Percy Monkman; An Extraordinary Bradfordian

percy monkman book coverPlashMill Press is pleased to announce the launch of an important new book entitled Percy Monkman; An Extraordinary Bradfordian, by Martin Greenwood. The book, which contains over 90 colour and monochrome illustrations, is available from all good booksellers in the UK and throughout the world. The ISBN is 978-0-9572612-9-7. It is priced at £24.49 retail in the UK.

Percy Monkman was an entertainer, actor and an artist. He was famous for his humorous sketches and roles and was also prominent player in more serious theatre in and around Bradford for decades. He was a highly reputed watercolourist who regularly exhibited. He was a friend of the celebrated J B Priestley, one of the foremost English men of letters of the 20th century.

The book was written by Martin Greenwood, Monkman’s grandson, drawing on copious written material and images from Monkman himself, and, in addition, on his personal memories of him. It is a warm and compelling account of a fascinating life in which the subject worked in a bank — the same one, all his life — by day and at night and at weekends was a star of stage and a highly reputed painter, as well as being a husband and father.

martin greenwood percy monkman
Author Martin Greenwood

Martin Greenwood said ‘Everyone who knew him in whatever capacity called my grandfather a character. Percy Monkman was extremely well-known in Bradford and the West Riding. As I was growing up in Bradford in the 1950s and 1960s, he was the most significant person in my life.

After he died in 1986, he left thousands of documents which I kept but did not properly look at. In returning to them after 30 years I discovered what an extraordinary life he had led, although I was already aware of the key parts of it.

Born in 1892 into a poor and humble working-class family he left school before his 14th birthday. He was just 22 years old when the First World War broke. He had a distinguished war record, serving with the RAMC. He entertained the troops night after night as a comedian. Returning to peacetime life in Bradford in the 1920s, he developed his role as a ‘humorous entertainer’ and started to publish sporting cartoons. In the 1930s he became a more serious actor. He also developed his interest in watercolour painting that gradually became his most passionate interest.

Percy Monkman (R) as Jim Heeler in Hobson's Choice (1956)
Percy Monkman (R) as Jim Heeler in Hobson’s Choice (1956)

He had another distinguished war record in the Second World War, this time on the home front, leading a music hall concert party on around 600 occasions for returning and injured servicemen across Yorkshire. After the war he became best known as a watercolour painting exhibiting widely in Yorkshire and London.

Entertaining, acting, cartooning and painting, amazingly he achieved all this in his spare time while holding down a full time job as chief cashier in the bank until he retired in 1952. For another thirty plus years in ‘retirement’ he focused on his watercolours.

He developed life-long friendships with a wide range of people, from the world of theatre and art, including his exact contemporary and most famous Bradfordian of his day, JB Priestley a schoolboy friend from the next street.

Percy Monkman painting at his easel
Percy Monkman painting at his easel

Head of a large and close family, he had four younger brothers. Although one died in his 20s, the others were all successful in the wool trade. While their careers took a conventional route for their times, Percy’s success in life was based entirely on the unconventional, the creative and artistic. He stood out from the crowd and also lived longer than all his family and friends.’

One of Percy Monkman's paintings: Looking to Otley Chevin (1976)
One of Percy Monkman’s paintings: Looking to Otley Chevin (1976)

Martin Greenwood can be contacted for comment via the form below. For further information from or about PlashMill Press, please use this form too.