Christmas Time in Milton

Christmas Time in Milton

Twas the night before Christmas, on Milton it fell.
The machines were all down, their workday went well.
The Holiday had started, forgetting their plight.
Workers were singing, as they walked home that night.

At night, they went sleeping, snug in their straw beds,
while visions of meat, food, and pudding, danced in their heads.
And Mother in her kerchief, and nude I still sleep.
I count the women, forget them fool sheep.

When out of a dream sleep, I awoke in my bed.
A vision of Miss Margaret, that female, I dread.
I walked to the window, I stared at the snow.
Once mad at that woman, I’d forgotten, Why so?

She had seen me at work, in my cotton domain.
I shouted at workers, calling out someone’s name.
I ran after the worker, while he tried hide his pipe.
I held him by collar, and gave him a swipe.

Still at the window, I saw Margaret Hale
A vision exquisite, waiting under the veil
When what to my wandering mind did appear
I knew I did love her, but she was not here

My passion now seething, I had been alone
My heart will be broken, for her it be known.
I gazed from the moon, to the glistening snow,
I thought this is Christmas, I feel I must go.”

I rallied at midnight and dressed myself nice.
I bundled real warm, against the snow and the ice.
I noticed that the driver, of the train that I caught,
looked like Father Christmas, with pink cheeks, I thought.

The train left on time with its bell and its smoke.
I knew the driver must be some happy old bloke.
By the time I found London, near broke was the dawn,
with horses and driver, a sleigh would be drawn.

“I say, aren’t you the driver I had on the train?”
He said nothing to me, but ruffled his rein.
He called me by John, before a word could be said
“It’s a bit too early, we’ll ride ‘round here instead.”

I fell back in my seat, as our sleigh took to flight
I marveled and mumbled looking left and then right
“Where are you taking me? And what is your task?”
“I am giving you a gift for which you have asked.”

“Bloody hell, and tomfoolery, no gift do I need.
Take me down now, with your sleigh and your steed.”
“I think you were headed for a home in this city.”
“You daren’t know where, and that t’is a pity.”

The bright lights came rushing, as the horses, they dove
Rooftops were nearing, but to a doorway, he drove.
I thanked him; stepped out, still shaking from cold
“The house on the left, and Merry Christmas behold!”

I stood and I watched, as he flew out of sight
What a curious old man, and what a great night.
Dauntless was I, as I rapped on the door’
Margaret knew not, the broken heart that I wore’

She gasped as she saw me, covering her mouth
“I just thought I’d visit on my way to the south.”
“Please. Come in, get warm,” she said with a sigh.
As I watched a small tear fall from her eye.

“Merry Christmas, Miss Hale,” I said holding my hat.
“Perhaps I’m intruding: I can easily come back.”
“Oh no, you are here. I have longed for this meet.”
“I am here all alone, please do take a seat.”

“Where are my manners, your hat I must take.”
“I’ll take your coat, too.” Margaret started to shake.
“Sholto, the grandson, is who aunt sees this day.”
“I’m glad to see you, There’s an abundance to say.”

“Christmas is a day full of merriment and cheer.”
“Mine’s been quite sad, until you appeared.”
She sat down beside him, aware of his scent
Her heart started racing, next to this wonderful gent.

“One night looking heavenward I wished on a star.”
“John Thornton, I aspired, and now, here you are.”
“Odd you should say that, I awoke to you, too.”
“In my dreams and my arms – that’s when I knew.”

“I knew that I’ve loved you, when you turned me away.”
“In your own home; with complaints to convey.”
“How could you speak and still steal my soul?”
“I’ve wandered alone, and time took its toll.”

“John, I’ve never forgotten my words said in haste.”
“The words of rejection which I should have embraced.”
“My dear you were new, to these ways of the north,
“Our culture was strange, but you learned it henceforth.”

John pulled her to standing, while wrapping his arms
Around her warm body with all of its charms
He gazed at her face, then into her eyes
Kissing the tip of her nose, had started her sighs.

John held her quite close to his strong beating chest
And kissed her most deeply, and firmly he pressed.
Her breast and her breathing, both needed much more.
He’d wait for the day, until she wanted to soar.

“John, I dearly love you as you probably can see.”
“My passionate woman, will you come home with me?”
“This day will live forever as our perfect Christmas,
“But let us not talk for there is more I will kiss.”















North and South

“I live in fear that I will never find a role like Thornton again, but that’s the challenge. I loved playing the role so much and I think it will stay with me forever. It was just a part I completely devoured and related to. “ [1]

richard-armitage-thornton1Richard Armitage’s breakthrough role on TV was Victorian cotton mill-owner John Thornton, in the BBC’s 2004 adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South.
He had been steadily building a career in British television, playing a variety of increasingly more important supporting roles from 2001 onwards. But Thornton was his first leading role, and it took his career to a new level.

