It was at the very beginning, when the Trust moved into Tyntesfield, that the
property manager announced there will be a documentary made about our work here.
What was to become a BBC4 documentary meant we were to be followed around by a
film crew. We were to go about our everyday work as we normally would. Some of
us could even end up on TV.
Because of the fact we had only just started working for the National Trust,
I asked my boss what normal was. It’s what you normally do day to day was the
Normally we would have been busy repairing buildings, carrying out work, but
as all our plant, equipment and tools had been sold off in the auction organised
before the Trust took over, we were far from normal.
In fact, normal was never to return in the entire time I worked for the
Trust. In fairness, if working life is supposed to resemble a TV sitcom
somewhere between Jam and Jerusalem, the League of Gentlemen and headed by
Krusty the Klown, furtherly championed by petty bureaucracy and farce, I
supposed it could have been classed as normal.
Otherwise, the normal thing for me in the early Trust days was – when we are
going to get some equipment?
This question had been asked every day for ten weeks. While the offices were
stocked with computers and very expensive leather furniture, we watched the
estate falling to pieces. Every time I asked when we are to get some tools, I
was always accused of being aggressive with my over questioning. Whilst many –
including some at the National Trust – regarded Tyntesfield as a dusty ruin
saved for the nation, the Truth was, until the death of Lord Wraxall,
Tyntesfield was a working estate, run by a team of people who were experts in
their field. They were the working people of the estate, some of whom had
dedicated a lifetime to the job. They were not fresh out of university with
various degrees and NVQs in dust management or people pushing. They had learned
their skills, crafted their talent and knew and loved Tyntesfield with a
For the first 10 weeks of the National Trust take over, the only transport we
had were our own bicycles. We attempted to keep on top of things with this mode
of transport. Every day I would ask the manager, when can we have a proper set
The reply was always the same, this is early days for the Trust and besides,
it looks good to be using green transport.
Now it may have looked good, but even an imbecile could see we couldn’t do
much, as we couldn’t carry the tools around on the bikes.
It was when the
chain broke on my bike that I went to the office to ask for a
The answer was, this is a very irregular request, we can’t just
go around buying chains for people’s bikes. So opening the cupboard behind a
plush new leather settee he found a mileage allowance that could be used for
claiming the use of push bikes.
After looking at the figures, I deduced that I would have to cycle to Tibet
and back to cover the cost of a new chain. But I had no chain so I couldn’t get
there anyway. I put the bike away and waited for them to get their back sides in
gear and supply us with a works vehicle.
It was after repeated requests by the film crew to appear on the documentary,
I approached the National Trust manager and informed her that I’m not sure what
I should be saying. Her reply was, just be honest, it will be good to see how
you feel about the transition by the National Trust and how it has affected
To be honest, I have been honest every since. What a mistake to make. I was
always brought up to tell the truth, only a liar has to resort to memory.
So when we were approached by the film crew, the plumber and I were very
honest. I accused the Trust of being incompetent morons and explained in detail
what was going on. At first the film director took my word with a pinch of salt
until he realised that things were not all going to plan with the Trust. This
was highlighted by a senior manager indicating he may have been set up to fail.
If the rot on the property was at that height what chance did we have at
As time went on, the film crew always made a bee line for me. They would even
send out search parties.
So as the months went by the only thing improving on the estate was my
ability to stand in front of the cameras. I became a natural, taking on the role
of a country yokel, but always telling it like it was.
The filming was not just at Tyntesfield, but at several National Trust
properties around the country. Evidently the Trust was beginning to look rather
stupid and as the programmes rolled out, the more evident it was that things
were not all beer and skittles in other parts of the country.
At the other properties participating in the programme, the National Trust
were being portrayed as being at odds with local people. One group of protesters
even had T-Shirts made with the oak leaves as a swastika and the slogan, the
Nazi Trust. At the time I thought it was a bit extreme, but as time went by, I
realised what these people were hinting at.
Prior to the television screening of the Tyntesfield programme, it seems that
the top management were shown a preview of the programme. It didn’t go down too
It was the following day that a member of the head office team approached me
and said – “It was very refreshing to hear the truth spoken out, you really got
the feathers flying, excellent well done.”
The Tyntesfield documentary was to be the icing on the cake for the film
makers, the final finale of bumbling incompetence and dam right ignorance.
I was informed by a very good source, the Trust had demanded a lot of the
programme was edited out. This was because the contents of the programme, whilst
true, could lose them public support. How true this was I will never know, only
those that watched the programmes would be the best judge.
After that I always seemed to be out of the way when any filming took place
at the property, apart from when I happened to walk in to Tyntesfield house full
of actors in Nazi uniforms, mingling with a smattering of managers.
As all the faces looked in my direction, I apologised for walking in on the
AGM – a remark I feel may have made me some enemies. The urge to compare the
swastikas with the oak leaf laurels was very hard to resist. Had I done so who
knows where my career with Trust would have ended up?
Since leaving the Trust, I have had lots of contact with the media in one
form or another. It’s thanks to those early days of working at Tyntesfield, that
I am able to stand with confidence when doing so. So just for once, thanks a lot
National Trust. Something good came out of my employment. And thanks very much
to their continuing persistence that I must use computers as part of job that I
can now sit here and reminisce for you.