Leeds Poet and Writer, Barry Tebb by Paul Whittle

One of the Big Bookend’s aims has always been to celebrate Leeds’ great literary heritage and bring to the fore some of the literary names that you may or may not have heard of. Paul Whittle tells us about the forthright and prolific poet and writer, Barry Tebb.

Born in wartime Leeds in 1942 and brought up in the back-to-back terraced housing of Leeds 9, Barry Tebb later studied English at Leeds Training College and taught at Wyther Park School in the city. Having grown up in South Leeds during the post-War years – as did Tony Harrison, Richard Hoggart, Peter O’Toole and Keith Waterhouse – his work regularly reflects on this working-class upbringing. Tebb’s memoir-novel Pitfall Street opens with childhood memories of “looking out of the attic window over the skyline of Leeds, past the nearby goods yard with its shunting coal-trains”, listening to “the rattle and bump of horse drawn drays returning empty barrels to the cooper’s yard” and recalling “the bin yards with the lavatories shared between two families” – evocative images of a Leeds long since vanished.


Tebb’s growing interest in poetry led him to meet several of the Gregory Fellows at the University of Leeds during the 1960s – poets including Martin Bell, Peter Redgrove, Jon Silkin and David Wright who were appointed as part of a scheme designed to “bring … younger artists into close touch with the youth of the country so that they may influence it.” His first published collection of verse, The Quarrel with Ourselves, whose title was taken from W. B. Yeats, appeared in 1966 and was praised by John Carey in The New Statesman. That same year, he edited Five Quiet Shouters: An Anthology of Assertive Verse, which included work by Redgrove alongside poems by the then little-known Angela Carter. Tebb appeared alongside poets Michael Longley and Ian Crichton-Smith in 1968’s Three Regional Voices. In addition to editing the magazines Leeds Poetry Weekly (“controversial – some might say notorious”) and Poetry Leeds, in 1995 he founded the Sixties Press, “with the intention of publishing the work of neglected poets.” Though now based in London, Tebb describes Leeds itself as his ‘most significant muse’, and the unique Leeds Market as his favourite place. Although primarily a poet and lover of poetry, whose work is filled with references to city landmarks such as City Square, East End Park, and the Central Lending Library, his autobiographical writings are particularly significant in the context of Leeds.


The tension between a working-class lad and the academic establishment recurs throughout Tebb’s memoir Pitfall Street; even during the liberal sixties, the class divide was still apparent at the University, when periodicals such as Stand and Poetry and Audience were being published by staff and students. Regular literary discussions took place in pubs such as the Eldon and Victoria throughout the decade, where the young Tebb met Jon Silkin and Jeffrey Wainwright amongst several of the prominent poets of the time (not all of whom made a favourable impression). Of the Gregory Fellows in Poetry, Martin Bell (previously featured in the ‘Forgotten Leeds’ series) made the greatest impact on him, becoming both a friend and mentor – like Bell, Tebb has translated the work of French poets including Baudelaire, Réda and Reverdy. Aside from literature, his great passion is psychoanalysis, describing himself as an “orthodox Freudian.” Alongside fellow Leeds poet Brenda Williams, Tebb has campaigned for better mental health facilities nationwide, including holding the position of governor of Leeds and York Partnership NHS Trust.

Barry Tebb has continued to publish both poetry and prose, notably 2007’s The Nostalgia Bus, a compendium of his career to date, and to edit a variety of anthologies such as The Overdose: Survivors Stories and Strangers on the Shore: Tales of Immigrant Life. He has recently made all his work available on Amazon Kindle and via a number of websites including www.famouspoetsandpoems.com. This September, Keele University is hosting a symposium, Rediscovering Class Consciousness in Contemporary Literature, which cites “poetry by Tony Harrison, Tom Leonard and Barry Tebb… as works from a golden age in the exploration of working-class life.”



Fiona Gell

Fiona is a lifelong reading enthusiast and book lover. Her career started as a bookseller and has never really veered away from the written and spoken word. It was a dream for her to be a founder member of The Leeds Big Bookend and the Northern Short Story Festival. She continues to be its Director.

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