Turbulent London on Film: Save Our Heritage

Winstan Whitter. Save Our Heritage, uploaded 2011, available at  https://vimeo.com/32541973

Winstan Whitter was a film-maker in the right place at the right time. A local boy, he filmed throughout the campaign to save the historic Four Aces Club and surrounding buildings in Dalston, Hackney from demolition and redevelopment. Save Our Heritage tells the story from start to finish, from when the the demolition signs first appeared, to the end of the campaign. The documentary is a compelling example of a single-issue social movement, and showcases a mixture of resistance tactics, some official, others less so. The film is particularly pertinent now, as people feel increasingly marginalised in London, thanks to gentrification and rising house prices. Save Our Heritage tells a story that feels very familiar; it is a detailed snapshot of a process that is going on all over the capital.

The narrative is strung together by interviews with Bill Parry-Davies, a founding member of OPEN Dalston (Organisation for Promotion of Environmental Needs), a “community-based company” of local residents and businesses which started campaigning in early 2005 for the improvement of the local area. Mr Parry-Davies is perhaps not what you would expect in a prominent member of a social movement; he is a well-dressed, well-spoken solicitor, and he brings a certain degree of respectability to the film which may surprise some.

Bill Parry-Davies

Bill Parry-Davies, solicitor and founding member of OPEN Dalston, features prominently in Save Our Heritage (Source: Save Our Heritage).

The film focuses on the campaign to save 4-12 Dalston Lane, which at the beginning of the film is threatened with demolition, largely because it had been neglected by its owners, Hackney Borough Council. The buildings included 2 listed Georgian houses and a circus built in 1886, which has since served as a theatre, cinema, and nightclub. As the Four Aces Club, it was a became a well-known centre for black music in London. The roof was removed in the 1990s, presumably with the full knowledge of Hackney Council, and never replaced. The interiors deteriorated, but the building remained structurally sound. In 2005, the Council began their attempts to demolish the buildings.

The film documents the entire campaign to save the buildings, including a public consultation campaign, alternative proposals, high court injunctions, an occupation (which began to restore the buildings and acted as a form of community centre),  a demonstration outside a Hackney council meeting (in which 5 minutes were allocated for ALL those wishing to oppose the development plans). The council’s chosen plans did not provide any facilities which OPEN claimed the community needed, such as affordable housing, cultural facilities, and open green space. To add insult to injury, it emerged that TFL needed  income from the site to plug a £19 million funding gap from their station development on an adjacent site, which meant that Hackney taxpayers were footing the bill for even more upmarket housing.

Dalston Occupation

A sign attached to the roof of the theatre building by the occupiers (Source: Save Our Heritage).

This is a one-sided account of the story; there is no one representing Hackney Council, TFL, or the developers to tell the other side of the story. Nonetheless, I think it is a well made and informative film, that tells this David and Goliath story in an interesting way. Save Our Heritage is well worth 37 minutes of your time, particularly if you are interested in gentrification and the transformation which London has been through in recent years. It would also make an excellent teaching resource; it is a fantastic record of a diverse and enthusiastic campaign.

Breaking the Peace: A Century of London Protest on Film

This Monday, I went to a talk at the Birkbeck Cinema called Breaking the Peace: A Century of London Protest on Film given by  Professor Ian Christie, part of a series of events exploring London on film in association with the Raphael Samuel History Centre. Over the course of an hour and a half, Professor Christie showed us footage of the Suffragettes (1910-13), the 1926 General Strike, a 1932 Hunger March, the Battle of Cable Street (1936), Anti-Vietnam War protests (1968), the disruption of the 1970 Miss World competition at the Royal Albert Hall, the 2003 Anti-Iraq War demonstration, and Occupy London (2011). I had a great afternoon watching the footage, looking out for all the things that have (and haven’t) changed about protest in London over the last one hundred years.

NUWSS Rally Trafalgar Square Pathe Newsreel

A National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) rally in Trafalgar Square. This is a still from newsreel footage owned by British Pathe, and is available on YouTube (Source: British Pathe).

Apart from fashion, one of the biggest changes that stood out was the development, and democratisation, of film technology. The afternoon began with grainy, silent, black-and-white newsreel footage,  and finished with colour and sound, probably filmed by amateurs with handheld cameras. As film technology has developed, it has also got cheaper, allowing wider excess. In the 1960s the new TV production company Granada started making World in Action,  a hard-hitting news programme that presented London protesters in a more balanced light than older, more established sources of news. By the 2010s, the Occupy movement were making and editing their own films, presenting themselves exactly the way they wanted. Organisers of protests want their message to reach further than the people who witnessed the protest directly, and the more control they have over the communication media that spreads that message,  the more successful they are likely to be in getting that message out.

World in Action Anti-Vietnam Demo

A still from World in Action‘s coverage of the 1968 Anti-Vietnam War demonstration in London. The distinctive shape of the fountains makes it obvious that this is also Trafalgar Square. This video is also available on YouTube (Source: World in Action).

One thing which has not changed much is the language used by outsiders to describe protest. In almost every example there was the perception that a largely peaceful protest had been subverted by a small minority of ‘criminals’, ‘anarchists’, or ‘hawks’ (I particularly liked the Cold War terminology creeping in here). Protesters were also frequently described as ‘converging on London’, giving the impression of disgruntled Britons descending on the capital from all corners of the country. London is the political and economic centre of the country,  it is no surprise that it is chosen as the site of many national demonstrations.

