in the United Kingdom.

Yet Keith somehow manages to cram into his already well loaded schedule, 30 or more demonstrations to Art Societies every year. Based on all of this work, its not difficult to understand why this local lad who passed good on his way to making great (artwork), is highly respected throughout the international art community.

The Art Doctor with one of the five paintings he donated to Spennymoor Town Hall Gallery

The Art Doctor with one of the five paintings he donated to Spennymoor Town Hall Gallery (Spennymoor Today)

His homecoming coincided with the donation by Keith of five of his landscape paintings to the permanent gallery at Spennymoor Town Hall, housed in the Jim Smith Gallery, and, as is the case everywhere he goes, there was not a vacant chair in the Memorial Room when he was introduced by Gallery Curator Bob Abley.

Keith has a relaxed, informative and humorous presentation style, enhanced by his great skill, and those privileged to be amongst his audience hung onto his every word. Keith insists “Learning to paint is fun, and it’s easier than you think. There’s a painter inside all of us, just waiting for a chance to jump out.”

A section of Keith's audience

A section of Keith’s audience (Spennymoor Today)

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Spennymoor’s Star of the Silver Screen…


Gibson Gowland

(4 January 1877–9 September 1951)

Alan Marron writes: Sometimes, the strangest things can start a search for information. In this case it was a query from a Spennynews reader, Bobby Hughes, who, whilst searching the internet, had found a mention of a Spennymoor born star of the silver screen. “Could we provide any information on the once household name?” he asked, in a plea that came via web-mail, which our web-master passed on en bloc at infrequent intervals. More often than not, the contents held nothing worthy of following up, but in this case, in my fifth year as a volunteer reporter with the paper, my interest was piqued, and off I went, hardly even pausing to push my Sherlock Holmes deerstalker onto my head, or reach for my trusty magnifying glass… the game was afoot!

Gibson was born Thomas Henry Gibson Gowland at 11 Flora Street, Spennymoor on 4 January 1877, the son of Thomas Gibson Gowland, a greengrocer, and his wife Jean, he was second eldest of a family of six (Gibson had three brothers and two sisters). The family business can be assumed to have been a very successful one, as they employed two servants at their home. Part of the street was demolished several years ago, as part of a site clearance exercise prior to the erection of newer homes, and Gibson’s home was unfortunately part of that clearance. It would have stood approximately opposite to what is now Trinity Methodist Church, which has had its entrance in Edward Street since being remodelled more than 25 years ago.

Gibson started work as a sailor, and worked his way up to mate on a ship, before spending several years in South Africa, where, from the age of 25 he variously hunted big game, prospected for diamonds, and organised a theatrical company in Johannesburg, in which he also acted, under the name of T. E. Gowland. He went on to prospect in Canada, where he finally made his début on the legitimate stage. In 1913, Gibson moved from Canada to the United States, where he met Beatrice Bird, also from Great Britain, and they married. Beatrice also came from a well to do family, and had emigrated with the intention of making a stage career for herself. They moved to Hollywood, where they worked as bit players, sometimes appearing together in the same film. Soon afterwards Beatrice changed her name to Sylvia Andrews

In 1915 Gibson appeared uncredited in director D. W. Griffiths’ “The Birth of a Nation”, followed a year later by “Intolerance”, a three and a half hour epic, also directed by Griffiths, now regarded as one of the great masterpieces of the silent era. That same year, 1916, he and Beatrice co-starred in another production – the birth of their only son Peter on 3 April. Unfortunately, just two years later they divorced, and Gibson took custody of his son Peter, who went on to make a name for himself as one of the foremost glamour photographers of his day, and the inventor of the Gowlandflex Camera, still in use today.

Six weeks old and hard at work already! Peter with his mother in his first film role: Small Magnetic Hand (1916)

Often cast as a villain, because of his bushy eyebrows, his six foot stature and curly hair gave Gibson a distinctive look, and in 1917 alone he made several films, ranging from westerns to mysteries, but his only starring role came in Greed (1924), directed by Erich von Stroheim, based on the Frank Norris novel McTeague, and co-starring ZaSu Pitts. The film has since become a classic, despite being cut to one-fifth of its original length before commercial release by MGM. In it Gowland portrayed the protagonist, dentist John McTeague. Von Stroheim had earlier directed Gowland as Silent Sepp in his 1919 film Blind Husbands, and this propelled Gowland to relative stardom, which in turn brought a succession of better roles his way. His two best known films “Blind Husbands” and “Greed” are still available on DVD.

