Legendary Leeds Councillor reminisces on 57-year career

By Liam Smedley

Councillor Bernard Atha CBE will be retiring in May 2014

Councillor Bernard Atha CBE will be retiring in May 2014

Retiring “legendary” Leeds Councillor and former Lord Mayor has described serving the city since 1957 as “the passion of his life.”

Councillor Atha, 85, who serves Kirkstall Ward for the Labour Party, said he has chosen not to stand for re-election in May because he would be nearly 90 following another term.

Originally, he trained as a ballet dancer and barrister as well as acting in Coronation Street, Last of the Summer Wine and Kes.

Councillor Atha said: “Life is a continuum. I got a twist in my heart when I first made the decision. But three days later I realised it was the right one.”

Reflecting on his performance career he said: “My mother took me to a local ballet class when I was 10 or 11. I went in and saw all these nice looking girls there and thought ‘Yes! I’m the only boy here!’ It’s a marvellous art form that has always been a great pleasure of mine.”

His role in the 1969 film Kes as the careers officer came about when he joined the White Rose theatre company in Leeds. Kes tells the story of a 15-year old boy from Barnsley who spends his time training his pet falcon.

An agent invited him to meet the director Ken Loach opposite the BBC’s original Broadcasting House.

Councillor Atha said: “People still ask me if I was in Kes like I’ve been up to the top of Everest in my bare feet.  I went to a school to talk about sport and disability and when I asked for questions they said ‘were you in Kes?’”

He was influential in the building of West Yorkshire Playhouse in 1974 and previously sat on the board for the Leeds Grand Theatre.

Artistic Director of West Yorkshire Playhouse James Brining commented: “Bernard is an almost legendary figure in the Arts and Cultural scene in this city. His support for Leeds Playhouse/West Yorkshire Playhouse has been unparalleled.

“The role he played over many years put this theatre on the map and we owe him a huge debt of thanks for his tireless enthusiasm, energy and passion for theatre and valuable contribution to the life of a city.”

Councillor Atha was elected Lord Mayor 2000-2001 and awarded a CBE for his work with various arts organisations and charities helping disabled people.

WATCH: “Kes needs to be preserved for future generations’ says Councillor Bernard Atha CBE

LISTEN: “Ed Miliband will be Prime Minister in 2015” says Councillor Bernard Atha CBE

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