Miss World 1970 disruption BBC News

A still from the BBC’s Witness series about the disruption of the 1970 Miss World Competition in the Royal Albert Hall (Source: BBC News)

The tactics of the demonstrators themselves has also remained largely the same. The content and methods of production may have changed, but banners and placards are still an integral part of protest marches, as is costume. The protest march itself has also changed little since the women of the suffrage movement proved it could be done with dignity and respectability. Scholars sometimes talk about ‘repertoires of resistance’- the specific set of tactics available to demonstrators to make their point. These repertoires are often shared between and within communities, including on a national scale. This means that many protests utilise similar strategies. There is also a tendency to take inspiration from what came before; the anti-Vietnam demonstrators may have mimicked the successful strategies of the Suffragettes, for example.

Anti-Iraq War demo 2003

A still from a YouTube video about the demonstration against the Iraq war in 2003 (Source: Kino Kast).

Another constant throughout the films was London itself. Both Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square are described in the newsreels as ‘the home of free speech’, and landmarks such as Nelson’s Column act as a familiar backdrop to events. London is no stranger to protest. Due to its role as the political and economic centre of Britain, the city is full of buildings which can act as symbolic stand-ins for intangible power structures (the Houses of Parliament, the Bank of England, and foreign embassies are some examples). The fact that places like Hyde Park have become known as the home of free speech also attracts more protest groups, reinforcing the city’s reputation for protest.

Occupy London Still

A still from a film made by Occupy London about the protests outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in 2011 (Source: Conscious Collective).

The purpose of this series of events organised by the Raphael Samuel History Centre and Professor Ian Christie was to think about how film can be used for research. There is a vast amount of film of London protest available, much of it more accessible than ever thanks to resources such as YouTube. Whilst it is important to be wary of possible biases (the early newsreels are almost entirely concerned with the preservation of law and order), film is a perfectly viable source to use for investigating historical research. It’s just a shame half of my case studies occurred before the invention of film!

The East End’s Radical Murals

Cities are too often bleak places to live in and a mural is one way of making them more attractive and human.

The East End can boast a large number and variety—in sharp contrast to the lack of art galleries in the area.

(East End News, 1986)

I have recently been doing some research on the Cable Street Mural in the Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archive (which is, by the way, a lovely place to work- the staff are very helpful). The Mural is located on the west wall of St. George’s Town Hall in Cable Street, and was completed in 1983. It is over 3,500 square feet, and it commemorates the Battle of Cable Street, which took place in the area on the 4th October 1936. Demonstrators clashed with police as they tried to clear a route through the East End for the British Union of Fascists to march. The march was called off, and ‘They Shall Not Pass!’ the demonstrators’ slogan, has become a catchphrase of anti-fascist movements of all kinds.

The Cable Street Mural on the side of St. George's Town Hall.

The Cable Street Mural on the side of St. George’s Town Hall.

Detail of a policeman fighting with protesters in the Cable Street Mural.

Detail of a policeman fighting with protesters in the Cable Street Mural.

When doing archival research, it is not uncommon to get distracted by not strictly relevant, but still very interesting, material. I discovered that the East End does indeed seem to have a strong tradition of street murals, and the Cable Street Mural is not the only one with radical subject matter. London is perhaps not the first city that springs to mind when you think of politically motivated murals- Belfast or Dublin might seem more obvious. London does not like to be outdone however, and political murals do exist here if you are willing to look for them.

Sadly, there are not as many protest-themed murals in East London as there used to be. The Peasants Revolt mural, previously located in Bow Common Lane, was unveiled in 1981 to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the Peasant’s Revolt. The peasants had camped in Mile End on their way to London to demand reduced taxation, an end to serfdom and the removal of the King’s senior officials and law courts. Richard II did not meet their demands, but it remains a well-known period in English history. The mural was designed by Ray Walker, who was one of the three artists who took over from David Binnington when he resigned from the Cable Street Mural project in 1982. I have not been able to find out exactly when or why this mural was removed, and why it wasn’t afforded the same protection and investment that the Cable Street Mural has. The Cable Street Mural has been repaired every time it has been vandalised, and was restored in 2011 to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle.

The Peasant's Revolt Mural (Source: Unite the Union).

The Peasant’s Revolt Mural in Bow Common Lane. Unfortunately it no longer exists (Source: Unite the Union).

(Source: Unite the Union).

(Source: Unite the Union).

One radical East End mural which can still be seen today is that commemorating the Poplar Rates Rebellion. Located in Hale Road in Poplar, the mural was completed by Mark Francis in 1990, and restored in 2007 by David Bratby and Maureen Delenian with help from local children. In 1921 30 local councillors were sent to prison after refusing to collect the rates from residents because they were unfair. The mural tells the story of the Rebellion in 4 panels, mainly using words. It does include an image of the well-known political radical George Lansbury, and local residents holding placards that declare ‘Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay.”

The Poplar Rates Rebellion mural

The Poplar Rates Rebellion mural in Hale Road (Source: London Mural Preservation Society).

Poplar Rates Mural Detail

A close up of George Lansbury and Poplar residents (Source: London Mural Preservation Society).

