Tuesday, 29 November 2016



Star date: 28th November 2016


Hundreds of people packed into Salford University's Maxwell Hall yesterday to hear Maxine Peake, Christopher Eccleston, Sheila Hancock, Julie Hesmondhalgh and Mike Joyce do Radical Readings from Salford's history and struggles.

The top class event was poignant, political and in parts hilarious, with Maxine Peake ending the day by explaining why it's so important to support the Working Class Movement Library... "If we don't learn from the past we end up with a future a bit like we've got now" she said, to thunderous applause. 

Full details here...

Radical Readings at Working Class Movement Library Salford Radical Readings at Working Class Movement Library Salford Radical Readings at Working Class Movement Library Salford 
Radical Readings at Working Class Movement Library Salford Radical Readings at Working Class Movement Library Salford 
click image to enlarge

So Maxine Peake is on stage, trying to get her tongue around a latter day poem by Radical Readings organiser, Royston Futter; a kind of re-working of an AA Milne poem but with added Brexit, Trump and Tories...

...There's a line about Cameron and Osborne but Maxine can't spit it out... "Ossbon...Ossbum...Arsehole" she laughs "They're all arseholes!"

The audience in the packed hall cheers her on. Despite two hours of readings about Salford's past political struggles and humour in misery, the radical spirit is definitely alive today – led by Maxine herself, Christopher Eccleston, Sheila Hancock, Julie Hesmondhalgh and Mike Joyce.

It's a fundraiser for the Working Class Movement Library and these top, top stars have given their time to aid the survival of an institution that archives in artefacts, books, banners and flyers the fights of ordinary people for a better life.

There's loads of readings of descriptions of old Salford society, from Walter Greenwood's `slumdom' stories of Black Bill Douglas and his child slave mill down Whit Lane, to Engels' documenting of the `conditions of the working class', to the opening chapter of Harold Brighouse's Salford-set Hobson's Choice, which is celebrating its centenary this year.

Christopher Eccleston and Maxine Peake read extracts from the opening chapter which talks of Salford's "over populated districts" competing with Manchester, and "human beings extraordinarily endowed with the will to live"...

Within the misery of poverty there was also humour, as extracts from the Ewan MacCollautobiography, Journeyman, witness - kids using prize pigs' tails as would-be willies to scare off the girls, and George Drummond, whose work colleagues at Cox's Foundry presented him with a plaque as the `champion farter of Salford 1921'.

Robert Roberts also looms large with A Ragged Schooling recounting the hilarious exploits of kids using Salford's (and the country's) first public library, brought back to life through the vivid narration of the on-stage actors (and ex-Smiths drummer, who's got definite talent as a voice artist).

Then there's the classics of local working class history, with stories of Peterloo, The Chartists and George Orwell's Homage To Catalonia, plus everyone paying homage to Ruth and Eddie Frow, the Library's ace founders.

All in all it was a bit of a perfect, special day – Salford, radicalism and the legends that are Sheila Hancock, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Mike Joyce, Christopher Eccleston and Maxine Peake, who ended the day explaining why it's so, so important to support the Working Class Movement Library...

"If we don't learn from the past we end up with a future a bit like we've got now" she insisted, to thunderous applause. 

*To learn more from the past go to the Mary Quaile Club event at the Working Class Movement Library this Saturday, 3rd December, at 1pm, for a film Looking Back at the Grunwick Strike 1976-1978 plus speakers from the Grunwick 40 Steering Group, and the Durham Teaching Assistants who are facing huge wage cuts and strike action now. See Salford Star article for further details – click here

For more details of the Working Class Movement Library see www.wcml.org.uk

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Saturday, 19 November 2016

Meet the unlikely screen star of the last days of coal mining as the demise of an industry is filmed.

Meet Big K, unlikely screen star of the last days of coalmining . Not Kellingley Colliery, which shared that title, but Kevin Rowe, who leads a cast of pitmen in a fly-on-the-coalface TV documentary. 

The Last Miners tells the story of King Coal's demise in Britain, through the closure of the last pit. 

Baccy-chewing Kevin, 55, a chargehand at Kellingley, North ­Yorks, kicks off the drama with a ­characteristically 
flamboyant song at the shaft bottom. 

