Why write a novel about the miners’ strike? Some answers here, in an interview with the Western Mail, which serialised the book.
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Remembering the miners’ strike:
165,000 people on strike
5,653 tried in court
11 people killed
Source: Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, 2014
June 18th marks the 30th anniversary of the Battle of Orgreave, the most infamous moment of the year-long miners’ strike. Thirty years on, the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign is pressing for a public enquiry into the events of that day, looking in particular at how the authorities policed the mass picket.
“National Coal Board chairman Ian MacGregor planned to close 75 pits — closing two-thirds of the pits in South Wales — six months before the start of the dispute!”
This blog marks the 30th anniversary of the Battle of Orgreave by interviewing Nick Jones, a journalist who covered the dispute for the BBC.
Nick is a contributor to Settling Scores: the Media, the Police and the Miners’ Strike, published by the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom. The Cabinet Papers: Thatcher and the police uses newly declassified documents to explore how the prime minister took a hands-on approach to the dispute.
How did Settling Scores come to pass, and what questions does the book cover?
Settling Scores is a follow up to Shafted!, which was published to mark the 25th anniversary of the dispute. The aim of both books was to explore many of the hidden issues, such as the extent of government involvement and in my particular case manipulation of the news media.
Why was it important to you and the other contributors to look back at the miners’ strike?
Journalists played a significant part in the final outcome of the strike because once the industrial strength of the National Union of Miners had been contained by the police, the offensive moved to the media frontline and the campaign to persuade men to break the strike.
When half were back at work Mrs Thatcher could claim victory, which is what she did.
I think broadcasters got swept along by this narrative and in part became cheerleaders for the return to work, hence my soul searching, which I described in Shafted!
You sifted through cabinet papers to examine the government handling of the dispute; what were of your key findings?
For me the key findings were that six months before the start of the strike the Coal Board chairman Ian MacGregor informed Peter Walker — and Mrs Thatcher was told — that his intention was to close up to 75 pits, and that — just days into the strike — Mrs Thatcher issued a secret instruction to chief constables to “stiffen their resolve” to replace the rule of the mob with the rule of law.
MacGregor’s secret warning about the extent of pit closures was kept top secret and “solemnly” declared that he had never mentioned the 70 pit closure hit list that Arthur Scargill said existed. Thatcher, MacGregor and the NCB always insisted the NCB wanted to close only 20 pits.
Mrs Thatcher’s intervention led to the creation of what amounted to a national police force. Within days pickets heading south were being stopped on the motorways, and those from Kent at the Dartford Tunnel.
What is the most surprising or striking thing that you discovered from the papers?
I think the most striking revelation was the extent to which Mrs Thatcher was micromanaging the government’s response to the strike.
The cabinet papers are often underlined by her; there are hand-written notes in the margins.
She agreed no further mention should be made of MacGregor’s aim to close 75 pits, which he had said would mean closing two-thirds of the pits in South Wales — and this was six months before the start of the dispute!
What other questions do your co-writers explore in Settling Scores?
One chapter deals with the question of the reporting of the Orgreave confrontations and whether the BBC’s coverage was biased against the pickets.
The NUM distrusted journalists, especially those from television and radio who were considered part of the establishment. Much of the filming was as a result done from behind police lines.
Nick Jones and Settling Scores! editor Granville Williams will discuss the book, the media and the miners’ strike at the South Yorkshire Festival at Wortley Hall, Sheffield on August 16. Visit the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom website for more information about the book. You can also find out more about Settling Scores! on Facebook.
STOP PRESS: The Feminist Library is holding a day-long event from 12-8pm on Saturday 21 June, looking at Women of the Miners’ Strike, with readings, film screenings and debates. I will read from Until Our Blood is Dry during the evening session at the event in Lambeth.
June marks the 30th anniversary of the Battle of Orgreave, a defining point in the year-long miners’ strike of 1984-1985. To mark the event, this week’s Pitstop interview features Owen Gower, director of the new documentary film, (Still) the Enemy Within, which talks to former miners about the dispute and its aftermath. The film makes its premiere in Sheffield this week.
“Thirty years ago, Thatcher went to war.
These are the miners who fought back.”
Please introduce (Still) The Enemy Within
The film is a feature documentary that tells the story of the 1984-1985 miners’ strike from the point of view of the miners and supporters who fought on the front line.
These were the people prime minister Margaret Thatcher labelled “The Enemy Within”. They faced an onslaught by the government, the police and the media as they fought for a year to defend their jobs and communities but many have never spoken on camera before.
So why the miners’ strike?
The miners’ strike is something that remains incredibly relevant today. It was a huge confrontation that shaped the world we live in today and is filled with amazing stories and events. Yet much of this history has remained hidden.
Instead of the mainstream perspective that’s been given to us, we wanted to bring to light what it was really like for those fighting on the frontline, as well as introducing it to a whole new layer of young people coming to it for the first time.
How did you set about planning and researching (S)TEW?
One of our executive producers Mike Simons, who brought the project together, was a journalist throughout the strike and is the author of two books on it. He has kept in contact with many of the miners and strike photographers for the last 30 years.
This was incredibly valuable as not only did he have access to an incredible group of characters and amazing images, the miners were also willing to open up on camera to us in a way that they simply wouldn’t have with anyone else.
The film is really a culmination of 30 years’ work that Mike has been laying the groundwork for.
What is the most surprising thing you discovered along the way?
By far and away the biggest surprise for me was the humour. The miners were filled with hilarious stories, often in the middle of mayhem, whether pretending to be joggers to get past police road blocks or accidentally setting fire to their own leg right in the middle of the Battle of Orgreave.
They had us in stitches the whole time. It’s something you rarely hear about with the strike but, despite the difficulties and the hardship, for many of the people in our film it was the best year of their lives.
If you could have done one thing differently, what would that be?
The truth is that with the strike being a huge event over such a long time, there were so many amazing stories we just couldn’t fit into the film. By the end of the production, it felt like we could have made a hundred films and still never capture all the incredible experiences of the people involved.
Ultimately I am happy that we’ve made the best film we can and that it remains true to the experiences of the miners and supporters in the film.
What are you working on next?
I really believe in telling the stories of people that the mainstream media has ignored or kept hidden. We have a number of projects in development, but sadly they’ll have to remain top secret for now.
What do you hope your audience will take away from seeing the film?
I think many young people who come to this subject for the first time will be shocked about what the miners went through in their fight for British industry.
But I also hope audiences will also be inspired by the incredible solidarity that took place.
The strike transformed the lives of those involved and gave a glimpse of just how incredible it can be when people stand together.
(Still) the Enemy Within has its debut screening at 1345 at Showroom 4 Cinema in Sheffield on June 7. STOP PRESS: Owen and the team from production company Bad Bonobo will host a Q&A session after Saturday’s screening.
I’ll be reading from Until Our Blood is Dry at the Spoken Word Showcase, part of Finchley Literary Festival at Friern Barnet Community Library on Friday night.
Greenacre Writers promise a night of poetry, fiction and non-fiction prose, featuring Amy Bird, Andrea Michael, Bill Todd and surprise guests. Compere, Allen Ashley.
All welcome, 1900-2200 hrs, Friday May 30.
Contact email@example.com for information.
Until Our Blood is Dry, Parthian Books 2014, is serialised in the Western Mail to mark the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike and is the Welsh Books Council’s book of the month for May.
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