Gibson with co-star Eliza Susan (ZaSu) Pitts in "Greed" (1924)

Gibson with co-star Eliza Susan (ZaSu) Pitts in “Greed”

The now relatively forgotten Spennymoor born star of the silver screen appeared in over 80 films – many of them uncredited – yet his acting CV includes: “The Wolf-man” (1924) the part of Joseph Buquet, a stagehand in “The Phantom of the Opera” (1925, starring Lon Chaney jnr.) the part of Black Bastien in a non-musical version of Rose Marie (1928 with Joan Crawford where he is unmistakably seen on the poster with gun in hand) and “Mysterious Island” (1929, starring Lionel Barrymore). According to an article in the magazine ‘Famous Monsters of Filmland’, production of the latter actually started in 1926. There were various problems, including weather and the advent of talkies, which served to slow or halt production several times before the film was finally completed and released three years later. The article included stills showing the original 1926 undersea denizens and the redesigned version which actually appeared in the film. Footage shot by Maurice Tourneur and Benjamin Christensen in 1927 was incorporated into the final version. Gibson also had uncredited parts in “Northwest Passage” (1940, starring Spencer Tracy) and “Gaslight” (1944, starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer).

Rose Marie poster (1928) unmistakably shows Gibson toting a gun.

Rose Marie poster (1928) unmistakably shows Gibson toting a gun

After a second failed marriage, Gibson returned to England in 1944. He died in London on 9 September 1951, aged 74, and is interred in an unmarked grave in Golders Green Crematorium.

I managed to track Peter down with a little help from the internet. By this time (July 2007) he was 91, and so delighted that anyone remembered his late father, that he was only too happy to fill in the gaps for me. He replied “I’m thrilled that you wrote to me about my father. He was born on Jan 4th 1877 in Spennymoor, and I was born in the United States. My mother (also English) and father divorced when I was two years old and I lived with Gibson from age two until I was seventeen, when he found a new wife, after which I went to live with my mother.” Peter also revealed that he was “currently finishing work” on his own biography.

Pater also confirmed that Gibson arrived in the United States from England, by way of Canada, in 1913 and there met Beatrice Bird, also from England, whom he married. Both were actors who had left their comfortable families behind to seek careers. They arrived in Hollywood by train, knowing no one, in 1914. At first each worked for $2 a day as extras or bit players and lived in a $7 a month shack one-half block from the famous Sunset Blvd. In 1916, Peter was born there. He saw the irony of that humble beginning, by contrast with his later life-style, also just three blocks from Sunset Blvd, but at the other end, in an affluent neighbourhood. In his planned biography Peter said: “My father raised me from age two, to my late teens. He never hit me, or told me how to live my life, or what I should study in school”.. Peter’s one and only sadness was that he had not been able to trace the site of his fathers internment.

'Gibby' and Peter

‘Gibby’ and Peter

Perhaps I love a challenge;or it may just be that I don’t know when its time to give up, but I discovered that Golders Green Crematorium, was under the care of the London Borough of Barnet, so I sent an email to them, asking for information from their records. A day or two later I received their reply, along with an offer of assistance should I or any of Gibson’s family wish to visit the burial site. Based on that information I can now reveal that Spennymoor’s star of the silver screen was laid to rest in Golders Green Crematorium on 18th September 1951, in grave number 65455 Section H.3. There is no memorial stone on the grave which is just grassed over; information which I passed to Peter, who himself passed away on 17th March 2010, aged 93.

Cinema seems to run through the Gowland family history: two of Gibson’s brothers, Robert and Edward, opened The Grand Electric Hall in Cheapside, Spennymoor in 1910.

It has been suggested by other sources that Gibson appeared on stage in England and Germany under the name of T. E. Gowland, but I have found no evidence to support this, and his early life history suggests very strongly that there is no space where this would have conveniently fit. The same source also wrongly turned Peter’s half brother on his mother’s side, George, into his brother, which hardly inspires confidence.