"Are you ready for the northern calypso?" he asks his workmates. "We are," they chorus.

And off he goes:

"Hey, Mrs Micklethwaite will tha feed ma whippet?

Daylight comes, and I'm still down pit

I go down pub where I drink 10 pints

I think I'm getting plastered

I go back home and I beat my wife

Cos I'm a big fat northern b*****d!"

The lads applaud, and one says: " David Cameron may take our jobs but he can't take our sense of humour."

So starts another day of grafting 800 yards below the surface.

But no amount of hard work will save their jobs. The pit shut on December 18, 2015 – the death-blow of an industry that powered the industrial revolution and once employed more than a million men.

These are the last miners.

Independent film-makers Keo ­Productions were given unprecedented access to these unsung heroes of 
labour – well, they're singing now, louder than pit canaries. 

The story begins five weeks before closure and follows the fortunes of four miners: Kevin, alias "Jonesy", 49, a shift manager; Jack, 23, a fitter; Sheldon, 54, a supervisor and Andy, 22, a surface ­electrician. They're all made redundant, but make a new life for themselves.

Narrated by Christopher Eccleston , The Last Miners follows men riding four miles on a paddy train to the coal face, ripping "the black diamonds" with giant cutting machines and ­tackling ­nightmarish power breakdowns. 

They work in singlets soaked in sweat and shorts, ribboned with day-glo stripes.

The only light is from their headlamps.

Banter is frequent, but interspersed with real anxiety – they have a ­deadline to complete a huge coal cut to pay for their own redundancy.

This was the ­condition of a £4million loan from the Government to keep the pit open for a limited period. The money has to be repaid.

It's their ­determination to reach this production target, and ­commitment to each other, that turns an everyday story of work into a drama.

The documentary is shown on BBC1 in two parts, beginning on Monday. 

"They'll be bored stacking shelves," says Kevin. "These lads, they need some hard graft. It's good for the soul. We'll do it. We don't do the F-word – fail."

It's about the only F-word they don't use. There's no political correctness here.

In the last week of operation, men working the two-metre thick Beeston seam produce 40,000 tonnes of coal worth up to £200million – proof that Kellingley was still a viable pit. As the deadline approaches, the men work 12-hour shifts, and the toil takes its toll.

Ray Whitty, a 63-year-old miner who's worked at Kellingley for 47 years, falls in the shower. It's a heart attack, and he's given CPR by his workmates. Jack, who is quickly on the scene, says: "You could see the life had gone from his eyes."

Ray is taken to hospital, survives, and comes back for the pit's last day. Death is no stranger to these men – Andy's father Gerry died after being buried by 15 tonnes of rock in a roof collapse at Kellingley in 2011 .

Andy, who was training elsewhere in the pit at the time, says: "I always wanted to be a miner." A wall of his home is covered with photos of his dad.

On the last day of the last deep mine, the media are out in force (I was there, too). The miners had mixed feelings.

One says: "It's a shame they couldn't show the same interest about Kellingley when it was open as when it was closing. I don't mind publicity, but we could have been fighting to keep the pit open rather than ­celebrating it closing."

In the locker room, Sheldon passes by a heap of discarded uniforms, a poignant metaphor for the men who wore them and will never wear them again.

"That could be workers on the scrap heap," he observes dolefully.

But there is still a note of defiance.

"Kellingley is history – but the people who worked there are not."

The last piece of coal is carried out from underground, a trophy.

Then the final rites are ­technical: switching off the huge ventilating fans.

Amid emotional goodbyes, the last evening shift is sent home without going down. But it's not over until the fat man sings. Kevin brings down the curtain with another song.

"At the age of 16 years

With my father close to tears

When he swore to God never to send his son to the dark recesses of the mine

Where you're old before your time and the cold dust flies heavy on your lungs.

At the age of 55

I thank God I'm still alive

When the wheel above the hole no longer turns

And they finally close the hole where we fought for years for coal.

Never again will I go down ­underground."

They clap, and cheer, and gather round. They hug, and kiss, and wipe the tears from their eyes. But it's not quite the end of the story. The men start looking for work.

