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Radio review: Drama: Land of My Father, Strike Boy, and Irreverend

15 March 2024

Alamy

Striking miners struggle with police outside Port Talbot Steelworks, in 1984. The strike is the subject of Drama: Land of My Father and Strike Boy (Radio 4)

Striking miners struggle with police outside Port Talbot Steelworks, in 1984. The strike is the subject of Drama: Land of My Father and Strike Boy (Radio 4)

TRY hard enough, and you can get nostalgic about almost anything. The miners’ strike, which began 40 years ago last week, and lasted until 1985, has received more than its fair share of bitter-sweet accounts — Brassed Off and Billy Elliot establishing tropes which long ago became clichés: the ennobling spirit of community, intergenerational strife, and dirty, grandstanding politicians.

Siân Owen’s contribution to Drama: Land of My Father (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week), although exquisitely acted, sits securely within this tradition. A middle-aged Alys looks back on a teenage love-affair that plays out against the backdrop of the strike. While she, through loyalty to her father, espouses the miners’ cause, her boyfriend dreams of a future of technological innovation and individualism. As we have come to expect, the father has what people from the Welsh Valleys in those days certainly would not have called anger-management issues. He smashes up a newfangled games console, and we hear Frankie Goes to Hollywood sing “When two tribes go to war”. You get the gist.

But this anniversary has also produced one of the richest and most engaging pieces of radio of the year thus far. Strike Boy (Radio 4, weekdays of last week) starts with reminiscence: that of the ten-year-old Mark Watson waking up one night to witness one of those legendary clashes between police and miners playing out on his doorstep. Forty years on, Mark interviews a host of characters, and builds up a fascinating picture of betrayal, mistrust, and delinquency, ranging from the institutional to the individual.

We are in Nottinghamshire, where, in an early county-wide ballot, miners voted by three to one to stay in work, thus becoming the focus of much internecine violence. We met a flying picket from Yorkshire, who described the strategies of intimidation that he would plan and execute against the “scabs”. It is a word that falls as easily from his lips today as it must have done back in the day.

A police officer tells of how his colleagues would “see red” after hours behind a shield, bombarded with nail-embedded potatoes; of how officers bused up from the Met would taunt strikers by lighting £20 notes as they passed; and of the well-known phenomenon of the “Scargill Suite”: the extensions built by police officers on their homes with the money earned from overtime.

The distortions in the reporting of the Fund for Healing, Repair and Justice and its oversight group have already been addressed in this paper. But, while the mainstream media have little time to read beyond executive summaries, other commentators can afford a more leisurely inspection.

Led by the Revd Jamie Franklin, the contributors to the Irreverend podcast (www.irreverendpod.com) operate at the edge of the Overton window, and, before listening, some readers may wish to re-calibrate their outrage-ometers. But you can scarcely accuse them of having skim-read the document, or of engaging with its contents in a superficial manner. This is where the ill-informed harrumph becomes a structured harangue.

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