Surprise award for BridLit director

THERE was a surprise for Bridport Literary Festival director Tanya Bruce-Lockhart when she took to the stage of the Electric Palace to thank speaker Sir Barney White-Spunner, after his talk about his book, Berlin – George Streatfeild, the High Sheriff of Dorset, in full formal regalia, came on to the platform to present her with a special certificate.

The High Sheriff’s Award was presented to her in recognition of the determination and the immense work undertaken by her to put on a ‘live’ programme of Covid-safe events at this year’s festival.

Mr Streatfeild said: “In a year when joys are in short supply, being able, as High Sheriff, to thank people for the amazing work they do is a huge privilege and joy. I have known Tanya ever since she moved down to West Dorset 20 years ago. She would come to Denhay Farm, at Broadoak, march into the office, sit herself down and regale us with stories of her life and travels. She is always wonderful company.”

The literary festival team was determined to go ‘live’ this year despite the imponderables of the coronavirus pandemic. The annual week-long festival had been reduced to four days and everything was in place at the Electric Palace and Bridport Arts Centre to ensure the safety of audiences, volunteers and writers. But the beginning of the new lockdown leant the festival had to be cut short although Wednesday’s events could still go ahead.

Tanya said the award came as a complete surprise: “I thought at first it was a This Is Your Life moment and wondered what else would unravel. I was stunned, thrilled and delighted to be awarded the High Sheriff’s Award and greatly appreciated the citation that George read to the audience.”

Tanya’s first career was in London in television and journalism. She started on the London Weekend Television team and moved to become a researcher on chat shows with David Frost, Frank Muir, Simon Dee and David Jacobs. She produced The Russell Harty Show, joined Humphrey Burton as a producer of arts documentaries for Aquarius and worked with Melvyn Bragg on The South Bank Show. She joined Granada Television to head arts programming and was instrumental in bringing the ballets of choreographer Kenneth Macmillan to ITV.

Mr Streatfeild told the audience: “This career was merely a warm-up act for her second career – one she is still only halfway through. Twenty years ago she moved to Dorset and became director of the Beaminster Festival for Music and the Arts which she ran from 2004 to 2014.

“She was able to use her journalism and television contacts to expand the content of the festival considerably, increasing its diversity and range.

“At the same time Tanya took control of the Bridport Literary Festival, which is now in its 16th year. It too has benefited from Tanya’s breadth of vision, her desire to encourage and stimulate ideas and provoke debate and a commitment to fuel a wide range of interests of audiences from West Dorset and much further afield.

“The festival is organised entirely by Tanya – her knowledge of authors and the subjects that will bring an audience, her connections with London agents and publishers, her own creative flair, tireless determination, attention to detail, and her ability to attract a loyal group of volunteers have resulted in a festival which grows in quality and popularity with each year. Even in this Covid year Tanya has organised one of the very few live festivals,– just.”

Bridport Literary Festival – affectionately known as BridLit – is now regarded as one of the major literary festivals in the country, he said, “recognised for quality and diversity and a forum for literary excellence.

“Tanya deserves all our appreciation, credit and recognition for her achievement. Both BridLit and the Beaminster Music Festival have transformed the life of Bridport, Beaminster and the surrounding areas by bringing not only culture but also business prosperity and a new awareness of the beauties of West Dorset to its residents and many visitors.

“We look forward to many more years of Bridlit under Tanya’s direction. In the meantime, it gives me immense pleasure and joy to present Tanya Bruce-Lockhart with a High Sheriff’s Award for her amazing contribution to the life and vitality of the community that is West Dorset.”

Wednesday’s events also saw best-selling nature writer Raynor Winn talking about her new book, Wild Silence and an entertaining conversation between author Robert McCrum and local writer Jason Webster about Robert’s new book, Shakespearean, and how the poet and playwright’s work is every bit as current today.

Tanya said: “Writers who had to be stood down included Kim Darroch, Alastair Campbell, Charles Spencer, Richard Osman, Jonathan Coe and James Rebanks. They were all as disappointed as we were but each has promised to come to Bridport once the country is through these dark and anxious days of the virus – roll on spring.”

Photograph by Adrian Munden.