It is 30 years since a miners’ strike changed the face of industrial relations in Britain.
Margaret Thatcher won a political victory over the trade unions and significantly weakened their power.
The strike, which lasted for a year from March 1984, was over the proposed closure of 20 coal mines with the loss of 20,000 jobs.
The action divided communities – there were bitter confrontations between working and striking miners – which then suffered after the widespread closures. In 1983, Britain had 174 working mines, but by 2009 this was down to just six.
In Grimethorpe in south Yorkshire, half the population were miners and it was named the poorest village in the country after the mine closed in 1992.
But four days after the shutdown, the Grimethorpe Colliery Band won the National Brass Band Championship at the Royal Albert Hall.
The story inspired the hit 1996 film Brassed Off, starring Pete Postlethwaite, Tara Fitzgerald, Ewan McGregor and Stephen Tompkinson.
The film was set in the thinly-disguised village of Grimley, while the soundtrack was provided by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band.
The scenes in the Albert Hall were actually filmed at Birmingham Town Hall.
The film was then turned into a stage production – and now that’s on a national tour to mark the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike.
It comes to Wolverhampton and Coventry, where local brass bands will take to the stage for a live musical accompaniment.
In Wolverhampton it’s the Jackfield Brass Band, formed in 1895 in the Shropshire village near Ironbridge, and then the Coventry Festival Band will perform at the Belgrade.
Director Neale Birch says: “The film Brassed Off was far more successful than anyone anticipated and has stuck in people’s memories. It has huge appeal.
“It’s about a small town in Yorkshire yet it resonated around the world. “Everyone can identify with the theme of a community being trampled on, there are sadly all too many examples of that.
“We try to do productions that involve local communities – in our last show, To Sir With Love, we used 15 local youngsters in each venue to make up the class.
“Here we are using local brass bands. Unfortunately our spring tour coincides with brass band contests so it’s been hard to find people willing to take part. We’re very fortunate to have the championship Jackfield Brass Band.
“The play is very moving, funny and heartwarming. The characters are real human beings and we connect with them in the theatre in a way you can’t possibly in a film.”
Actor Andrew Dunn, who plays Phil, adds: “The main difference between the film and stage version is that we have the live brass band, which really lifts it and makes it special.
“We have between 14 and 20 people on stage with us, depending on the size of the theatres.
“I play the trombone, except I don’t, I just pretend to. I can’t play a note.
“Some of the cast members do play their instruments, especially Clara Darcy who plays Gloria and has a solo on the flugelhorn.
“Initially they wanted the whole cast to play but they found it too hard to get musicians who can act. So it’s about half and half.
“Sometimes the real band ask the cast members to mime because they don’t want them to spoil their music!”
Andrew’s character is the son of terminally-ill band leader Danny, played by Pete Postlethwaite in the film and by John McArdle in the stage version.
John is 64 and Andrew is 56, but Andy says: “We just about get away with it, as John has grey hair.
“Phil is still paying off debts from when he went on strike and is coping with his ill father. He is at the end of his tether and tries to hang himself from the pit head. But he can’t even do that properly.
“That moment is a bit scary for me, there’s a quiver of fear when I launch myself off, even though I’m wearing a harness.
“The story still seems relevant. In 1984 the country seemed viciously divided and I can feel that division again.
“It’s not an overtly political play, but it does show communities – the fabric of society – being destroyed.
“I can relate to the script. I’m from Leeds but we moved to Middlesbrough in the North-east when I was nine. There were mines in Northumbria and shipbuilding by the river, industries that the whole community served. As soon as the industry goes, the area turns into a ghost town.”
Mining is considered to be one of the toughest jobs around. If anyone claims their job is hard, the response is often “well you’re not down a mine, are you?”.
So what have been Andrew’s worst jobs?
“I worked in a factory that made shipbuilding parts and I had to clean the lathes when the factory was closed. It was hideous, painfully scraping all the oil off.
“I also cleaned toilets on campsites.
“I worked for Securicor in Newcastle for a while, I was in the back of their vans along with millions of pounds. But it was dull.
“We never got attacked, but I found the most frightening thing was going across the Tyne bridge. I thought ‘what if there’s an accident and we end up in the river?’. Because when you’re in the back, you can’t get out unless someone unlocks it. We’d be stuck.
“I would sit there thinking ‘how will we get out?’.”
* Brassed Off comes to Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre from April 8-12. For tickets ring 01902 429212 or go to www.grandtheatre.co.uk . It then plays the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, from April 23-26. For tickets ring 024 7655 3055 or go to www.belgrade.co.uk