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This Working Life: King Coal

We go underground to explore a century of coal mining on screen, looking at Britain’s mining history from multiple perspectives.

“In peace and war, King Coal is the paramount lord of industry” – David Lloyd George

It’s hard to believe from the state of the coal industry now, but it once snaked its sooty tendrils into virtually every sphere of British life, at one point directly employing nearly 3% of the population. The official line is promoted by the National Coal Board’s own in-house film unit, but there are plenty of other voices ranging from big-name directors to a miner turned amateur filmmaker. We’ll be offering feature films, television dramas, documentaries, training and safety films and one-off oddities such as the aptly-titled The Shovel, exploring the surprisingly rich history of one of our most basic tools.

Ten to try

The Greatest Menace We Have Ever Known (1921)

A typically restrained and sober title for a Topical Budget newsreel about the 1921 coal strike.

Black Diamonds (1932)

Ambitious amateur film shot by a miner who wanted to capture early 1930s pit conditions.

King Coal (1948)

Colourful and inventive animation promoting the work of Britain’s coal industry.

The Miner’s Picnic (1960)

Lively Ken Russell BBC documentary about a colliery band competition.

Songs of the Coalfields (1964)

Six illustrated folksongs with a mining theme, sung by Ewan MacColl and Isla Cameron.

Manfailure (1971)

Nagging wives and nude biking: just two of the things that take miners’ minds off the job in this bizarre safety film.

The Price of Coal: Meet The People (1977)

Rarely-screened television drama set in a Yorkshire pit village, directed by Ken Loach and written by Barry Hines (Kes).

Not Just Tea and Sandwiches (1984)

Miners’ wives speak out in one of the campaigning videotapes made in support of their striking husbands.

The Comic Strip Presents… The Strike (1988)

Classic spoof about how Hollywood might have tackled the miners’ strike – if Al Pacino was available to play Arthur Scargill.

Disappearing Britain: When Coal Was King (2006)

Ricky Tomlinson’s personal history of British coalmining, lavishly illustrated with footage from the BFI National Archive.

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