The East End has a strong tradition of radicalism and protest, but a lot of it is not well known. Murals and other forms of public art are a good way of ensuring that historical protests are not forgotten. The Cable Street Mural in particular still draws visitors, and its striking colours and imagery are well worth going to see for yourself. If you have a few spare hours, why not go and check out these memorials to the East End’s turbulent history?

Sources and Further Reading

Anon. “Mural by George.” East London Advertiser. 31st August 1990.

Anon. “Murals in the East End.” East End News. May 1986.

Anon. “Poplar Rates Rebellion Mural.” London Mural Preservation Society. No date, accessed 9th September 2015. Available at http://www.londonmuralpreservationsociety.com/murals/poplar-rates-rebellion-mural/

Anon. “Trade Union and Labour Movement Heroes Commemorated.” Unite. No date, accessed 9th September 2015. Available at http://www.unitetheunion.org/growing-our-union/education/rebelroad/murals/

Rolston, Bill. “Politics, Painting and Popular Culture: The Political Wall Murals of Northern Ireland.” Media, Culture, and Society. 9, no.1 (1987): 5–28.

On Blackheath Festival: A Turbulent Setting

The On Blackheath festival took place on the 12th-13th September 2015, on Blackheath in south east London.

The On Blackheath festival took place on the 12th-13th September 2015, on Blackheath in south east London.

Last weekend, I went with my Mum and sister to the On Blackheath festival which is, funnily enough, on Blackheath in south east London. Shared between the boroughs of Lewisham and Greenwich, it is one of the largest areas of common land in London today. It is a fantastic setting for a family-oriented festival; when it gets dark you can see the lights of the towers in Canary Wharf glinting from across the river. But Blackheath is ancient, going back at least as far as the Doomsday Book, and it has hosted countless other gatherings of a more turbulent nature.

The festival has a laid back, family friendly atmosphere, but not every gathering on Blackheath has been so pleasant.

The festival has a laid back, family friendly atmosphere, but not every gathering on Blackheath has been so pleasant.

The common land of London has always played a role in the life of turbulent London, hosting many a protest and political meeting. Before the Gordon Riots in 1780 the Protestant Association held a mass meeting in St. George’s Fields, the area of modern day Waterloo and Lambeth. In 1848 the Chartists held a rally on Kennington Common (all that remains of which is the Oval cricket ground) which did not go their way and effectively ended the Chartist movement. The similarity between St. George’s Fields and Kennington Common is that they no longer exist. Blackheath does, and when you go there you can imagine standing in the footsteps of famous radicals.

The Manic Street Preachers performing at the On Blackheath festival 2015.

The Manic Street Preachers performing at the On Blackheath festival 2015.

So when I was standing on Blackheath on Saturday night, listening to the Manic Street Preachers performing “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next,” which is inspired by the 1936 Spanish Civil War, I got thinking about Blackheath’s radical history. The Manic Street Preachers are not afraid to be political in their performances, and they may not have realised it but they were continuing a strong Blackheath tradition by doing so at On Blackheath. During the 1381 Peasant’s Revolt, and the 1450 Kentish Rebellion both used Blackheath as a rallying point. Wat Tyler, the leader of the Peasant’s Revolt, is commemorated by Wat Tyler Road, which runs across the heath. After camping on Blackheath, Cornish rebels angry at a war tax imposed by Henry VII were defeated at the Battle of Deptford Bridge (otherwise known as the Battle of Blackheath) in June 1497.

In the middle of Blackheath is a mound of earth called Whitefield’s Mount (or Whitfield’s Mount/Mound), which at one point was known as Wat Tyler’s mound because it was used for making speeches during the Peasant’s Revolt. One of the speakers was John Ball, who uttered that well-known statement of equality:

 When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?

He didn’t necessarily make this speech on Whitefield’s Mount, but wouldn’t it be great if he did? It has been speculated that the Mount is the final resting place of some of the 200-2000 Cornishmen killed during the Battle of Deptford Bridge. True or not, Whitefield’s Mount is clearly intimately linked with London’s turbulent past.

Street performers at the On Blackheath festival. The Cornish Rebellion in 1497 was started when King Henry VII raised taxes to fight a war with the Scots.

Street performers at the On Blackheath festival. The Cornish Rebellion in 1497 was started when King Henry VII raised taxes to fight a war with the Scots.

By the 1830s and 40s, radicals were addressing a new set of issues, and the Chartists had began using Blackheath as a location for meetings as part of their campaign for universal male suffrage. Almost a hundred years later, it would also be used for meetings calling for female suffrage. More recently, Blackheath was used in 2009 for a week-long climate camp, complete with compost toilets, and a pedal-powered radio station and TV channel. In 2013, there was a protest against Zippo’s Circus who were set up on Blackheath, one of the few UK circuses that still use animals in their performances. Even the On Blackheath festival itself has been the subject of protest, with anarchist Ian Bone objecting to common land being fenced off for a ‘foodie fest’ that was not accessible to the poor communities in surrounding areas. 

London’s open spaces play a vital role in the city’s life by hosting gatherings of all kinds. From festivals to protests, they are a key part of the social, political and cultural life of the city. London’s 2000+ year history means that almost anywhere you go in London will have been the site of past protest of some sort, but areas of common land have been particularly contentious, and Blackheath is no exception. By performing songs such as “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next,” the Manic Street Preachers were both drawing from and continuing a tradition of dissent on Blackheath that stretches back hundreds of years.

