Kestrel saved a knave

13 April 2016....Richard Hines, brother of the late Kes author Barry Hines, who has published his memoir. Picture Scott Merrylees
13 April 2016....Richard Hines, brother of the late Kes author Barry Hines, who has published his memoir. Picture Scott Merrylees

Writer Barry Hines’ brother Richard’s book recounting how he was the inspiration for the book that was made into iconic film Kes is out in paperback.

No Way But Gentlenesse (Bloomsbury, £8.99) is a wonderfully-told story of how Richard’s obsession with training a hawk as a youngster in a Barnsley mining family transformed his life.

Richard’s older brother, Barry, based his second novel, A Kestrel for a Knave, on the teenager taking a kestrel from a nest at Tankersley Old Hall near their family home in Hoyland Common and training it.

Like the character Billy Casper, Richard also went to a secondary modern school but his life wasn’t as tough as the fictional youngster’s.

Richard wrote: “Like me, this Billy was a school write-off who taught himself falconry from a book and trained a kestrel called Kes, but there the similarity ended. I was engrossed.”

In his book, Richard tells how he and Barry were brought up in a warm and loving family.

Their dad was a miner at Rockingham Colliery.

Richard was always fascinated with wildlife and kept a magpie as a pet, before moving on to kestrel rearing.

The book’s title is taken from a 17th-century handbook on falconry that says a bird must be handled with gentleness, not force.

When Ken Loach decided to make a film adaptation of the novel, Richard sourced and trained Freeman, Hardy and Willis, the three hawks that were used, and taught young actor David Bradley how to handle them.

“When Kes came out, at that time I used to talk everybody to death about my kestrels. Eventually I stopped talking about it and went about my life and didn’t speak about it for 20 years.

“Then I started talking more about my childhood with kestrels and working on the film as a falconer.

“This story came pouring out.”

Barry Hines’ novel is a powerful indictment of the secondary modern school system and how it failed children and that’s something Richard feels strongly about too.

He said: “When I finished working at university, I thought I’d write a book about my story and how I was a hawk-obsessed secondary modern school boy.

“Lots of kids were cleverer than me but my passion for hawks started this appetite for reading and learning.”

The book recounts how his teachers often made pupils feel stupid and that corporal punishment was a daily reality.

Richard, who lives in Banner Cross, worked in several jobs and later started his own documentary film company, Banner Film and TV, making programmes for Channel 4.

He said: “I made the first one that supported striking miners in 1984 that gave their view and I made programmes for BBC2.”

He later worked as a lecturer in film and television writing at Hallam University and had given up a post as a deputy head at a school in Doncaster to pursue his film-making ambitions.

He said none of that would have happened without his passion, beautifully captured in the book.

Often his prose soars as beautifully as his birds did.

His brother, who died last year after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, would surely have been proud.