STANDFIRST: Award-winning Channel 4 boss Stuart Cosgrove spins back in time to his days as a Northern Soul boy for his latest book, he tells Mark Green why.

Stuart Cosgrove can still remember the nerves he felt as a teenager walking up to the legendary Torch Club in Stoke.

It was the clack of the metal tips on the shoes of the Northern Soul boys as they hit the street that got to him.

The sound reminded him of being a boy in Cumbria and listening to the miners on their way to the pit in the dark before dawn.

Now 63, he’s dug deep into his memories for his latest book - Northern Soul: Young Soul Rebels.

He’ll be talking about it when he comes to the Borderlines book festival in Carlisle next weekend.

The book is a follow-up to an earlier one called Detroit 67 which mixes soul music with social history and tells the story of the break-up of the Supremes, the race riots and the escalation of the Vietnam war.

“I got so much feedback from people on the soul scene for Detroit 67 because it was different and put the music in a social and historical context,” he says.

“They said I should write about Northern Soul.

“My job was to write about the soul scene as well and accurately as I could and set it against the decline of industry in the Seventies and Eighties , the Yorkshire Ripper and the miners strike.

“I did not want readers to get lost inside the soul scene, I wanted it to be enjoyed by outsiders.

“I had a series of strong images in my mind of my time on the scene and in the clubs which I used as the basis for the book.”

His memory of The Torch club in Stoke isn’t one that makes it into the book.

He explains how his father, from Perth, was stationed at St Bees with the RAF during the war and met his mum at a dance in Whitehaven (how else?).

They married and settled in Perth, but his dad was killed in a car crash when Stuart was just eight.

Stuart and his family always spent summer holidays in Cumbria with his mum’s family.

“Every summer upto the age of 15 was spent at Silloth or Maryport and I still have loads of relatives in Whitehaven,” he says.

His grandad was a miner who was forced into retirement when he was injured in the Haig Pit disaster.

The sound of the miners going to work was a familiar one and it ricocheted back in the backstreets of Stoke.

He recalls: "I remember going to The Torch for the first time. It was the biggest club and I had a bit of fear and anxiety.

“I could hear this clacking and clicking of the segs on their shoes going down the street and it reminded me of being a child, lying in my granny’s house in Kells and the miners would be going to work in the dark in their wooden clogs.

“One of my biggest memories of the time is coming home and the train stopping outside Carlisle for about six hours,.

“There was a lot of action on the line and something serious was happening.

“It was only later that we discovered the Great Train Robbery had happened and the police had stopped all trains on the Glasgow line.”

As a teenager, he went to local Scottish clubs and student life in Hull allowed him to travel to big nights in Blackpool, Cleethorpes, Wigan, Blackburn and Stoke.

“I’ve been to all the clubs, but I was too young to go to the Twisted Wheel in Manchester, though I’ve heard many of its myths.”

As well as dancing and collecting the records, Stuart also wrote about the clubs, the music and the people.

He stopped when he was 28 to concentrate on a career.

After starting as a fanzine writer on the northern soul scene before joining the black music paper Echoes, as a staff writer.

He became media editor with the NME and a feature writer for a range of newspapers and magazines.

He joined Channel 4 in April 1994, serving for eight years as controller of arts and entertainment and is currently head of programmes.

In 2005 he was named Broadcaster of the Year in the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Awards and in 2012 he won numerous awards including a BAFTA and Royal Television Society award for Channel 4's coverage of the London Paralympics 2012.

Forty-odd years on, from The torch and the other club nights, and his love affair still burns bright.

He’s still collecting records, still going to clubs, still throwing some moves.

He can’t help it.

He has thousands of records worth hundreds of thousands of pounds at his home in Scotland.

“I don’t know exactly how many I’ve got, but the collection is comfortably worth more than my house which is valued at £450,000.”

He has a record deck set up in his front room and all his rare singles are digitised to preserve them.

“I always like a little swivver now and again,” he admits.

“I go to a lot of book signings at clubs and I might stay until one or two in the morning and it is difficult not to move.


Some of his singles are worth £6,000 or £7,000 but he recently paid out just £30 for the latest edition to his collection.

“It’s a copy of one of the best Stax records ever made: Who’s Making Love? by Johnny Taylor.

“I have been involved in the scene since I was 18 or 19. It is a long love affair,” he says.


Stuart Cosgrove is relaxed that Channel 4’s version of the Great British Brake Off will not feature judge Mary Berry or presenters Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins.

He expects the programme’s loyal audience to dip, but says the real star of the show is the format itself.

The head of programmes for the channel explains: “The production company talked to all the presenters about the switch.

“People have very, very different reasons why they stay with the show or why they leave.

“Often it is what they are being offered in spin-off shows, or what is happening in their lives.

“I would be surprised any simply did not want to go to Channel 4.

“It was important to get Paul Hollywood and get that continuity, but it is the format that is the king.

“A lot of shows that leave the BBC lose audience share, but we sell ads off the back of the fact that Channel 4 attracts a different audience and it will do well.

“Bake Off is going to be quite a significant new show for Channel 4.

“It offers all kinds of commercial possibilities and potential.

“My own view is that the format itself is the centre of the show, that is what people are interested in. It will remain pretty much the same.”

He says the channel is still casting for different would-be presenters, explaining: “We are looking at presenters already signed up to other shows and some new ones.

“It has been a huge coup for Channel 4. The other big steal we had from the BBC was coverage of the Paralympics.

“People now associate it with us and no one remembers the BBC covering it.

“Come back in three or four years and we’ll see what people think of Bake Off.”