THE programme promised a variety of experiences and the first weekend certainly delivered.

Memoirs were a feature, with Virginia Nicolson presenting The Truth Game, the second volume based on the family and tribulations of her grand-parents Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West.

Another very personal look at a popular figure was JB Priestley at Kissing Tree House, written by the great man’s secretary, Rosalie Batten, after his death in 1984. Mrs Batten worked for Priestley from 1968 until the end of his life and so had unique access to the man at work. The two clearly had great mutual respect and affection, leading Priestley to remark that, if anyone wrote a book about him, it should be her.

Too busy in his lifetime – and feeling there was quite enough out there anyway – it was only when she realised what a gap he had left in her life that she finally set to. Even so, her manuscript remained unpublished for 32 years until her daughter, Sophie Fyson, with the help of Nicolas Hawkes, found a publisher.

From her presentation, in tandem with Barry Cryer at Kings Hall on Saturday, it was clear that Rosalie Batten’s work is no sycophantic eulogy, but a clear-sighted, warts and all account of an individual, at once engaging and infuriating. Barry Cryer, who knew Priestley quite well, provided numerous anecdotes which made for an entertaining session. Great Northern Books have produced a beautifully designed hard-back limited edition as well as a paperback version. They have also reissued a number of Priestley classics, with more in the pipeline.

Patrick Gale’s works are novels, not memoirs, but are intimately bound up with his own experience, as he freely admitted in conversation with James Nash at Clarke Foley on Sunday, reckoning it would take half a dozen novels just to work through his ambivalent relationship with his late mother.

Eustace, the central character of his latest book, Take Nothing With You, has a difficult time with his. The lady is a survivor, her carapace protecting her from too much contact with emotional reality.

Gale read - with a certain relish - a passage where 50-something Eustace visits his mother in her luxurious care home. He attempts to tell her about his cancer and its treatment, only to find she is far more interested in lunch. Eustace, whose name has echoes of Ballet Shoes and The Go-Between, is gay, also a given in Gale’s life and work, so his 1980s youth inevitably evokes the spectre of AIDS. At the heart of the novel, however, is the power of music which can transport one back in time as well as having a healing effect. Readers can tune in to a Spotify playlist to accompany and enhance their experience.

Music is at the centre of Jane Glover’s life as renowned conductor and Visiting Professor of Opera at Oxford. Twin poles for her are Mozart and Handel.

She dealt with Mozart and his women a while ago and has now turned to Handel. The two were very different – Mozart disorganised, volatile and hopeless with money, Handel disciplined and diplomatic.

Jane Glover’s account of his 40 years at the heart of London society and its musical life is illuminating. A consummate fence-sitter, Handel managed to surf Whig-Tory antagonism as well as the “opera wars” between divas. These, she pointed out to her Ilkley Playhouse audience on Saturday, sparked the sort of passions reserved today for football fans.

Financially astute, Handel played the London Stock Exchange and got out of the South Sea Bubble well before it burst. He had a generous spirit, rewriting difficult music for a struggling soprano. He was also a benefactor of the Foundling Hospital, leaving the royalties from Messiah to it in perpetuity.

James Hanratty is something of a force of nature, as demonstrated by his performance at Kings Hall on Saturday.

Known for humanity and unconventionality, he romped through his career – naval officer, House of Lords legal adviser, Royal Courts of Justice administrator, instrumental in the handover of Hong Kong – before 15 years as an immigration judge.

Immigration laws are hugely complex and Hanratty clearly relished their challenge. Motivated by compassion, his major contribution to precedent is success in establishing the fear of female genital mutilation as grounds for appeal against deportation to a social group.

In the face of Brexit, he produced irrefutable statistics to demonstrate that Europe is not the source of mass immigration and that the Home Office is failing to remove unsuccessful asylum seekers on a massive scale. He also addressed the question of the Irish border, clearly a major issue which seems to have occurred only recently to negotiators. He made a case for reform from within Europe and emphasised the fact that Parliament can legislate for a second referendum, albeit with an uncertain outcome.

A treat on Saturday evening was Michael Pennington’s performance at Ilkley Playhouse. Sweet William gave us his encounter with Macbeth as a child, inspiring a love of reading aloud and a passion for Shakespeare. The bard’s range and the nearness of his language to our own were exemplified in extracts woven seamlessly into Pennington’s presentation, which also recalled his own career, notably the founding of The Shakespeare Company in the 1980s. If you missed it, there is a highly recommended DVD.

John Simpson has just published his first thriller, Moscow, Midnight. At Kings Hall on Monday the book encountered polite interest from interviewer Ruth Pitt, establishing the central character’s resemblance to Simpson and the victim’s to a recognisable bizarre death. She then rapidly moved on to Simpson’s life and career, an approach which clearly chimed with the preoccupations of the audience.

The discussion ranged over all the issues of the day – and many of the recent past. Iran, China, Russia, Brexit, Trump, fake news, the changing role of the reporter were all covered, as were more personal questions.

The death of his interpreter Kamaran under US “friendly fire” in Iraq in 2003 and the sensitivity Simpson has acquired thanks to fatherhood late in life struck an obvious chord with his listeners. There was, however, a heartening queue at the subsequent book signing.

l Judith Dunn