Photo Credits: All images © Peter Gowland; used by permission

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The Death of a Spennymoor Knight



The obituary that appeared in The Times on 28th January 2010 was so short that even avid readers of that erstwhile publication may well have either missed it, or else passed over it quickly, judging it as ‘unimportant’. It simply informed readers: ‘The Rt Hon. Sir Percy Cradock, GCMG, died after a short illness on 22nd January 2010, aged 86 years. Funeral Service at St Mary’s Church, Twickenham, Wednesday 3rd February 2010 at 1.30pm, followed by cremation’. Why should anyone care? These are the reasons why…

Percy Cradock was born on 26th October 1923 into a family of small farmers in Byers Green, and became a fervent Labour supporter. He won a scholarship to Alderman Wraith Grammar School and, after spending the wartime years in the RAF, was the first from his family to go to university.

At St John’s College, Cambridge, he won all the prizes, got double starred Firsts in English and Law, and fell under the spell of Arthur Waley’s Translations from the Chinese, later becoming an Honorary Fellow of the College. In 1950 he was elected president of the Cambridge Union, which has, since its founding in 1815, developed a worldwide reputation as a noted symbol of free speech and open debate, beating his Conservative opponent Norman St John Stevas into second place. Cradock’s victory is said to have owed less to his politics than it did to his reputation as the Union’s best speaker by far. Later, he would write a history of the Union.

He stayed on at Cambridge for a time to teach Law, then, having been called to the Bar by Middle Temple in 1953, he left Cambridge, married Birthe Marie Dyrlund, and joined the Foreign Office as a late entrant in 1954. Subsequent to that he served as: First Secretary, Kuala Lumpur [Malaysia], 1957-61, Hong Kong, 1961, Peking [China], 1962; Foreign Office, 1963-66; Counsellor and Head of Chancery, Peking, 1966-68; Chargé d’Affaires, Peking, 1968-69; Head of Planning Staff, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 1969-71; Under-Secretary, Cabinet Office, 1971-75; Ambassador to German Democratic Republic, 1976-78; Leader, UK Delegation to Comprehensive Test Ban Discussions at Geneva [Switzerland], 1978.

He was then posted back to Beijing, this time as British Ambassador, succeeding Sir Edward Youde, and he led the negotiations on the Hong Kong Joint Declaration which prepared for the handing back of the Province to its owners, the Chinese Government, earning himself the soubriquet ‘Maggie’s Mandarin’.

On his previous appointment to Beijing he had been caught up in the Cultural Revolution, witnessed the burning of the British Chancery and had even been forced to run the gauntlet of rioting mobs. This time he led the British team during difficult, often tense negotiations over the better part of two years; though by the time the Joint Declaration was signed in December 1984, he had been appointed Foreign Policy Advisor to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and was working from a desk in Number 10 once again. A year later he was also appointed Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, duties which he continued to fulfil until his retirement from government service in 1992. In 1993 he was made a member of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council, a body of advisors to the reigning sovereign.

After his retirement, Cradock, who had always been pro-Chinese, became the most outspoken critic of Chris Patten, the last British Governor of Hong Kong, and of his liberalising policies, which he insisted would force the government of the People’s Republic to take strong action to reign in personal freedoms when it took back control on 1st July, 1997.

He was the author of a long article published in ‘Prospect’ on 20th April 1997 with the title ‘Losing the Plot in Hong Kong’, in which he wrote scathingly of ‘…the story of a bad mistake, which has left Hong Kong worse off in terms of protection and democracy than it need have been’. He went on to say ‘It has gone unacknowledged, as government errors tend to do, and has been almost buried under the powerful emotions stirred up by the loss of our last great colonial possession and the inevitable political-cultural clash…’

So this Spennymoor born man, who served his country to the best of his ability, as an advisor, both to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and to her Prime Minister; who was awarded the GCMG (Cross of St. Michael and St. George) in 1968; raised to KCMG (Knight of the Cross of St. Michael and St. George) in 1980 and finally to KGCMG (Knight of the Grand Cross of St. Michael and St. George) in 1983, passed away on 22nd January after a short illness, at the age of 86.

Knights have always been regarded, since time immemorial as men of courage and valour. We humbly record the passing of one of our own – the death of a Spennymoor Knight.

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