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The coming of age story of ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ takes place against the backdrop of the 1974 miners strike in a quiet coal-mining village. This page has some more information on the recent history of coalmining and the 1974 miners strike. We are making this page interactive so if you would like us to add your own thoughts and memories please email email@example.com
Author and coalmines historian David Douglass has prepared more information on the Miners Advice website. It's well worth a look.
Coalmining has been vitally important to Britain; it fuelled the industrial revolution, allowing for the building of railways, fuelling iron and steel works and in the Twentieth Century provided the nation’s electricity. Towns and villages grew around the pits. Most men in these villages worked at the pit. We filmed in South East Northumberland, around Ashington, which once had 5000 miners working in that village alone. With pit work being very dangerous miners had to rely on each other for their lives and the comradeship was shared by the wider community. The pits brought strong traditions such as the countless folk songs, rapper sword dancing and each pit had its own banner and brass band.
Brass bands still going; Backworth Colliery, Westoe, Ellington, and most famous Grimethorpe, used in the film 'Brassed Off'.
Why is ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ set in the 1970s?
We chose to set the characters and story of the film in the 1970s because it was a turbulent period in British social and political life. Set patterns were being dissolved into more uncertain futures. The characters in the film need to find their own path and can no longer follow the path of their parents or grandparents. It is a period in which old ways of thinking about society, politics, employment and individual’s roles, which had been common for perhaps forty years or more, were about to change.
Since the war successive governments (of both parties) worked with unions and had a commitment to ensure full employment amongst the British workforce. When the economy slowed down the government would invest money in projects to create jobs (this was called Keynesian economic policy) and this was successful between 1945 and the end of the sixties. This method however, tended to increase inflation. By the early 1970s it was becoming more difficult to balance out unemployment and inflation and both were on the rise, sharply. The governments attempted to put a cap on wage increases. This caused the miners’ strike in 1974 and the ‘Winter of Discontent’ in the winter of 1978-1979 when public service unions went on strike; including hospital workers, refuse collectors and gravediggers, causing huge discomfort and disruption across British society. This led to ‘new right’ economic thinking and in 1979 brought in Margaret Thatcher’s government to tackle inflation, reduce the responsibilities of the state and reduce the power of the unions and it lead to more turbulence further ahead.
1974 miners’ strike.
There had just been a miners’ strike in 1972 because the miners were amongst the lowest paid manual workers in Britain and the NUM felt they needed better pay for the dangerous job they were doing. After inflation rises during 1972 and 1973 the government attempted to put a cap on wage increases but unions felt their pay was already struggling to keep up with rising prices, and another strike began on 9th February 1974. This strike is less well documented than that of 1984 and occurred on a smaller scale. It lasted only a short time, picketing and campaigning was fairly low-key (due to election and other events) and it did not cause the deep and lasting divisions that its later counter-part did yet the strike had a very powerful effect. One big effect of the strike was that in order to conserve fuel supplies and electricity, a drastic measure was taken when businesses and manufacturers were only allowed to run for three consecutive days in a week. This was known as the Three day week and was in effect 1st January till March 7th 1974. The importance of the British coal industry and its effect on power supply to other businesses had been emphasised further with massive oil price increases between October 1973 and March 1974 when many oil producing countries (known as OPEC countries) refused to export oil (due to disputes in the Arab/Israeli War). This further strengthened the miners’ position. The Conservative party had built the 1974 election campaign around their claim to be able to control the unions; they were defeated in February 1974 and although Labour couldn’t command an overall majority (until a second election was held in October that year) they managed to pass through a deal with the NUM about the wage increases. It is believed that the power of the unions, especially the NUM, had brought down the Heath government in 1974 and then later on the Labour government under Callaghan in 1979. On the other side people began to think the economy needed to move in a different direction and that the power of the unions would prevent change and economic growth. This is one of the tensions building up in ‘Young Hearts Run Free’.
