THE PERFECT PAIR DOLPHIN TRILOGY PROUDLY PRESENTS CELEBRITY ENTREPRENEUR AND PHOTOGRAPHER JONATHAN STRAIGHT - SOUTH ELMSALL STORIES - THE DOLPHINARIUM
My name is Jonathan Straight. I am a Yorkshire-based photographic artist. I have been commissioned by Wakefield Museums and Castles to provide a body of work that is currently being shown in the South Elmsall museum hub which is based in the local library. The artwork interprets local stories and consists of video, photography and objects.
I wear many different hats - photographic artist is one. Despite the many pressures of other things I do, I like to complete at least one creative project each year and so I am always looking for interesting ideas to pursue.
In July 2021, a commission was advertised on a service called Curator Space. Each week an email comes with different opportunities for artists … This time, the post was from Wakefield Museums and Castles …
South Elmsall Stories - The Dolphinarium
(Originally published by Jonathan Straight on October 25th, 2021)www.facesofsouthelmsall.com/blog/post/south-elmsall-stories-the-dolphinarium
One of the strangest stories I had discovered about South Elmsall was that in the 1970s, a disused swimming baths on Westfield Lane was used for training dolphins. There was quite a bit of press coverage about this on-line which in turn led me to David Holroyd, a Mancunian who was a trainee dolphin trainer at the facility and went on to be head trainer at other dolphinaria.
I tracked David down and asked if he would speak to me. He kindly agreed and we scheduled an interview over Zoom. He explained how the pool in South Elmsall had come to be owned by someone local called John Nolan who was involved with filtration for swimming pools. When David was 17 years old, his mother had seen an advert in the Manchester Evening News to recruit dolphin presenters with the interviews being held at Belle Vue Zoo nearby. This would have been around 1969. David's mother pushed him to apply as an alternative to his work as a signwriter with his father.
After three interviews, David found himself on a shortlist of five, eventually getting the job and being posted to South Elmsall. He lodged with Joe and Ada Howes and fondly remembers Ada's Yorkshire cooking.
Initially, there were no dolphins in the pool, just a pair of penguins. Shortly afterwards, a sea lion called Bobby arrived. Bobby had been at Belle Vue when he attacked a spectator and so was sent away, being too valuable to be destroyed. David told me how he had formed a strong bond with Bobby, such that when a local miner came into the pool to loudly complain about David occupying his parking space, Bobby jumped out of the pool and chased this fellow away.
Click on link below to read the full award-winning story Deliver Us from Bobby!
The Perfect Pair Dolphin Trilogy Tasters
Eventually, the dolphins came and David trained them for various facilities around the UK such as Knowsley Safari Park and Woburn Abbey. Despite being hugely successful at his craft, David found the treatment of the dolphins to be unacceptable, significantly reducing their lifespan. Now in his 60s, he is an activist, campaigning to stop dolphins and other cetaceans being used for public displays.
The video footage I took of David forms part of this project. A life buoy ring he used to train dolphins in the 1970s, features as part of the exhibition in South Elmsall library museum hub.
"David Capello" pictured holding a dolphin logbook long since thought destroyed.
Watch the full Jonathan Straight interview.
Comment by David C Holroyd, stage name David Capello.
Please forgive, Jonathan - it’s not often that I crash a guest blog, but I’m expecting a lot of interest in your tremendous exhibit, so just had to press my advantage!
“There’s nowt so strange as life!”
That phrase certainly rings true for me after being contacted by celebrity entrepreneur Jonathan Straight.
To this day, I vividly remember stepping off the train at South Elmsall station those many years ago; still fondly recall the touch of the cheery station master’s calloused hands as he greeted me. I met many smiling faces in South Elmsall, building fond memories that have stayed with me for over 50 years. Sadly, many of those faces have long since passed.
So, imagine just how bizarre it feels to find myself once again heading back to sunny South Elmsall, the place where my adventure began. However, on this occasion, where once stood a young wannabee dolphin trainer, now stands a committed activist fighting for the rights of captive cetaceans.
Indeed, there’s nowt so strange as life!
The importance of South Elmsall to UK dolphinaria cannot be underplayed. The training facility concealed in this small mining village once fuelled the boom of the 1970s UK aqua circus, sending many Atlantean performers to the glamorous venues that were springing up over swinging Britain. Make no mistake, this “secret” pool is indeed a hugely important part of South Elmsall’s history.
So, I want to thank Jonathan Straight and Wakefield Museums and Castles for giving the ill-fated South Elmsall dolphins a voice. I would also like to thank the former reporter Olivia Hale for her tremendous article, The worst kept secret in Pontefract – a story published by The Yorkshire Post, The Pontefract and Castleford Express and The Wakefield Express, amongst others.
And last, but not least, can I say a huge thank you to all those wonderful South Elmsall townsfolk who so moulded my memories.
Faces of South Elmsall Website
Dr Jonathan Straight FRSA (@planetstraight) / Twitter
Wakefield Museums & Castles (@WFMuseums) / Twitter
'The worst kept secret in Pontefract' - the Manchester-born dolphin trainer turned animal activist who trained dolphins, sea lions and penguins at a South Elmsall swimming pool | Yorkshire Post
'Cars stopped to watch the sea lion chase him up the street' - How Bobby the sea lion saved a South Elmsall dolphin trainer from a 'thumping' | Wakefield Express