This was the main theme of an event organised by the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom (North) at the Unity+Works in Wakefield. The Unity+Works is a converted Co-op building close to the railway station. It is large and well set-up with varied facilities. The CPBF event was in the main hall, which is large and roomy. The event was well attended, say close to a 100.
The afternoon opened with Tony Garnett talking about his new ‘autobiography’: The Day the Music Died: a Memoir (subtitled ‘A Life Lived Behind the Lens’, Constable, London 2016). This is the first time I have heard Garnett live and he is an able speaker with a passionate concern for working class expression. He was the most interesting contributor to the new film Versus:. . . (2016) on the life and work of his regular collaborator Ken Loach. He talked about the book and certain sections from it. It opens with his early life in Birmingham, I recognised many of the settings he mentioned. To learn about ‘the day the music died’ you need to look at the book, but it clearly was a significant event in Garnett’s life. As you might expect he talked about some of the deservedly famous television and film productions on which he has worked. These included Up the Junction (BBC 1965, in ‘The Penny Drops’), Cathy Come Home (BBC 1966, in the Chapter with same title), Kes (1969, in ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’) and The Spongers (BBC 1978, in the Chapter of same title). He included some droll stories about the people he worked with on these. He also talked about the BBC and in particular the MI5 vetting system that operated there.
He then took some questions. The most intriguing concerned his relations with the Socialist Labour League, later to morph into the Workers Revolutionary Party, see ‘Protest and Confusion’. It seems that Tony hosted a series of discussion evenings at his place for people on the left in London. Gerry Healey, the leader of the SLL came along. His organisation was famous for some of the members, including Vanessa and Corin Redgrave. Trevor Griffith describes something of this ilk in his play The Party (1973). I saw it at the Oxford Playhouse, a witty presentation. All of the audience laughed at certain lines, but some other lines only received laughter from one part of the audience: my friend and I identified, for different responses, groups from the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Socialist Workers Party. Garnett’s was a fascinating and rewarding talk. In the break the CPBF stall sold and unfortunately ran out of copies of the Memoir. Mine has only just arrived in the post.
The second part was a tribute to the writer and activist Barry Hines, who died earlier this year. We heard from his widow Eleanor, from fellow writer Ian Clayton, from Granville Williams of the CPBF and again from Tony Garnett. He summed up Barry’s stance to his work:
“Socialism without art is dead: it is also dangerous.”
Whilst the speaker paid their tributes a montage of stills from Barry’s television and film work played on the screen behind: including Kes, The Price of Coal, and Threads (1984).
The CPBF has produced a pamphlet Celebrating his Life and Work (CPBF (North) with pieces from his fellow artists and activists.
The afternoon was rounded off with a screening of Meet the People (BBC 1977), the first part of The Price of Coal. The Hall had a large screen and good sound. The play was full of recognisable tropes from the work of Barry Hines, Tony Garnett and Ken Loach. There was the authentic voice and sense of culture of the northern working class. There was the pointed but well dramatised class conflict, embodied by believable characters. And there was also a wry sense of humour and irony, more so that in many the productions authored by this talented trio.
Now it would be really worthwhile to read the book and the pamphlet. Hopefully the works of Garnett and Hines will continue to circulate in the years to come. This was a welcome tribute to two seminal voices in recent British culture.
Forthcoming: August 14th at Wortley Hall, Sheffield at 3 p.m. talk and exhibition on ‘International Solidarity & the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike’.
27th September at the National Coal Mining Museum, Overton [between Wakefield and Huddersfield) at 7.00 p.m. ‘Lit From the Pit’.