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Virgin Trains helps to stage “oarsome” play about local hero

Press Release   •   Feb 16, 2017 10:54 GMT

Jamie Bell as Harry Clasper, the 19th century rower who had the song Blaydon Races written in his honour, takes a break from rehearsals and is pictured with Virgin Trains' loco 91115, the "Blaydon Races"

Virgin Trains is helping to stage a play on the banks of the River Thames about a Geordie ex-miner who became a rowing superstar.

Award-winning actor Jamie Brown will play Harry Clasper, the 19th century world champion rower and boat builder, to sell-out crowds at the London Rowing Club, in Putney, tomorrow and on Saturday (17 and 18 February).

The famous Tyneside song the “Blaydon Races”, which is now synonymous with Newcastle United football fans, was written in honour of Harry and first performed in 1862.

Virgin Trains, whose locomotive 91115 is named Blaydon Races, has jumped on-board to help sponsor the production of ”Hadaway Harry” – and to lend it a full size metal plate featuring the name of the song to form part of the backdrop to the stage.

Jamie, who took time out from rehearsals to inspect one of the Blaydon Races’ plates on the side of loco 91115 as it passed through Newcastle Central Station, said: “The Blaydon Races song is an important part of North East culture and is often associated with football. It was first sung in honour of Harry, who was a working class hero from the North East and, as a rowing champion before football, rugby and cricket became mass participation sports, was the big sports star of his day.

“Harry not only led teams to win eight Championship of the World titles on the Thames, starting at Putney, but also coached champions, refereed top matches and designed the thin boats used by rowers today.”

Jamie, 32, who was awarded a prestigious North East Actor of the Year Award for his portrayal of Harry in 2016, said: “This play has been a huge success in the North East but, given Harry’s history of travelling down to face the “unbeatable Thamesmen”, we thought we would take it to the London rowing club which first hosted Harry in 1845.”

Ed Waugh, who wrote the play, added: “I titled the play ‘Hadaway’ as this North Eastern expression refers to something that’s unbelievable or unlikely – and it’s amazing to think of a Geordie miner in the 1840s becoming a sports star, with tens of thousands of people crowding around the banks of the Thames and the Tyne to watch rowing, in a way in which people nowadays follow other sports.

“It’s brilliant that Virgin Trains is sponsoring the play in London and providing a replica Blaydon Races sign from one of its trains. This re-ties the knot of history and, of course, there was no quick train journey down to London in Harry’s day, which makes his achievements and celebrity status across the UK even more remarkable.”

Claire Ansley, General Manager for Virgin Trains, said: “We’re committed to supporting the rich history and heritage of our east coast route. We love the story of Harry, a local hero who became a world champion and, through his innovation and popularity, helped to make rowing the popular sport it is today.” 

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