Review Article - Media - DVD's

The Lost World of Mr Hardy

By Malcolm, added on 14/04/2008

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Up until now, the only films about Hardy Brothers I am aware of have been of a promotional nature, made by the company itself. The most recent - The Art of Fly Reel and Rod Manufacture, which was made in 1987 - showed the Northumberland factory as a hive of activity creating top-quality items of fishing tackle like the Smuggler multi-piece fly rod and the Ocean Prince and Marquis fly reels. Men in the foundry were seen hand-pouring the moulds for various reels, and the film then followed the progress of the castings to machining (on manual and very early computer lathes), then painting and assembly, culminating with the reels being carefully inspected, then wiped with a soft cloth prior to dispatch to worldwide destinations. The creation of the then very up-to-date graphite fly rods was also featured, from the rolling of the blanks through to the ladies in the winding shop, tying on the rings (guides).

In the film, the pride of the craftsmen creating quality fishing tackle was obvious. Jim Hardy was the Company Director at the time, with a long family tradition behind him stretching back to the 1870s. During the 1960s,‘70s and ‘80s, the company was very successful, producing coarse and sea tackle as well as their fly rods and reels. From the late 1970s on, I used to visit Hardy's famous London shop at 61 Pall Mall, marveling at the tackle for sale, most of which was out of my (student) price range. A comprehensive range of fly tackle was on the ground floor, with coarse and sea tackle consigned to the basement department, where one or two factory seconds were sold, along with some vintage Hardy items.

There is now a new (2008) British documentary about Hardy's titled The Lost World of Mr. Hardy, produced by the enterprising team of Andy Heathcote and Heike Bachelier at Trufflepig Films. This is their brief synopsis of the film:

'Mister Jim' is how the employees respectfully addressed their boss, Jim Hardy, the last Hardy to work in the family business and now retired. It was Jim's Grandfather and Great uncle, who in 1873 opened a small shop in the far north of England. Both passionate fisherman, they invented fishing tackle and it began to sell. Their skill, devotion, and innovative marketing strategies allowed them to conquer the world. Kings, Queens and Maharajahs were on their books and the name Hardy's has now been synonymous with fishing for 130 years. Vintage Hardy's handmade tackle stirs the heart of many a fisherman with Prince Charles amongst the enthusiasts, these are now prized collectors items.

Today the skills involved in hand made fishing tackle are dying, although the company does survive. Under Hardy & Grey, Richard Sanderson, current managing director has adapted the company to the modern world, made redundancies and transferred most of the production to China.

Mister Jim takes us on a journey through fast fading times to recreate this charming old family business loved the world over. We follow through changing times and the struggle to survive as a sustainable business in a modern world. Are the original values the Hardy Brothers held so dear all now lost in our modern world of globalisation?’

The Lost World of Mr Hardy is a lush and beautifully made film and a real treat for anyone interested in the traditions of quality vintage fishing tackle and the history of Hardy's. The filming is excellent and has the feel of a big screen production rather than that of a television documentary. You will find no snappy editing or quick 'bites'; there is plenty of time to enjoy the places and the people involved, both past and present, in making fine fishing tackle. The music has been specially composed by Stephen Daltry, and I am sure many will be ordering the film score music CD when it is available from Trufflepig Films.

The 90-minute film is divided into 15 distinct chapters, opening with Vintage Tackle, Pall Mall, Early Days and concluding with All Change, Carbon, The Modern World, Celebrating the Past, New Opportunities and The Natural Way. James (Jim) Hardy is the narrator for part of the film, telling anecdotes and taking us around Alnwick, pointing out the former location of Hardy's factory and shops. After being demobbed from the army in 1948 he served a two year apprenticeship at Vickers-Armstrong on Tyneside before joining Hardy's. He made reels (Perfect fly reels & Altex) for the company before becoming works manager and went on to become managing director. Several of Hardy's retired craftsmen also give their accounts of working for the company long ago, including George Ternent- rod inspector from 1955 to 2001,Terence Moore- reel maker 1946 to 1997 and Jack Dotchin MBE- reel inspector 1937 to 1987. From what they say, it seems that it was not unusual for employees to work for the company for forty or fifty years. There is fascinating archival film of the inside of the old factory at work during the 1940s, and long-forgotten footage of company directors fishing rivers teeming with salmon eighty years ago.

