Seam of humour that ran through the Miners’ Strike

Filming for the documentary With Banners Held High.
Filming for the documentary With Banners Held High.
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A new documentary film has been made capturing the thoughts and memories of those involved in the Miners’ Strike 30 years ago. Chris Bond reports.

THE Miners’ Strike of 1984/85 is widely regarded as a defining moment in the history of industrial action in modern Britain, by both sides of the political divide.

It was one of the most bitter disputes in living memory, pitching striking miners against the police and sometimes even family members. The narrative that grew up around the strike centred on Margaret Thatcher and Arthur Scargill and a government that labelled the miners “the enemy within”.

The strike split the nation and proved a devastating defeat for the miners as well as a political triumph for Mrs Thatcher and the Tories.

But despite this the solidarity of striking miners and the emergence of a new feminist movement “Women Against Pit Closures” inspired a humour and camaraderie that still exists today.

It’s an aspect of the story that often gets overlooked but it’s one that filmmaker Judi Alston sought to capture in her short documentary film With Banners Held High, which is being screened at Wakefield’s Unity Hall later this month.

The film celebrates the resilience and humour of both miners and the women who went through the strike with them and includes interviews with those involved in the dispute to help put the events of 30 years ago into perspective.

It was commissioned by Granville Williams, author of several books on the miners and the strike, who felt there was another story to be told.

“Whenever we hear about the Miners’ Strike the narrative tends to revolve around how grim it was and what a struggle it was,” he says. “Yes it was grim and there were hardships, but there was also a lot of humour and I felt this aspect wasn’t being featured even though it was a feature every time the miners got back together. So I wanted the film to capture this and I think that Judi has done a really good job.”

Earlier this month Williams was at an event in Wakefield marking the 30th anniversary of the miners return to work, where he got talking to a former miner.

“It turned out he was 17 during the strike, he said he was living in South Kirkby at the time and ended up travelling all over Britain. And I think this feeling of liberation from the day-to-day routine of life was another feature of the strike.”

So, too, was the support which sometimes came from far flung places. “Food and donations came from countries like Italy, France and Russia,” says Williams.

Here, too, there was an element of humour. “People in mining communities got sent jars of strange meat from Russia which they had no idea what to do with, but it showed the sense of solidarity that existed.”

There’s a feeling now that the strike is seen more sympathetically than it was at the time.

“Whoever controls the narrative controls the way people perceive events and during the Miners’ Strike the violence was portrayed as coming from the pickets. But the actions of the police have never been properly accounted for. Hundreds of miners were arrested and jailed but no police officer has been tried or convicted,” says Williams.

However, he believes the strike is starting to be seen in a different light.

“I think if you look at society today with the rise of zero hour contracts and the lack of job security there’s a sense that they were right, they were trying to protect jobs and communities.

“They were defeated, but I think there’s a better understanding now of what they were doing and why.”

The premiere of With Banners Held High is being screened at Unity Works in Wakefield, on March 25 at 7.30pm. For more information visit www.unityworks.co.uk/events or call 01924 831 114.