Set in the 1850s, Gaskell’s novel tells the story of Margaret Hale, a vicar’s daughter from the south of England, whose family moves to the northern industrial town of Milton. There she meets the owner of one of the largest local cotton mills, John Thornton. Used to the genteel society of the south, she struggles to adjust to the grime and poverty of the busy mill town at the heart of the Industrial Revolution. She clashes repeatedly with Thornton, critical of his manner of doing business and his treatment of his workers. But gradually they grow closer and come to understand each other. It’s a ‘social problem’ novel with a compelling love story at the heart of it.

An industrial novel by a lesser-known 19th century writer is an unlikely subject for a popular period drama and the BBC can be forgiven for having had modest ambitions for their adaptation.

Richard Armitage as John Thornton in North and SouthBut it was an unexpected success. Broadcast in four episodes on Sunday evenings in November and December 2004, it was watched by more than 6 million viewers – many of them women who fell in love with John Thornton, as portrayed by Richard Armitage.

Hundreds of them overwhelmed the BBC Drama message boards with messages about the drama and in particular, its hero. Soon the BBC had to set up a separate message board for North and South discussions. The phenomenon of so many women taking to an Internet message board for the first time because of their love for this programme became the subject of an article by Anne Ashworth in The Times. She wrote,

The BBC Drama website contains the outpourings of hundreds of thirty and fortysomething women for this year’s romantic hero. He is John Thornton, the northern millowner in Mrs Gaskell’s North & South, recently serialised on BBC One. Thornton was played smoulderingly by the previously little-known Richard Armitage as a blue-eyed, dark-haired stunner, the Darcy de nos jours. On the messageboard, character and actor merge into one object of desire: RA/JT. […]

The friend who alerted me to this site described the message board’s atmosphere: “It is as if the girls who did Eng Lit at uni had joined a fan club. Waiting for every new message may not be as exciting as waiting for the next episode of North & South, but it’s the next best thing. It’s comforting: we have our love for RA to keep us warm.”

The BBC had not initially announced a release of a DVD of the series, apparently preferring to wait and see how it was received. But they were deluged with emails pleading for a DVD, and within a week of the end of the series had promised to release one.

margaret-211With the benefit of hindsight, it’s not hard to see why North and South was such a success, both with critics and viewers. Sandy Welch’s intelligent and sensitive adaptation of the novel was brought to the screen by a talented creative team. Director Brian Percival created the conditions that allowed a fine cast of actors to produce compelling and thoughtful performances. Daniela Denby-Ashe originally read for the role of Fanny, but was then cast as Margaret. Tim Piggot-Smith and Lesley Manville played her parents, and Pauline Quirke their servant. Sinead Cusack was Mrs Thornton and Brendan Coyle played Higgins.

Brian Percival, cinematographer Peter Greenhalgh and production designer Simon Elliot (BAFTA-nominated) created a production with a look that was faithful to the period, but that had a contemporary feel far removed from the pedestrian costume dramas of the past. Martin Phipps’ music added to the atmosphere of the piece.

And at the heart of it all was Richard Armitage’s portrayal of John Thornton. He has acknowledged that it was the role of a lifetime and he threw himself into it. As a viewer commented on the BBC website, “The man inhabited his role of Thornton on North and South like a second skin.”

richard-armitage-thornton43Thornton is at first an unlikely hero, a stern and unsympathetic industrialist. But as the drama progresses, his struggles with his workers and with his own growing feelings for Margaret reveal a different, gentler side to him. Richard Armitage portrayed his journey from hard-nosed businessman to tender lover with sensitivity and fine detail, peeling off the layers of this powerful man to reveal the vulnerability and loneliness lying within.

Add to his acting abilities his smouldering good looks, and it’s little wonder that women in their thousands fell in love with “RA/JT”.

The whole cast and crew of North and South scarcely put a foot wrong, and the result is a high-quality drama that has been shown in several countries around the world, winning new fans each time.

* * *

In December 2008, ITV3 broadcast a five part series about The Story of the Costume Drama, tracing its history on British TV over the last 50 years. One of the dramas included was North and South. Both Richard Armitage and Daniela Denby-Ashe were interviewed for the programme, and they spoke about the filming and about their chemistry as John Thornton and Margaret Hale. See clip below


BBC North and South website
Article about the novel in The Guardian, 23rd February 2008, by Jenny Uglow, biographer of Elizabeth Gaskell.


[1] Interview with Richard Armitage, Ceefax, 15th September 2005