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The Collieries of Wales





Review by Dave Douglass


A sensational film worthy of all the rave reviews it has accumulated, well received in the coalfields and among the men and women and those who were children during the year long miners’ strike.

Floods of tears and belly laughs testify that this is highly charged emotional stuff, evoking profound memories.

It strikes me that this film, like a host of recent plays and 30th anniversary events, union fringe meetings, photo exhibitions, community events, demonstrates that what it was all about is finally sinking in after three decades. The enormity of what we’ve lost, and the breath taking strength of the challenge from ordinary, or rather most extra-ordinary folk is finally being understood and appreciated.

Coalfield communities were at the same time radical and deeply conservative. I only came across one miner in my entire life who owned up to being gay, a massive, hard hitting, comic pitman who camped it up all the time I guess as a way of being more acceptable in a highly macho- all male industry. Mind if that didn’t work he was quite capable of taking your head off with one punch. If there were any other gay miners about I never seen or heard of them and it wasn’t something they were prepared to advertise.

The strike really did broaden horizons, and in the thick of the fight could we really decide help and friendship wasn’t needed or welcome, whether from Gadhafi or the gays and lesbian societies?

Truth was the generosity and openness of the gay community, made us an offer we couldn’t refuse and even the most terrified in our community weren’t so blind as not to see it. True too we were breaking down all barriers of our self-imposed strictures and culture. About women firstly, and then non-whites, and the far left, and religious groups, then gays and lesbians. This film based upon real events ably shows the process, if a little disjointedly in terms of time spans. I think the Welfare Committee in the cash strapped wee welsh mining village voting in the winter of 84 not to accept further aid from the London Gays and Lesbians is unlikely at that stage, but easily believable in the first weeks. In the first weeks, the Yorkshire Area Executive against my furious objections issued a warning that women who picketed and were arrested wouldn’t be assisted by the union, and we shouldn’t use picket transport to take them with us, or allow them to go themselves, and that we shouldn’t pick them up from prison and courts and that the NUM wouldn’t legally represent them.

That lasted less than a month before the women almost literally kicked the doors in and told us what they were going to do, and mass meetings of the union heartily endorsed them. A similar process was happening here, and there are lots of stories nationwide just like this one. The first time it was announced LSE gays and lesbian society wished to adopt Hatfield Main kitchens and raise money for us, there was great laughter and tom foolery, but we gratefully accepted. Even dispatched our youth rep to attend the fund raising disco. “I’ll gaan” he conceded, “but if anyone tries to get off with me...”making his hand into a fist. Later he confided somewhat dejectedly “nobody asked me to dance, I mean I’d have said no...but I thought what’s wrang wi me like?”

Miners don’t dance ? well we recognise in the Welsh miners welfare features present in most pit villages in some more traditional clubs, only women on the dance floor, the bar exclusively full of men, etc. But it’s not entirely true, young miners were into motown, did all the spectacular somersaults and acrobatics of northern soul, an army of old teds and their wives still rock and rolled every week-end and a forest of long haired heavy metal freaks and regenerated hippy pot smoking pitmen head banged in local bars your average cloth capped pit man ‘and their lass’ would rapidly rush past. But we recognise the films observation.

Our ‘Beethams’ ( a Doncaster town centre heavy metal and bikers bar) Miners Support Group was twinned with Wolverine class war’s gay wing and paper, and kept all the young mining bikers and heavies in Brown Ale, dope, catapults and chicken for a year.

The final scene in the film shows the South Wales Area of the NUM with their lodge banners and band joining the Gay Pride Parade in London in March of 85 in appreciation of the solidarity, comradeship and support we had received from them. Accompanied by much piss taking Hatfield Main NUM banner was dispatched to join them. Ten years previously such a decision would have been impossible.

The film is a triumph, more political than ‘Brassed Off’, or ‘Billy Elliott’, you can’t miss it.

Dave Douglass