Sources and Further Reading

Anon. “Blackheath, London.” Wikipedia. Last modified 12th September 2015, accessed 13th September 2015. Available at  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackheath,_London 

Anon. “Cornish Rebellion of 1497.” Wikipedia. Last modified 13th September 2015, accessed 14th September 2015. Available at  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornish_Rebellion_of_1497

Anon. “Zippos Circus Protest in Blackheath!” The London Animal Rights Meetup Group. No date, accessed 15th September 2015. Available at  http://www.meetup.com/animalrights-202/events/112127872/

Chandler, Mark. “BLACKHEATH: Climate Camp Protest Criticised by Councillors and Police.” News Shopper. Last modified 27th August 2009, accessed 15th September 2009. Available at  http://www.newsshopper.co.uk/news/4568764.BLACKHEATH__Climate_Camp_protest_criticised_by_councillors_and_police/?ref=rl 

Read, Carly. “I predict a riot! Hell-raising anarchist Ian Bone set to boycott posh On Blackheath music and food festival – and urges The Levellers not to perform.” News Shopper. Last modified 29th July 2014, accessed 15th September 2015. Available at http://www.newsshopper.co.uk/news/11372522.Hell_raising_anarchist_set_to_boycott_On_Blackheath_festival/

Runner500. “In Search of the Battle of Deptford Bridge.” Running Past. Last modified 2nd January 2014, accessed 14th September 2015. Available at https://runner500.wordpress.com/tag/deptford-bridge/ 

Runner500. “Whitefield’s Mount- A Rallying Point for Protest and Preaching.” Running Past. Last modified 29th October 2014, accessed 14th September 2015. Available at  https://runner500.wordpress.com/2014/10/29/whitefields-mount-a-rallying-point-for-protest-and-preaching/

Undying Archivists: Representations of Archives in Video Games

Video games can be a controversial topic; they are frequently condemned for their violence and accused of corrupting vulnerable young people. However as the variety and scope of games continue to expand, and online gamers create ever more complicated virtual communities, it becomes increasingly difficult to ignore or dismiss them. Computer games have become for focus of a lot of scholarly research, and there is even an entire journal dedicated to the topic, called Game Studies. I dabble in gaming myself, and of course my attention has been drawn to the variety of ways in which archives are represented in the myriad of virtual worlds brought to life through my computer screen.

One of my personal favourites, Fallout 3, is also the game which has one of the most realistic representations of an archive in gaming, in some respects anyway. Fallout 3 is a first person shooter/RPG (Role-Playing Game, for the uninitiated), set in a post apocalyptic world where civilisation has been destroyed by nuclear war. The action takes place in and around Washington D.C. in the year 2277, and many of the locations are based on real places, including the National Archives. Now obviously the building is looking a little the worse for wear after 250 years and a nuclear apocalypse, but it is much the same in the game as it is in real life, right down to those awkward microfiche machines that have dogged many an archival researcher. The player can embark on a quest to retrieve a copy of the Declaration of Independence from the archive’s basement, copies of which are held in the real National Archives.

The exterior of the National Archives in 'Fallout 3' and 'real life' (Sources: Fallout Wiki and Wikipedia).

The exterior of the National Archives in ‘Fallout 3’ and ‘real life’ (Sources: Fallout Wiki and Wikipedia).

A room in the National Archives from 'Fallout 3', complete with bookshelves and microfiche reader.

A room in the National Archives from ‘Fallout 3’, complete with bookshelves and microfiche reader.

The rotunda of the National archives in 'Fallout 3', looking a little rough around the edges compared to how it looks today.

The rotunda of the National archives in ‘Fallout 3’, looking a little rough around the edges compared to how it looks today.

Not all games are set in our world, however. Path of Exile and Diablo 3 are medieval dark fantasy action RPGs, set in worlds full of magic, swords and necromancy. They are both played in the axonometric projection, which is a posh way of saying that the player looks down on the action. And they also both have archives, although they are not ones that a modern day archival researcher would necessarily recognise. They are arguably more similar to the archives of the popular imagination, full of dark corners and scrolls. In Path of Exile, the player has to fight their way through hordes of zombie skeletons called ‘Undying Archivists’ to reach their objective, the Golden Pages. In Diablo 3, the archives are the domain of Zultan Kulle, an evil warlock who collected his archive as part of his unceasing quest for more power. In both cases, they are evil places, full of enemies and danger.

The archives in 'Path of Exile.' Here, aisle of catalogue drawers create a maze for the players to navigate. The feeling of confused frustration may be familiar to those of who to do research in archives.

The archives in ‘Path of Exile.’ Here, aisle of catalogue drawers create a maze for the players to navigate. The feeling of confused frustration may be familiar to those of who to do research in archives.

This screenshot shows another area of the archives from 'Path of Exile.

This screenshot shows another area of the archives from ‘Path of Exile.” Here, the walls are lined with books.

The archives in 'Diablo 3' are a bit sparse, but this is how most areas of the game are designed.

The archives in ‘Diablo 3’ are a bit sparse, but this is how most areas of the game are designed.

Dark Souls is another medieval dark fantasy action RPG, but it is played in the third person (the camera is behind the player, not above). Widely acknowledged as one of the hardest games of recent years, it has also been incredibly popular. And it also has an archive, also collected by a villain, and also not a particularly nice place to be. In this case the baddie is Seath the Scaleless, a giant dragon who betrayed his own kind and now hides out in his archives, desperately searching for the key to immortality because he has no scales to protect him.

