A LEADING film maker has criticised plans to scrap the borough’s ‘Welcome To Cookson Country’ road signs.
Ray Marshall, who produced 23 feature-length adaptations of Dame Catherine Cookson’s novels for ITV during the 1990s, says the move is a “serious error of judgment”.
Mr Marshall was horrified to discover South Tyneside Council bosses had decided to remove the 25-year-old brown road signs displaying the Cookson branding, and replace them with beach scenes.
Mr Marshall was so incensed after the Gazette revealed the decision in January that he wrote a letter to Mayor of South Tyneside, Coun Jim Sewell.
He said: “I just wanted to express how disappointed I was to hear that the council was distancing itself from Catherine Cookson.
“I think everyone knows the contribution she made to the local economy, community and heritage of not just South Shields, but much of the North East. There is a very strong argument that she put the area on the map.
“Imagine if Dorset suddenly said ‘Oh let’s not be Thomas Hardy Country any more, he’s been dead a long time’. That’s effectively what is happening here.”
He added: “Wor Kate is an established part of the North East culture and to dump her unceremoniously is, to my mind, a serious error of judgement.”
Mr Marshall is managing director of the London-based Festival Film and Television company, which won the International Emmy for Best Drama, for the film The Black Velvet Gown in 1990.
The Cookson-based films, which have featured stars like Catherine Zeta-Jones, Robson Green and Sean Bean, are still screened every Sunday on the Yesterday channel.
But council bosses want to brand the borough as a modern area, under the slogan “an outstanding place to live, visit, learn and do business”.
Mr Marshall said: “Her books and the films over a 12-year period showed the heritage of the region to the world.
“The films are still being screened on national television, and hundreds of copies of DVDs and her books are sold every month.
“Yes, she dealt with a time when things were tough – and society has changed enormously – but the point of history is that it has things to teach us about how we live now.”
He added: “To the outside world, it seems the council regards the great Dame Catherine, who gave South Shields so much, as a bit of an embarrassment.
“I bet if she were still alive today, they would not be doing this.”
Coun Ahmed Khan, who represents the Beacon and Bents ward in South Shields, is also angered by the changes.
He said: “When it became common knowledge the signs were being scrapped there was uproar, and not just within in the borough.
“I am glad Mr Marshall has expressed his disappointment. This is the man responsible for films which have been watched by millions.
“His company is proud to be associated with the Cookson branding, so why isn’t our council?”
A South Tyneside Council spokesman said the authority was “extremely proud” of the success of the Cookson Country branding, but felt the time was right to update the borough’s image.
“Alongside our partners, we are working incredibly hard to attract investment, so that we can develop new industries that will provide employment for local people for years to come,” he said.
“Competition for that investment is stronger than ever in the current economic climate, so it is essential that South Tyneside has a brand that raises its regional, national and international profile in relation to tourism and economic regeneration.
“We will continue to work with tour operators to promote the Cookson Tours and are looking at new ways of exploiting our Cookson links to attract visitors to the borough.”