29 March 1977
| 8/10 |
| Looks and Smiles, In Two Minds, The Gamekeeper, The Big Flame, The Flickering Flame|
The Price of Coal is a two-part television drama written by Barry Hines and directed by Ken Loach first broadcast in 1977. Set at the fictional Milton Colliery, near Barnsley in South Yorkshire, the episodes contrast "efforts made to cosmetically improve the pit in preparation for a royal visit (part one) and the target-conscious safety shortcuts that precipitate a fatal accident (part two)."
The plot bears some similarities to the Cadeby Main pit disaster of July 1912, which occurred whilst the King and Queen were visiting pit villages in Yorkshire. This disaster is discussed by managers in the first episode, who refer to the timing of the disaster at the same time as the visit as "bad luck".
The Price of Coal Wikipedia
Characters almost entirely use Yorkshire dialect, and both episodes have been shown with subtitles even when broadcast in England. Some characters have north-eastern accents, in a reference to the large-scale migration of displaced colliers from the run-down coalfields in Durham and Northumberland to the richer Yorkshire coalfield in the 1960s.
The two plays contain an unusually large amount of swearing for a BBC production in the 1970s. This becomes part of the plot in the first episode, as the management ask the miners not to swear during the royal visit. When signs are put up in the pit baths to forbid swearing, the miners attempt to speak in Received Pronunciation to mock the language of the royal family.
The first episode, Meet the People, is a comedy-drama dealing with preparations for an official visit to the colliery by Prince Charles. The humour revolves around the expensive and ludicrous preparations required for an official visit from a member of the Royal Family. Some workers recognise this and cannot take it seriously. Management recognises it but has to 'play the game'. Special toilets must be constructed "just in case" and destroyed after the visit. A worker is instructed to paint a brick holding up a window. On the eve of the visit, the slogan "Scargill rules OK" is painted on a wall. The manager comments "When I find out who did that I'll string him up by his knackers". In another scene, an argument takes place in a pub between colliers opposed to the expenditure on the visit and who think the colliery was chosen because its union officials were relatively conservative and other colliers who are looking forward to the visit.
The second episode, Back to Reality, takes place a month later and deals with an underground explosion that kills several miners and follows the attempts to rescue others that remain trapped.
Several of the cast were stand up comedians from the Yorkshire working men's club circuit, including Duggie Brown, Bobby Knutt, Stan Richards and Jackie Shinn. The drama was filmed around the disused Thorpe Hesley colliery near Rotherham in South Yorkshire. The scenes in which the Mines Rescue Team set off were filmed in Wakefield with the real Mines Rescue Team in the area, who are given thanks in the end credits.
Hines grew up in the mining community of Hoyland Common near Barnsley, and had been a coal miner when he left school. He recollected that when a neighbour saw him at the coalface and chided him "Couldn't tha find a better job than this?" he was inspired to return to full-time education and trained to be a teacher.
In the Guardian's obituary of Barry Hines, The Price of Coal was described as "a vehicle for Barry to scrutinise class politics". Hines was a republican but was aware that most British people supported the monarchy, as portrayed in the film. The Guardian's obituary read, "In The Price of Coal he revealed not only his angry compassion for the daily dangers of mining, but an acknowledgment of the feudal backwardness in his community".