There are some great videos about the strike on youtube
The mining industry since 1974: 1984-85 Miners’ Strike
The 1984-85 Miners Strike was a huge event in British industrial relations and the coal industry. It forms the background to the ‘Billy Elliot’ film and stage musical and the TV series ‘Our Friends In The North’.
The Thatcher government was determined that the unions would not wield the same power as they had done in the 1970s. They planned for a big confrontation with the unions, starting with the miners. Their plan was known as the Ridley Plan and included tactics such as stockpiling coal supplies at power stations and securing imports of coal from foreign countries and some even more controversial tactics such as to "cut off the money supply to the strikers and make the union finance them", to train and equip large mobile squads of police and even for the Government to ‘choose the field of battle’. This plan was leaked in 1978 which shows the government had years of preparation. In March 1984 20 pits were threatened with closure and the strike began.
The leaders of the NUM were criticised for not holding a national ballot to vote on whether or not to take strike action. In the government’s eyes this made the strike illegal. The miners were also criticised for attacks on non-striking miners, one of which caused the death of a taxi driver in South Wales. Some scholars have since said that some of the actions of the unions, such as not allowing essential maintenance to the pits and continuing the strike after a concessionary offer to only close some of the proposed pits, meant that they had actually inadvertently accelerated the widespread process of pit closures. The dispute also saw a record number of false arrests and increased police brutality with large units drafted up from London and even soldiers were brought in disguised as policemen. Some policemen waved wads of cash at the poverty-stricken miners and boasted about all the overtime pay they were getting.
After 11 months (compared to 3 months in 1974) the strike finally ended. This had been a monumental battle and was almost like a civil war in many places. It was an ideological battle between socialist ideologies and the new right government, between Arthur Scargill and Margaret Thatcher. In a sense the ordinary miners, who just wanted to work hard and keep their jobs to sustain their families and communities, were caught up in the middle and had to endure 11 hard months of hunger, poverty and deep divisions between family and communities. They fought bravely.
One of the most spectacular events of the strike was the mass picket - 'Battle of Orgreave'
1990s Pit closures.
There were a very large number of pit closures during the early 1990s with miners offered redundancy pay increases to persuade them to accept closures. This era is covered in the film ‘Brassed Off’. Many believe the social cohesion created by the communities around the pits began to dissolve after their closure and, with the government not taking a lead in creating new jobs in these former pit areas, sometimes unemployment reached up to 50% which lead to many social problems. The last remaining pit in the area where ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ was filmed closed in 2005 (the film’s opening shot was done 200 yards from where Ellington Colliery once stood) and there are now no remaining pits in Northumberland. After nearly 300 years of industrial coal-mining (and with some geologists claiming up to 75% of the coal reserves still remain) there is no more deep mining in the North East. There are now just six deep mines left in the country.
Young Hearts Run Free was filmed at;
Woodhorn, Ashington, Northumberland
National Mining Museum Scotland, nr Edinburgh, Scotland
You should also check out;
Big Pit, Blaenafon, Wales
National Coalmining Museum, Wakefield
Beamish Museum, County Durham, England
Memories of the mining communities
'People who worked in the mines put the great in Great Britain. That's not nostalgia, it's a hard fact of history'
Ian Lavery MP,
former NUM Chairman.
'1974- it was our heyday from point of view of income and union power at the pit and in the country.'
David Douglass, Author
With the British people again finding themselves in economic difficulties and more jobs being cut we can’t just leave the creation of new jobs to chance. We also need to find new ways of creating the community cohesion which the pits once created. We know that life moves on, and many people will be glad not to have to work in the dangerous conditions of the pits, but we must remember how important the mining industry was to this country and the great service and sacrifices made by the miners. We should carry the traditions, and the lessons, into the future. ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ is a nostalgic look at teenage life and the mining history of the period but it also has timeless themes and is relevant for now and for the future.
If you would like to add comments or memories to this page email us firstname.lastname@example.org;
To see the 1974 miners’ strike come to life in ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ click to buy the DVD, download, see our list of screening dates or even set up your own screening. The trailer is here;