Seath the Scaleless' archives in 'Dark Souls', which actually looks like the kind of old-fashioned library I would love, if it wasn't for all the enemies trying to kill you (Source: Daniel Dougherty)

Seath the Scaleless’ archives in ‘Dark Souls’, which actually looks like the kind of old-fashioned library I would love, if it wasn’t for all the enemies trying to kill you (Source: Daniel Dougherty).

Seath's archive contains a huge round tower with books from floor to ceiling (Source: Daniel Dougherty).

Seath’s archive contains a huge round tower with books from floor to ceiling (Source: Daniel Dougherty).

Archives also crop up in science fiction games. Destiny is a first person shooter set in a far-off future where the player is a guardian of the last safe city on earth. The player explores the ruins of human civilisation spread throughout the universe, but even in this era there are archives. In one quest, the player is sent to Venus to prevent the accumulated knowledge of the Golden Age being obtained by the Fallen, one of civilisation’s many enemies. In this case the archives are the domain of the goodies, not the bad guys, but it is still a risk, capable of doing great damage if it falls into the wrong hands. Knowledge, in many of these games, is dangerous.

The futuristic archive in 'Destiny', on the planet Venus (Source: Daniel Dougherty).

The futuristic archive in ‘Destiny’, on the planet Venus (Source: Daniel Dougherty).

The world of video games is vast, and games come in a huge range of shapes and sizes. Archives do seem to crop up relatively often though, and I’m sure I’ve only shown you a fraction of the examples here (please do let me know if the comments about games I’ve missed!) Perhaps it is just the nature of video games, but archives are frequently the domain of villains, bad people intent on getting what they want, whether it’s more power or more life. This bears little resemblance to real-life archives, which makes me wonder why this image appears so often. Where does it come from, and what impact does it have on popular understandings of the archive?

Special thanks for this post go to Daniel Dougherty, who provided some of the images, most of the information, and who introduced me to video games in the first place.

Sources and Further Reading

Anon. “National Archives and Records Association.” Wikipedia. Last modified 25th May 2015, accessed 4th June 2015.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Archives_and_Records_Administration

Anon. “The National Archives.” Fallout Wiki. No date, accessed 4th June 2015. http://fallout.wikia.com/wiki/National_Archives

Davies, Martin. “Gamers Don’t Want Any More Grief.” The Guardian. Last modified 15th June 2006, accessed 4th June 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2006/jun/15/games.guardianweeklytechnologysection2 

Stuart, Keith. “The Cliche of the Lone Male Gamer Needs to be Destroyed.” The Guardian. Last modified 11th May 2015, accessed 12th May 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/may/11/the-cliche-of-lone-male-gamer-needs-to-be-destroyed 

‘Still the Enemy Within:’ May Day Screening

‘Still the Enemy Within’ film poster.

Last Friday (May the 1st), I went to a showing of the documentary film Still the Enemy Within (2014), organised by Reel Islington and Radical Islington at London Metropolitan University. The film tells the story of the 1984-5 miner’s strike, from the perspective of those who took part. The film’s executive producer, Mike Simons, and Mike Jackson, the secretary of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miner’s (LGSM) were there for a Q&A after the screening. I have been meaning to see the film for a while, and it seemed like an appropriate thing to do with my May Day.

Still the Enemy Within reconstructs the narrative of the miner’s strike using archive footage and photos, interviews and dramatisations. It starts in 1979, when Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister, and runs right through to the recent anti-austerity protests, although these only get a brief mention in the last few minutes. It is engaging and entertaining, and does a fantastic job of telling the story with a nice balance of poignancy and humour. With the 30th anniversary of the strike recently, and films such as Pride and Going through the Change!, I had an awareness of the miner’s strike and knowledge of specific parts, but Still the Enemy Within improved my general knowledge of the strike immeasurably. It goes through the major events of the strike in chronological order, including how the strike began, the reluctance of Nottinghamshire miners and other unions to join the strike, the death of David Jones at a picket, and the eventual defeat.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to think of the miner’s strike as doomed to fail, but the interviews with strikers and their supporters tell a different story. Especially at the beginning of the year-long strike, the miners were confident in their ability to win, largely thanks to their victory over Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath in 1974. The National Union of Mineworker’s (NUM) was one of the strongest in the country, and the miner’s had faith in the NUM’s president, Arthur Scargill. Hearing the story from the perspective of those who took part gives a sense of what it was like to live through the highs and lows, the joys of solidarity and strength and the bitterness of hunger, failed marriages and defeat.

2015-05-01 20.45.00

Mike Simon and Mike Jackson after the screening of ‘Still the Enemy Within’ (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Those interviewed for the film also have a wonderful sense of humour, which brings me to my next point. I think the film really benefited from being seen with a large group of politically-minded people. Some of the jokes and stories that the strikers tell are laugh-out-loud funny, and I enjoyed the experience of everyone else in the crowded lecture theatre laughing along with me. A political audience also made for a lively, if brief, discussion after the film. It turned out there was a former Nottinghamshire miner in the audience, who was keen to share his experiences.

However, I would highly recommend watching the film even if you were on your own. It really is a wonderful resource, and would be fantastic for undergraduate teaching. The film-makers have a list of screenings on their website, from which you can also buy the film. I myself am now a proud owner of the DVD!

