Grimethorpe, March 1984. My news desk tells me to go to Yorkshire. The Coal Board had just announced that Cortonwood colliery will close in five weeks, followed by twenty other pits, and that 20,000 jobs are to be lost. A national miners’ strike looks a strong possibility.
We pick Grimethorpe by selecting a mining village in the heart of Yorkshire: we have heard something about a brass band, but above all the name sounds just right. And it’s what we expect: a pit wheel towering above terraced houses, kids and dogs running around in the street – the southerner’s idea of a mining community . . . . Since the coal strikes of 1972 and 1974 the miners here have a much higher standard of living than before: around half own their own homes and the high wage-earners – committed to heavy mortgage payments – are into DIY, videos and foreign holidays. There’s even a sauna in the village. The miners can’t afford to strike. At least, that’s our thesis . . . .
In Grimethorpe I first encounter the Yorkshire miners’ hostility to the media: ‘You’re only interested in us when there’s a pit disaster or a strike. Bugger off!’ When you approach people with a camera and microphone you don’t expect everyone to talk, but usually you get enough to put something together. In the miners’ clubs things get nasty, and we’re told to turn the cameras off. We decide to leave.