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Woven into the film are recent commentaries, including auctioneer Neil Freeman holding up and describing some unique Hardy reels. Medlar Press's Jon Ward- Allen gives an animated account of the impact Hardy's has had, both past and present. His views on the modern 'economies of scale' in tackle production are, for me, the crux of the film. He goes on to explain how, as a result of the move towards mass production, there seem to be opportunities for independent craftsmen to produce fine fishing tackle and then market it via the internet.

Reel-maker Chris Lythe is shown at work using a manual lathe to make his fine centre-pin reels in what appears to be his dining room. He comments, in his quiet northern accent, that he finds modern Hardy reels brilliantly designed but lacking 'soul'.

Bamboo rod-maker Edward Barder is shown in his workshop splitting bamboo and, rather alarmingly, straightening the strips over a large open gas flame. Jim Hardy mentions that in the old days Hardy's preferred to 'toast' their bamboo in the baker's oven next door to the factory. Rod-makers of my acquaintance (and I myself) mostly prefer to straighten bamboo strips over a heat-gun, which tends not to scorch the strips (or endanger life and limb), then evenly heat them in a purpose-made, insulated oven to enhance the bamboo's 'steeliness'- there are, of course, many ways to do the same thing in rod-making .

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Several retired craftsmen, engineers and employees who worked in the original Hardy factory are featured in the film, describing what it was like to work there before the war and up until they moved to the new factory in Willowburn (on the outskirts of Alnwick) during the mid-1960s. Their distinctive Northumberland accents are a delight. The talented Ken Middlemist, the last of Hardy's full-time salmon fly-tiers (1959 - 1969), shows us how he 'dresses' a salmon fly.

Past marketing director of Hardy's, Ian Blagburn, describes how casting tournaments were very important to the development of Hardy tackle. He should know: he competed himself and was the first in the country to cast a fly line farther than 50 yards. Watching him cast a long and easy line using a spey rod has since inspired me to take up this method for my own steelhead (migratory rainbow trout) fishing this spring. Jim Hardy himself was also a dab hand at casting, and we see some wonderful archival footage of tournament casting in which I wonder whether I spied a much younger Jim putting in an appearance.

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There are a few surprising revelations in the film, one of which involves Richard Walker and Hardy's patent for using carbon fibre, and another about how Hardy's became involved with what would become their parent company, Harris and Sheldon.

Bringing us up to date, the present managing director of Hardy and Greys Richard Sanderson describes Hardy's current Performance and Classic lines of fishing tackle. Along with their state-of-the-art fishing tackle, Hardy's now makes collectables which seem to be created for their possible investment potential rather than as reels for fishing.

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The Lost World of Mr.Hardy is a film to enjoy again and again, not just for the information but for a hefty dose of that misty, nostalgic comfort of the past. It shows the age of the British Empire, when Hardy's were at the top of their game, their fishing tackle the best, created mostly by hand in Alnwick by the people who used it. The film has been described as a 'requiem' for British manufacturing in the face of global competition, but that aspect is almost incidental to the main theme, which is the very human story behind the manufacture of what was the finest fishing tackle in the world.

John Stephenson of Mullock’s Auctioneers puts it quite well towards the end of the film: 'In a hundred years' time, when we look at a high-tech reel I don't think anybody would have the same love and enjoyment as they would from an 1890s all-brass [Hardy] Perfect...That's going to be sadly missed. Whatever technology can do now - it's not bespoke, it's not handmade, that's what's going to be missed - the individuality.'

The film's website is well worth a visit, to view clips, order the DVD and read the fascinating story behind the making of this fine film.

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