‘Going through the Change!’: The Story of the National Women Against Pit Closures

A banner from the National Women Against Pit Closures (Source: Pastpixels, n.d.)

A banner from the National Women Against Pit Closures (Source: Pastpixels, n.d.).

On Tuesday evening I went to the London premiere of the film Going through the Change! at the Bishopsgate Institute. Made by Anne-Marie Sweeney, it is a film about the 20th anniversary weekend of the National Women Against Pit Closures (NWAPC) in 2004. Anne-Marie Sweeney and Bridget Bell, Joint Secretary of the NWAPC, both spoke and led the discussion after the film. Because of the recent 30th anniversary, the 1984-5 miners’ strike has been the focus of renewed attention, most prominently in the form of the film Pride. Going through the Change! is a reflection on this commemorative process, as well as a celebration of the past, present, and future work of  working class female activists.

The NWAPC is a national organisation set up to coordinate the efforts of local Women Against Pits Closure groups that sprang up around the country almost as soon as the miners’ strike started. The film is made up almost entirely of footage from the weekend held to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the strike. It uses footage of the weekend’s speakers, many of whom were involved in entirely different campaigns from the miners’ strike, to show footage of other disputes, including dock strikes in Liverpool, action by the Fire Brigade’s Union and protests demanding improved treatment of asylum seekers. In this way the film really emphasises the importance of solidarity between campaigns and social movements, in terms of moral as well as financial and practical support.

A badge from the 20th anniversary of the NWAPC, with a stirring message (Source: Feminist Times, 2014).

A badge from the 20th anniversary of the NWAPC, with a stirring message (Source: Feminist Times, 2014).

One thing that the film and discussion made me think about was the way in which anniversaries such as the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike are used. As I said, many of the speakers shown in the film were from campaigns that were nothing to do with the strike, many of them still ongoing at the time the footage was filmed in 2004. Then, as now, the NWAPC is using the anniversary not as an excuse for a nostalgia trip, but as a focus point for what is still yet to be achieved. In a similar way, the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners group (LGSM) has received a boost from the publicity surrounding the anniversary and Pride (see @LGSMPride on Twitter). Unlike other historical events, the anniversary of the strike is being used as an opportunity to look forward as well as back.

Women grappling with police during the miners' strike (Source: Bristol, 2014).

Women grappling with police during the miners’ strike (Source: Bristol Radical History Group, 2014).

When the women of the NWAPC do look back, it seems to be mainly for the purpose of taking inspiration and lessons for future campaigns. Education is clearly an important part of campaigns such as this one. Many of the women involved in NWAPC had no experience of activism or politics before the strike began. The title of the film Going through the Change! initially invokes thoughts of the menopause, but is actually a quote from one the speakers. And the change she is referring too is that from housewife to political activist. All of the women featured seemed to have experienced this sense of empowerment, the realisation that actually they can make a difference and cause change. They were fierce and proud, and perfectly capable of articulating themselves in public, something several of them said they never dreamed they would be able to do before they were politicised. As campaigns continue and develop, more women will be empowered in this way, will learn how to use direct action and campaigning to fight for their goals. Women who have already gone through this transformation should be able to help based on their own experiences, which is another reason that solidarity and networks between different campaigns are so important.

Going through the Change! is an inspiring film, and it was a pleasure to be part of a discussion where so many of the women from the film were present. These are strong women who have had long, accomplished activism careers, and who continue to fight in times that they see as just as bad, if not worse, than the 1980s. Many of them are now fighting for the futures of the grandchildren rather than their children, but they remain as passionate and fierce as ever, and a lesson to us all.

The people involved in making Going through the Change! are keen for the film to be seen. If you would like to buy a copy, or arrange a screening, then get in touch via their Facebook group.


Sources

‘Going through the Change!’ Bristol Radical History Group. Last modified 6th February 2015, accessed 4th March 2015. http://www.brh.org.uk/site/events/going-change/

Graham, Sarah. ‘Women Against Pit Closures: memories from the miners’ strike, 30 years on.’ Feminist Times. Last modified 5th March 2014, accessed 4th March 2015.  http://www.feministtimes.com/women-against-pit-closures-memories-from-the-miners-strike-30-years-on/

‘Greetings card: The Banner of the National Women Against Pit Closures.’ Pastpixels. No date, accessed 4th march 2015. http://www.pastpixels.co.uk/en/product/greetings-card-banner-national-women-against-pit-closures

We are the Angry Mob: the Politics of the Kaiser Chiefs

The Kaiser Chiefs perfoming at the O2 arena in February 2014 (Photo by author).

The Kaiser Chiefs perfoming at the O2 arena in February 2014 (Photo by author).

Last week I saw the Kaiser Chiefs live at the O2. It was a fantastic concert, and nostalgic for me, because I last saw them live back in 2007 when I was a teenager in Brighton. But it also brought home to me the political nature of many of the Kaiser Chief lyrics.

The Kaiser Chiefs have been making music for over a decade now (Photo: Danny North)

The Kaiser Chiefs have been making music for over a decade now (Photo: Danny North)

For those of you who are unfamiliar with them, the Kaiser Chiefs are an indie rock band from Leeds that formed in 2003. They are named after a South African football club, the first club of an ex-Leeds United Captain. The band consists of Ricky Wilson, Andrew White, Nick Baines, Simon Rix, and Vijay Mistry, who replaced the previous drummer in 2012. The band has had a successful decade, releasing 5 studio albums, 2 of which reached number 1 in the UK. They have also done several memorable live performances, including opening the Live-8 festival in Philadelphia in 2005, and performing at the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics. They have also been one of my favourite bands since I was 13.

