Heaven and Hell: Ian Grutchfield

Ian Grutchfield, venue director and co-owner of Hadleigh Old School

Ian Grutchfield, venue director and co-owner of Hadleigh Old School. Picture: Neil Didsbury - Credit: NEIL DIDSBURY

Ian Grutchfield is venue director for Hadleigh Old School, Suffolk’s new arts and events venue, which opened during the pandemic and has ambitious plans to stage a variety of cultural events. As a TV executive, Ian relaunched Doctor Who in 2005, with Christopher Eccleston as the ninth doctor and oversaw consumer marketing and international merchandising through to the 12th Time Lord Peter Capaldi. He also released a UK number one single for the Teletubbies (employing Simon Cowell) and secured an Oscar for Wallace and Gromit.  He lives in Hadleigh with his husband, Matthew, and rescue dogs, Connie and Elvira.

What is your connection to East Anglia?
I’m Hadleigh to the core. Our family moved here from Billericay in 1974 when Dad’s job was relocated from next door to the Tower of London to the gleaming glass piano of Willis Faber and Dumas in Ipswich. I moved back five years ago; it was my husband’s idea to renovate an Elizabethan townhouse, so we could be nearer to my parents who still live in the town.

What is your East Anglian Heaven?
The friendly people. We knew just a dozen or so neighbours in Leytonstone; now we know half the town.

What is your East Anglian Hell?
We love driving around the region, so I’d say the road networks. Our country lanes were best suited for the horse and cart.

What’s your favourite East Anglian restaurant?
Le Talbooth, Stratford St Mary. Par excellence. We have an annual reunion with a couple of diners we met there, striking up conversation by asking ‘what’s your starter like?’ to swapping dog and life stories.

What’s your favourite way to spend an East Anglian evening?
Sitting on a bench in our walled garden with nibbles and fizz. We bring out the fairylights and play music on Spotify.

What’s your favourite East Anglian landmark?
The Deanery Tower of 1495. Archdeacon Pykenham was a rogue, but he left alms for his sins including the tower. It is one of three Grade I listed buildings in Hadleigh’s civic precinct, situated alongside the timber-framed Medieval Guildhall and St Mary’s Church. All three buildings are still used for their original purposes and we actively support Friends of St Mary’s, through the annual Hidden Gardens of Hadleigh, which in 2020 had to resort to being a virtual online tour, but we hope the gardens gates will be open again next year.

What’s the best thing that happens in East Anglia every year?
The May Show (non-locals call it the Hadleigh Show), starting with the Fun Fair on Friday, when a few traffic cones habitually end up in the River Brett, with the big Agricultural Show on Saturday. My first media experience was being interviewed as a child at the Show, live on the Radio Orwell in the 1970s. They were broadcasting a cooking demo from their stand and I blushed to say I couldn’t even make a cup of tea. Have tried to stay out of the 
limelight ever since!

What your specialist Mastermind subject?
American 20th century presidents; John F Kennedy, Lyndon B Johnson, and Ronald Reagan.

What is always in your fridge?
I wanted to write Champagne, but I checked and it’s home-made jam, made by friends

What’s your simple philosophy of life?
As long as you do your best – credit June Hodges (would have been mother-in-law).  Life is about trying things, making an effort, taking risks, asking and encouraging others.

What’s your favourite film?
North By Northwest, directed by Alfred Hitchcock.  For my stag-do, my best man James hired a cinema for a private screening.  I have been to Mount Rushmore, scene of the finale. Embarrassingly, en-route,  I got a speeding ticket from Dakota Highway Patrol. My first dog was called Hitch in honour of the great filmmaker.

What was your first job?
Senior clerk, clearances BBC Enterprises. Telephoning actors with international TV sales royalties, Alan Whicker and former Doctor Who villains went on to speed dial.  I changed job every year, moving into promotions and eventually co-production – heading up a division aged 26.

What is your most treasured possession?
An astounding abstract painting Vue d’une Fenetre, 1967 by artist and sculpture Arthur Lett-Haines of Benton End fame.  It depicts a surreal fantasy world through six windows, setting your imagination free; What are the creatures, gods, animals, aliens?  I am fascinated by the story of Lett and Sir Cedric Morris who established the East Anglian School of Art and Drawing at Benton End. Two gay men welcoming artists and cultural icons to a bohemian garden. In the 1970s, only aristocrats or friends of royalty could be gay and out. Benjamin Britten, another of my heroes was a visitor to the school. Despite being such a traumatic year, one positive thing to happen in 2020, was the election of Hadleigh’s first openly gay mayor, and he didn’t need to shout about it.

