The Ballad of the Miners’ Strike

To be transmitted at 10:30pm on Tuesday 2 March
BBC Radio 2
Programme note from Smooth Operations

A forthright and powerful exploration in words and specially commissioned songs of the lives changed by the year-long Miners’ Strike of 1984-85.

In a special programme to mark the 25th anniversary of the end of the dispute, this Ballad balances opinions from miners and their wives who supported the strike with those who worked and the men who policed the strike. Songs inspired by their stories propel the Ballad through issues still causing debate a quarter of a century later.

Striking miners describe the physical and mental toll of the dispute and they and police officers recall the picket line confrontations; miners who worked tell how they’re still called ‘scab’: miners’ wives describe how the strike empowered them – everyone remembers The Battle of Orgreave.

As one man puts it: “It’s the closest thing we’ve had to a Civil War in Britain since 1641 – 49.”

The songs highlight the contrasting human experiences from that year:

Jez Lowe’s ‘Judas Bus’ describes a minibus taking ‘scab’ miners across picket lines: John Tams’ ‘Over in a Fortnight’ plants the battle lines for the strike in the victory over Ted Heath of 1974. Julie Matthews’ song ‘Beyond the Picket Line’ was written after hearing women from mining families describe their significant part in the strike, organising food parcels, meetings and protests. Ray Hearne wrote ‘Ordinary Copper’ from the stories of policemen finding themselves in bitter fights with miners.

Musical accompaniment is provided by acclaimed folk musicians and singers Andy Cutting, Neil Yates, Bob Fox, Barry Coope, Jez Lowe, Andy Seward, Julie Matthews and John Tams.

The interviews were gathered across the UK by reporter Vince Hunt who travelled to Wales, Northumberland, Nottinghamshire, Kent and Yorkshire to talk to miners and the women who supported them, police officers who served on the picket lines and the miners who crossed picket lines to work.

The Ballad is a sophisticated historical tapestry of sequences of reflection and testimony, punctuated and driven by archive clips of news bulletins, reportage and interviews from during the strike with key figures like miners’ leader Arthur Scargill and Coal Board leader Ian McGregor.

A year in the making, The Ballad of the Miners’ Strike tells the stories of people directly affected by the strike, arranged into chapters. These themed interviews were then used as sources to inspire the Ballads’ songwriters to convey those experiences in song. Then the original interviews were fed back into the songs, creating a dramatic and poignant self-narrating effect.

This is the latest in a series of Ballads commissioned in recent years by BBC Radio 2, exploring important issues of our time. In 2006 a series of six Radio Ballads explored the decline of the shipbuilding and steel industries, thirty years of conflict in Northern Ireland, the end of hunting with hounds, the experiences of six people affected by HIV/AIDS and the lives of Britain’s fairground community. The Song of Steel won a gold Sony award; Thirty Years of Conflict won a bronze.

Smooth Operations is an independent production company making specialistmusic programmes and documentaries for the BBC, including the 2006 BBCRadio2 Radio Ballads, the Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie Show and Mike Harding’s Wednesday folk show. (

A Smooth Operations production
For more information please call 01457 873752.

Production credits
Producer: John Leonard
Songwriters: John Tams, Jez Lowe, Julie Matthews, Ray Hearne and Kay Sutcliffe
Musicians: Neil Yates, Bob Fox, Andy Seward, Andy Cutting, Barry Coope, John Tams, Jez Lowe, Julie Matthews, Kellie While, Kiran Leonard
Music Production: Andy Seward
Interviewer: Vince Hunt
Interviews editor: Annie Grundy
Interviewees: Miners from Wales, Northumberland, Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Kent. Police officers from Merseyside, Kent, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire.
Working miners from Mansfield.
Introduction: Alan Dedicoat.

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