Former BBC radio star Gerry Kersey puts Sheffield's Hadfields steelworks in the frame

Popular Radio Presenter, Gerry Kersey is returning to the spotlight next month in an exhibition of 16 new artworks depicting his family’s connection to the massive Hadfields Steelworks in Sheffield.

By Andy Kershaw
Wednesday, 4th May 2022, 12:37 pm
Updated Wednesday, 4th May 2022, 12:37 pm

Gerry will be presenting a lecture and showing his artwork at the historic Portland Works in Sheffield as part of a new lecture series for 2022.

Gerry’s father spent 39 years working as an electrician in the giant steelworks on the site now occupied by Meadowhall Shopping Centre in Sheffield. The firm started by Sir Robert Hadfield once employed over 15,000 people and touched so many lives and families.

Gerry Kersey also worked there for four years as a wages clerk and spent a great deal of time walking through the furnaces, pattern shops and rolling mills.

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Gerry Kersey

“It was hot, sticky, dark and dangerous and the air was full of chemicals says Gerry, but it was also a magnificent stage featuring molten steel, sparks and tough fit men manipulating massive forgings and machinery”, he recalls.

“And this is the subject of my new paintings, smiles Gerry, many of which are from my own memory and from the stories which my dad came home and related to us around the kitchen table”.

Gerry who is best known for his 50 years as a radio host presenting shows on Radio Hallam, Great Yorkshire Gold and BBC Radio Sheffield which stepped down from last year.

“It’s given me more time to concentrate on my art and painting which I’ve always loved, and this is a project which has been in the germination for a few years now”, says Gerry, whose work has also featured in numerous exhibitions at the Great Sheffield Art Show and at many other shows and galleries down the years.

Gerry Kersey's new artwork

“My father William Kersey was a Suffolk lad who came to Sheffield in search of work”, says Gerry

“He was a grafter who did regular 13-hour nights at Hadfields steelworks, and it was he who got me the job in the office there, says Gerry. Before that he’d fought in World War I and was wounded in France with the Kings Own Light Infantry”, says Gerry.

“I remember him showing me the scars where the bullet struck him in the chest only an eighth of an inch from his heart, recounts Gerry. Ironically, he died in 1958 when I was 19 and in the Army away on National Service myself”, he adds.

“One of my fondest memories, apart from all the noisy, smelly works was watching all the men’s wives, partners and sometime their kids outside the works waiting for the men to come out on a Friday morning after they had picked up their wages and hand over the weekly housekeeping,” says Gerry.

Hadfield's Ltd

“You’d often see the women hand back a few quid for the men to go for a pint in the pub afterwards as the women waltzed off to do the weekly shop in Sheffield’s Markets”, he laughs.

“The other abiding memory, captured in one of the new paintings is the long line of Sheffield & Rotherham Buses waiting for the whistle to blow at exactly 5.18 when the men knocked off and they would all flood out of the gates to make their way home. It was a sea of bodies all heading for the same destination”, recalls Gerry with affection.

Gerry’s many talents have also extended to the Sheffield stage where he has either performed in produced or directed over a hundred plays and musical productions at the Crucible and the Library Theatre.

It was during a production at the Library Theatre where he was spotted in 1968 by the then BBC Radio Sheffield Manager Michael Barton and invited to become part of a team producing short stories for radio.

Hadfield's East Hecla Works

This eventually led to him becoming part of a comedy ensemble which featured Germaine Greer and Kenny Everett and was broadcast regularly on BBC Radio 4.

Gerry soon became a well-known character actor specialising in funny voices and accents which he still does today.

“Hadfields manufactured steel castings and forgings also from manganese steel and other steel alloys”, says Gerry.

“They also made special steels for motor cars and aeroplanes, projectiles and other war materials, crushing machinery, tramway tracks and many other steel and engineering products for all sorts of purposes like shipping, the motor industry, the military and for construction, says Gerry and it was world-famous and now it’s all gone,” he laments.

“These paintings and the memories they evoke bring it back into sharp focus, says Gerry, and in my talk, I speak about my dad and his life and the world of Hadfields and what it meant to me and to many thousands of other Sheffield people almost 40 years later”, he adds

“I hope that people with a connection to Hadfields will come along and share some of their stories too,”, concludes Gerry.

Gerry Kersey's new artwork

The Lecture ‘Recollections of Hadfields’ by Gerry Kersey takes place on Wednesday May 18 from 7pm to 9pm at Portland Works on Randall Street. Tickets are £5 and must be booked online via Eventbrite at www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/portland-works-lecture-recollections-of-hadfields-sheffield-tickets-323435122157

Gerry Kersey's new artwork