Sheldon is stir-crazy at home. Then, one day the phone rings, and he's got a job as a telecoms ­engineer on the railways.

So, no longer a miner?

"I'll always be a miner," he retorts to an interviewer who should know better. "You'll never take the coal dust out of my lungs."

Jonesy is taken on by a Mercedes dealer. Jack, ­demoralised by months on the dole, moved to County Durham to be with his girlfriend. He finally got a job as an engineer, and is about to become a dad.

Andy works for the National Grid. And after taking time out, Kevin trained as a handyman.

Success stories – if not the kind they sought. But what of the other 435?

Keith Poulson, National Union of \ ­official, says: "At least two thirds have found jobs, mainly manual. Lorry driving, buses, warehousing, but nothing like the industry they were in."

The pit may be gone but its legacy remains – like its twin towers that still dominate the local landscape. Demolition work is under way and the land is scheduled to become housing and industrial development.

Kevin has given up chewing tobacco, and is busy plumbing, laying floors, painting and decorating. "I'm actually loving it at the moment," he says.

Still, I hear a wistful note in the voice of the pit troubadour.

"I really love my new life. But I'd go back to being a miner in a flash – and 99% of the other men would do the same."

That will never happen, and we're all the losers.

  • The Last Miners, which is in two parts, starts on Monday at 9pm, on BBC1.

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Monday, 14 November 2016

Christopher Eccleston to play Oedipus in Radio 3 Anthony Burgess season


Christopher Eccleston said was 'honoured' to take on the role
Christopher Eccleston is to play Oedipus in a BBC Radio 3 drama marking the centenary of the birth of author and composer Anthony Burgess.

The actor said he was "honoured and proud" to take the lead role in Burgess's "brilliant and daring" version of Sophocles's tragedy.
Oedipus the King will be broadcast on 26 February 2017.
A Radio 3 season will also feature essays from eminent writers about the A Clockwork Orange writer's work.
Burgess's adaptation of Oedipus the King was first performed on stage in the US in 1972, with music from Grammy-winning composer Stanley Silverman.
But it has never been performed in the UK. The new radio version will feature Silverman's score performed by the BBC Philharmonic and Manchester Chamber Choir.
"The celebration of Anthony Burgess in his centenary year forms part of BBC Radio 3's 70th anniversary, as part of our mission to connect audiences with remarkable music and culture," the station's controller Alan Davey said.
"Having one of the UK's leading actors, Christopher Eccleston, playing the title role in the UK premiere of Burgess' Oedipus the King will be a treat for us all."
Born in Manchester on 25 February 1917, Burgess is best known for his dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange, which was adapted into the controversial 1971 film directed by Stanley Kubrick.
Burgess's prolific output included more than 30 novels, 25 works of non-fiction, two volumes of autobiography, three symphonies and more than 150 other musical works. He died in November 1993, aged 76.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Abbie Cornish and Christopher Eccleston join Amma Asante’s Where Hands Touch.

Where Hands Touch

Amma Asante's fulfilled one long-time dream when A United Kingdom opened this year's London Film Festival. With Where Hands Touch, a passion project she's been trying to get off the ground for many years, the writer/director is ticking another box. The period drama has added Abbie Cornish, Christopher Eccleston and The Childhood Of A Leader's young star Tom Sweet to its cast.

Set in 1944 in Berlin, Where Hands Touch's central characters are a biracial German teenager and a Hitler Youth cadet played by The Hunger GamesAmandla Stenberg and George MacKay respectively. The story charts a forbidden love affair blooming amid the dying embers of the Third Reich. 

No word on Cornish, Sweet and Eccleston's exact roles yet, though it wouldn't be a surprise to see the latter channelling some Dark Elf into the part of an equally accursed Nazi.

"I have been an absolute fan of Abbie Cornish and Chris Eccleston for some time," enthuses Asante, "and I am delighted to welcome Tom Sweet to my cast."

The film's shoot gets underway in Belgium this week, with a script written by Asante. Her next film, A United Kingdom, makes its bow in the UK on 25 November. Pick up the new issue of Empire – onsale now – for a panoramic behind-the-scenes photo album of the shoot curated by the director herself.

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