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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Gently does it…


The new look entrance_wp

How the former school will appear to viewers of the series (A Marron/Spennymoor Today)

The site of the former Tudhoe Grange School, which closed in July 2012 to join with Spennymoor School as joint founders of Whitworth Park School and Sixth Form College, will find a new lease of life thanks to a new series of prime-time BBC police drama Inspector George Gently. The series, which stars Martin Shaw, Lee Ingleby and Simon Hubbard, is based on characters created by Alan Hunter. The TV series based on those stories, produced by Company Pictures for BBC One, relocated the detectives from Norfolk to Northumberland and Durham. Series five ended on a cliffhanger, with the fate of the leading characters uncertain, but in September 2012 Peter Flannery, lead writer on the series confirmed that a new series of four, ninety minute episodes had been commissioned. For the last few months cast and crew have been based in their new home at Tudhoe Grange School’s former lower school site on Durham Road, which has not only become the police station from which the leading characters work, but also provides offices and a production base for the company. Filming at region-wide locations took place from March until early June, and the series, which has a regular audited viewing figure of about seven million, will air in autumn this year.

Publicist Deborah Goodman, said: “Period-wise the school really works for us. It has a great frontage to put our sixties police cars out front and the interior is great. We can make the police station sets work and have enough room for the production team to have its offices there. It has made a huge difference to the series to film it where it is supposed to be set, in and around Northumberland.”

To suit the series the entrance to the building has been altered dramatically: the familiar double doors now boast the legend ‘North East Constabulary’ etched into the glass pane above them, with the words ‘POLICE STATION’ engraved in the stone portico; a blue police lamp shines at the side, and an iconic red telephone box is sited below that, with parking spaces assigned to leading characters, and a number of period vehicles have been spotted, parked outside the building.

Agnes Armstrong, chair of governors at Whitworth Park, and a board member of Spennymoor Community Learning Trust has welcomed the new use. She said “The long term future of the site remains to be decided but we’re very pleased it is being put to good use in the interim. To have people in the building is good for security and it will generate an income that will go into school funds for the education and welfare of our children.”

Neil Foster, Durham County Council member for Tudhoe, and cabinet member for regeneration and economic development, added: “It is good to have this production based in County Durham. In the past, several firms from cars to catering have benefited, and while in the area the crew will spend locally. It also provides a bit of excitement for the area, people will enjoy seeing their town and old school on the television and there may be opportunities to get involved in crowd scenes.”

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