The Gallows Pole: Shane Meadows making first BBC period drama on rise and fall of Yorkshire’s infamous Cragg Vale Coiners

Acclaimed filmmaker Shane Meadows is turning his attention to the rise and fall of Yorkshire’s infamous Cragg Vale Coiners for his next project. Chris Burn reports.

Bafta-winning filmmaker Shane Meadows is making The Gallows Pole for the BBC. Picture: PA

After the successes of All Creatures Great and Small and Gentleman Jack, another period drama set in the Yorkshire countryside is heading to television - but it promises to be a very different viewing experience.

The ‘ultra-violent’ story of the Cragg Vale Coiners is being brought to the small screen by the hugely-respected director Shane Meadows for the BBC.

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It has been announced that Meadows, the man behind the This is England film and television series, is adapting Yorkshire-based author Benjamin Myers’ acclaimed 2017 novel The Gallows Pole which was a word-of-mouth hit that won both the Roger Deakin Award and the Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction.

Benjamin Myers' novel was inspired by the Cragg Vale Coiners who in the 18th century were behind the biggest countefeiting scam the country had ever seen. Picture Tony Johnson.

The novel and the coming television series is based on the true story of a gang of 18th Century counterfeiters who became known as the Cragg Vale Coiners began minting their own coins in a con so successful it almost brought down the Bank of England.

Led by ironworker ‘King’ David Hartley Turvin, they used melted down shavings from real coins to produce counterfeits and had their accomplices place them in circulation - a scheme initially so successful it became the biggest fraud in British history that damaged the national economy.

But after one of the gang betrayed them and revealed details about their operations to the authorities in 1769, it set in motion a chain of events involving arrests, murder and mass hangings as their criminal enterprise rapidly crumbled.

The television version of The Gallows Pole will be produced by Element Pictures and executive produced by Piers Wenger and Tom Lazenby for the BBC.

Benjamin Myers at the grave of King David Hartley, leader of the Cragg Vale Coiners buried in the grounds of St Thomas a Becket church in Heptonstall. Picture: Tony Johnson

Meadows, whose previous critically-acclaimed works include A Room for Romeo Brass, Dead Man’s Shoes, and The Virtues, says: “The Gallows Pole is an incredible true story, little known outside of Yorkshire, about a group of very naughty men and women who started clipping and counterfeiting coins out in the Moors, as a way to keep themselves and their community alive.

“I’ve never made a period drama before so I’m absolutely buzzing, and to be doing it with Piers at the BBC, his incredible team, and Element Pictures is nothing short of an honour.”

Casting details have yet to be revealed but earlier this year a call was put out for first-time non-professional actors aged between 25 and 45 to get involved with the project.

No date has yet been revealed for when the programme is likely to be on air but filming is due to start later this year.

Myers tweeted his excitement about the announcement that Meadows is adapting his novel for television, saying: “Imagine having a mouth as big as mine and keeping this quiet for 18 months.”

Reviews of his book back in 2017 highlighted how the book did not shy away from presenting the Coiners as complex, sometimes dislikeable and often very violent individuals.

“King David is more Pablo Escobar than Robin Hood, and this is the ancient tragedy of social injustice spawning monsters,” The Guardian wrote. “No one is spared intimidation, not even children.”

The New Statesman noted the book’s “ultra-violence” meant it was not one for the squeamish. “Imagine the worst thing that could happen to the characters and then drop the book, because what Myers has imagined will definitely be worse than your version,” it said.

It is one of the six new drama commissions announced by the BBC this week.

Piers Wenger, BBC Director of Drama, said: “We pride ourselves on the creative contribution we make and the value we offer to audiences. We will continue to build on the momentum of recent years to ensure that the BBC is and continues to be the home of the very best of British drama.

“In 2021, there are many places for audiences to access premium content. But it is our commitment to creative risk and our passion for Britain’s stand-out writing talent which ensures that even in the age of global streamers, we are able to win big.”

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