Who do you admire most?
Matthew Alun Hodges, my husband.  He was bullied at school and left at 16 to work at a builder’s merchant (his Dad was a brickie). Matthew is leaving his role this month as a senior vice president, directing sales across Germany for the Europe’s largest TV conglomerate, to help me establish Hadleigh Old School as an arts and events venue.  He will do all the fabulous things like a drag cabaret, fashion shows and burlesque, alongside concerts and art exhibitions.

What is your biggest indulgence?
Works of art, I get addicted when I discover a new painter or sculptor.  I would rather commission a collage of a Broads water mill or buy Ollie, a silver otter at a Reeman Dansie auction, than pay the gas bill.

What do you like about yourself most?
I take risks based on my ability to predict consumer behaviour; somehow I can predict what will sell. 

What’s your worst character trait?
I don’t listen; I have learned the most interesting thing to every person on the planet is themself.  But you have to listen to others, as you don’t have a monopoly 
on wisdom.  Our groundsman knows more about tree planting, my husband knows more about tact.

Where is your favourite holiday destination? 
Montmartre Paris – we always visit Dalida’s tomb, buy croissants with our friends Chez and Jean Francois: JF works for a French arts council and gets us all VIP passes to the latest exhibitions.

Best day of your life?
Wedding day; it is so much harder to be loved than to love. If you find the person of your dreams, and they love you, then hang on to them. We married on Tower Bridge - fourth floor of the North Tower (as featured on The Apprentice), followed an enormous reception for family and friends from around the globe with the Supreme Fabulettes performing and messages from folks, like Boy George and my work-hero Russell T Davies.

What’s your favourite breakfast?
Hardest question. Just changed, as it was Huffers in Hadleigh High Street for a veggie breakfast with a fried slice. Now Battlebury’s, across the road,  as Tara lets us choose anything from the whole menu. Just don’t tell Mike!

What’s your favourite tipple?
Chateau Musar, by Gaston Hochar, ideally 2012.  A sublime red from the Lebanon, recommended by vintner Helen Williams of Adnams shop in Hadleigh.

When were you most embarrassed?
Caroline Cunningham’s birthday party aged eight. We played musical chairs, I sat down with a thud and let rip the most enormous fart, which was the talk of the playground at the County Primary.

What’s your earliest memory?
Samantha wiggling her nose in the TV classic Bewitched to perform magic. Mum believed in the power of TV as a babysitter, although not always with great success. Her claim to fame is letting swimmer Mark Foster half drown in a pond when babysitting him.  Years later, I always stayed at the Stardust Casino Resort in Las Vegas as it had Bewitched themed slot machines.

What song would you like played at your funeral?
Et bonjour a toi l’artiste by Nicole Rieu, the Chantelle of Europe.  Placed 4th in Eurovision 1975 from Stockholm.  Nicole sings about an artist – telling him to hurry up and get the colours out!

Tell us something people don’t know about you?
I came up with the name Torchwood – an anagram of Doctor Who.  I used it as a code to safeguard videotapes from the series when the sci-fi productions were suffering from leaks in the media and overzealous fans. Russell then created the global hit Torchwood on peak, prime time TV.

What’s the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?
If you don’t see a counsellor for anxiety I will leave you.

Tell us why you live here and nowhere else.
I feel I belong – walking our dogs on the Conch as they hunt for rabbits and squirrels is my heaven.  My life is about working with talented people and we have more here than anywhere else – in my opinion, the best living painter is from Suffolk, the best singer, the best composer, the most spiritual vicar. Where else am I going to find an events venue and gallery where they can all perform?

What do you want to tell our readers about most?
Please come to Hadleigh Old School to be entertained, enthralled and surprised.  
We are hosting a Stand Up Poetry Slam on 2nd January  2021 with John McCullough, winner of The Hawthornden Prize 2020 (past winners Graham Greene, Siegfried Sassoon, Hilary Mantel). This event will happen, in accordance with official guidelines; socially distanced in masks, around a bonfire in the wild garden if necessary.
Plus coming soon: stunning art shows and a cheeky nod to the Benton End’s East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing.  Visit the website hadleigholdschool.co.uk to find out about forthcoming events or to book the venue.

If you are living in Suffolk or Norfolk and have an interesting story, email gina@hallfarmfornham.com or follow Twitter: @geewizzgee1


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