We are the angry mob

We read the papers every day

We like who we like

We hate who we hate

But we’re all so easily swayed

The Angry Mob, 2007

The Kaiser Chiefs have always had critical lyrics in their songs, and they haven’t been very subtle about it. With songs such as I Predict a Riot from the 2005 album Employment and The Angry Mob and Everything is Average Nowadays from 2007’s Yours Truly, Angry Mob, a sense a resentment is obvious. It doesn’t seem obvious to me exactly who, or what, this anger is directed at though, except perhaps modern society in general.

They tell you day after day

To make your way through the factory gates

‘Til they can’t break your will anymore

You are contractually tied to death’s door

The Factory Gates, 2014

The Kaiser Chief's most recent album, 'Education, Education, Education and War.'

The Kaiser Chief’s most recent album, ‘Education, Education, Education and War.’

More recently however, their critique has become more directed. The title of their most recent album Education, Education, Education and War (2014) is a clear critique of Tony Blair, British Prime Minister between 1997 and 2007. It is well known that Blair’s priorities for his time in office were “education, education, education,” and he is blamed by many for the UK’s involvement in the Iraq war. The album also includes the poem The Occupation, written by Ricky Wilson and narrated by Bill Nighy. It is a modern anti-war poem inspired by the centenary of the first world war. It tells the story of an assault by a superpower on Hell, but could be applied to almost any recent conflict, and the result is a damning critique of war and imperial attitudes.

The Occupation

The occupation of Damnation Eternal

Decreed by Commander in Chief

Won by the infantry, led by the Colonel

Came at costs that would beggar belief

As they marched upon the inferno

And the infidels dropped to their knees

Millions of civilians crammed in pavilions

Came to watch it on big screen TVs

The population of Damnation Eternal

Went from millions to thousands to one

The survivor then wrote in his journal

“Why on Earth did it take them so long?”

Within weeks we constructed a pipeline

Within years we’ll have run the place dry

It’ll just about last us our lifetime

So it’s hip hip hoorays and high fives

On the factory floor there’s a whisper

We built cannons before it began

But the engines still pumping its piston

And the turbine still whirring its fan

The assembly line spits out the surplus

Into purpose built lead lined white vans

Rockets stockpile as ministry workers

Fill their pockets with all that they can

Secret meetings are held in the senate

What to do with this excess supply

There’s a plan to abandon the planet

One V.I.P at a time

So we get up each day and have breakfast

Read the news and the weather forecast

As we sit and we open our letters

And we pray that it won’t be our last.

Words by Ricky Wilson, narrated by Bill Nighy, 2014.

This is not the first time that I have written about the ability of music to make a political statement. Music, songs and chants have always been an important part of protest, and the popularity of modern musicians means they have quite a lot of power to publicise their point of view and influence people. The Kaiser Chiefs’ music has evolved over the last 10 years, but they have never been afraid to use it to express their opinions, which I think only adds to their appeal.

 

Sources and Further Reading

Adam Sherwin. ‘Kaiser Chiefs and Bill Nighy write modern day anti-war poem for the World War One centenary’ The Independent. Last modified 6th march 2014, accessed 16th February 2015.  http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/kaiser-chiefs-and-bill-nighy-write-modern-day-antiwar-poem-for-the-world-war-one-centenary-9174405.html

Pits and Perverts Revisited: ‘Pride’ the Movie and Politics Now

The Pits and Perverts Revisited panel.

The Pits and Perverts Revisited panel.

Last Friday, I went to an event at Birkbeck College called Pits and Perverts Revisited: ‘Pride’ the Movie and Politics Now. It is almost exactly 30 years since the Pits and Perverts fundraiser in Camden was organised for the striking miners by Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, the group depicted in this year’s hit film, Pride. This event was a reflection on the film and LGSM itself, with Mike Jackson and Siân James speaking, upon whom characters in the film were based. It included a screening of the documentary All Out! Dancing in Dulais and a panel discussion also featuring Diarmaid Kelliher (a PhD student at the University of Glasgow working on solidarity groups for the miners in London), and Bev Skeggs (a professor of Sociology at Goldsmiths). All Out was made in 1986, and is about the work that LGSM did for the miners. It was a great evening full of passionate discussion, which raised a lot of interesting points.

The key thing that really came home to me during the course of the evening was the importance of solidarity to protest movements. The point was made in All Out that it is illogical to fight for the right of one oppressed group or minority but not others. Solidarity can take many forms, from a declaration of support to volunteers to help man the picket lines, but all types are important. There is a long tradition of solidarity amongst social movements in Britain, for example miners from across the country joined the Grunwick strike on the picket line in the 1970s. However there is also a tradition of groups not receiving the support they need, for example many of the big trade union’s attitudes to women workers. Solidarity between different protest movements is still not a given, but as Pride demonstrates, it can be an invaluable and incredibly beneficial experience.

The original Pits and Perverts publicity poster.

The original Pits and Perverts publicity poster.

Another important characteristic of social movements that was emphasised was networks. Exchanging solidarity with other groups involves making connections, sharing knowledge, resources and experience. Several of the speakers emphasised the importance of making connections with other movements and activists, particularly internationally as many of the issues campaigned on now have international causes and implications. Academic geographers frequently analyse social movements from the perspective of networks, and it was nice to know that this is a legitimate perspective to take.

The final thing that came out of the discussion that I think is really important to emphasise is the necessity of fundraising. The main things that LGSM did in support of the miners were collections and fundraisers. At the height of the strike the Neath, Dulais and Swansea Valleys Miners Support Group needed £5-8000 per week to feed 1000 mining families. These funds were essential for the strike to continue, and without it, the miners would have had no choice but to return to work. Fundraising is not glamorous or exciting, but no campaign will last for long without some form of income.

The audience for Pits and Perverts Revisited was more mixed than your average academic seminar, which I think contributed to the vigour and practical nature of the discussion. The evening gave me a lot to think about. Pride is a fantastic film, funny and heart-warming, but it is also inspiring activism and discussion, which I think is a truly wonderful achievement.

Scrolls, Vikings, and Dragons: Representations of the Archive in Children’s Television

'Riders of Berk' is a television spin off of the popular 2010 fil 'How to Train Your Dragon' (Source: Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013)

‘Riders of Berk’ is a television spin off of the popular 2010 film ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ (Source: Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013)

As long as you promise not to ask me how I know about this example, I wanted to discuss the portrayal of archives in children’s television. DreamWorks Dragons: Riders of Berk is a spin-off from the 2010 DreamWorks film How to Train Your Dragon. It may sounds surprising, but the show does contain archives, and the ways in which they are represented actually speaks well to the use of real-life archives.

'Bork's Archive' contains all the knowledge that the vikings of Berk have collected about dragons (Source: Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013).

‘Bork’s Archive’ contains all the knowledge that the Vikings of Berk have collected about dragons (Source: ‘We Are Family Part 1’ Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013).

Academics have argued that children’s films and TV shows are actually quite powerful cultural products, perhaps because they are dismissed by adults as insignificant and harmless. However they arguably play a significant role in shaping how children understand and interpret the world around them, so they are actually quite influential. Riders of Berk could very easily be a child’s only encounter with an archive, and is therefore worthy of consideration.

Berk is a village on a small island of the same name, populated by Vikings with names like Hiccup, Snotlout and Fishlegs, and dragons. At the beginning of the film, Vikings and dragons are mortal enemies, but with the aid of an injured dragon called Toothless, Hiccup manages to prove that both dragons and Vikings can profit from working together, and by the time the TV show begins, dragons are firmly integrated into the daily life of Berk. In Riders of Berk, a group of teenage Vikings, led by Hiccup, fly around on their dragons, having adventures and learning more about all the different types of dragons. However, all is not well in the land of the Vikings, and there are villains, set on destroying the peace between dragons and Vikings, or stealing the Hiccup’s dragon-training knowledge for their own dastardly aims.

Dragons and Vikings used to be enemies, but now live together in harmony (Source: 'We Are Family Part 1' Dreamwork's Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013).

Dragons and Vikings used to be enemies, but now live together in harmony (Source: ‘We Are Family Part 1’ Dreamwork’s Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013).

In the finale of the series, entitled “We Are Family,” Hiccup is entrusted with a chest containing Berk’s collected knowledge on dragons, know as “Bork’s Archive.” As the premier authority on dragons, Hiccup is given this “part of our [Berk’s] history” so that he can continue to develop their knowledge. From the way responsibility is passed on, and Hiccup’s reaction to the task, it is clearly a great honour. The knowledge is obviously valued by the community, and he is told to guard it carefully. Hiccup wastes no time in starting to search through this “amazing” archive, demonstrating how useful archives can be.

Hiccup feels honoured when he is given the job of 'archivist' (Source: Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk).

Hiccup feels honoured when he is given the job of ‘archivist’ (Source: ‘We Are Family Part1’ Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk).

Later in the episode, Hiccup learns the valuable lesson that not all sources in the archive can be trusted, simply because they come from the archive. Hiccup’s loyal companion Toothless is a rare type of dragon called a Night Fury. No other Night Furies are known to exist on Berk or the surrounding islands. In the archive, Hiccup finds a map to an island of Night Furies called “The Isle of Night,” and promptly sets off to find more of Toothless’ kind. The map turns out to be a fake however, planted in the archive to lure Hiccup into a trap by the evil Alvin the Treacherous. This highlights the importance of finding out as much as possible about where a source comes from, and why it was produced, in order to assess its reliability and possible biases.

The fake source that leads Hiccup into a trap (Source: Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013)

The fake source that leads Hiccup into a trap (Source: ‘We Are Family Part 1’ Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk, 2013)

So from this one episode of a children’s television show, a lot can be learnt about the value of archives, as well as the precautions that must be taken with them. Although Bork’s Archive is a lot smaller than most archives I have come across, I would argue that it is quite representative of archives as a whole. The people of Berk value Bork’s archive as a source of collected knowledge, and are aware of the archive’s ability to help contemporary knowledge progress further. However, Hiccup learns that just because something is in an archive, doesn’t mean that it is ‘true’ or authentic; the archive can be deceptive. This may seem like a bit of a silly post, but in all seriousness, I think it is important to talk about archives and the methodology of archival research as much as possible, and why shouldn’t we do that through the medium of children’s television? So, if you need a light-hearted teaching aid for archives, or just something fun for your next tea break, you could do worse than checking out Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk.