Film ID:
NEFA 8971



Visitor Tabs


A Tyne Tees Television documentary shown in the World Wise '86 series about pigeon fancying and racing in the north east of England. Members of the Up North Combine talk about the history and their passion for the sport linking it to mining and heavy industry along the coast from Yorkshire to Northumberland. Footage includes a look at the annual Royal Pigeon Racing Association show in Blackpool and Bobby Thompson on stage at the Easington Colliery Club & Institute.

The documentary begins with aerial views of communities along the north east coast with an introduction to the Up North Combine, the largest pigeon organisation in the world.

A train passes on a track near Boldon, County Durham. There are pigeon crees beside the track. Inside a loft, Rod Adam, a member of the Up North Combine, is cooking bacon and eggs for himself. In voiceover, he muses on the connection between keeping pigeons and mining. He sees his loft as a peaceful hideaway. Shots of an Up North Combine certificate, a map of pigeon flights, first prize certificates for races, posters and soft porn photos. He says January is the start of the pigeon year in Blackpool.

A group of north east pigeon fanciers walk the promenade in Blackpool in winter. In The Royal Pigeon Racing Association show male and female stewards are examining birds in the ballroom. They talk about what makes a good bird. One steward thinks judging is a nonsense as its just expressing a preference for what you like. Crowds browse the various trade stands then an auction of birds takes place. Pigeon fanciers browse cages of prize winning pigeons.

Rod Adams checks on new eggs in his pigeon loft. In voiceover he talks about the roots of pigeon racing in short distances.

On wasteland in Middlesbrough, industrial works in the background, a small group of pigeon fanciers are holding short distance (1 mile) races. General view of Middlesbrough and the lofts as the racers watch for the return of their birds, and race times are checked. Birds fly in to the lofts.

A former ironstone miner at Skinningrove, George Hoggarth, talks about his 60 year love-affair with pigeon. He enters his loft. Waves roll onto the beach at Skinningrove. Hoggarth is pictured visiting the old north Loftus Skinningrove mines, the first on Teesside now part of the Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum, where he once worked, starting as a boy.. He looks at one of the old mine wagons. He talks about how hard it was to make a living. But he was always at his loft before work early in the morning to look after his birds. Back at home, the walls and mantelpiece are covered in photographs of his pigeons and his awards. A game show is on the television. General view of the pigeon lofts at Skinningrove. General view of George Hoggarth calling in and feeding his birds at the lofts on the hills around the bay. He makes a fuss of his birds.

A group of north east fanciers arrive by coach at the Louella Lofts in Loughborough, Leicestershire, a pigeon breeding centre founded in 1934 by Louis Massarella.  They are shown high calibre pigeon racers. A case displays trophies. Some are seen buying new birds. The voiceover suggests the stereotype of a pigeon fancier is probably Andy Capp, unemployed miner in flat cap and muffler.

General view of the river front at North Shields, Tyneside. A man drives up to a work unit in a Rolls Royce car. Inside a man is making rope nets. Some women are making life jackets, sewing them together on a Singer. A ship sails up the Tyne. Entrepreneur Tommy Young walks onto the roof of his factory overlooking the Tyne where he has erected pigeon lofts so he can continue to run his business and spare time for his passion. He talks about the two systems for rearing and motivating birds. General view of a pigeon flying over the river.

At Cookson House, Zircon Plant, Willington Quay on Tyneside, Dr Ralph Iley, president of the Up North Combine, walks through a factory room then dictates to a secretary in his office. Work brochures are scattered with Up North Combine booklets. He talks about juggling his work itinerary with racing meetings. He says that unemployment has always been bad in the area but is worse now. Amongst them are quite a few pigeon fanciers. He tries to bulk buy pigeon feed within a group to make things easier.

Pigeons are released at Loftus and a loft owner shows off his pigeons.

At a club house in North Shields, pigeon fanciers and friends relax over a drink and game of pool. They swap funny tales about fanciers.

Waves roll on to the beach at Loftus. George Hoggarth is feeding his birds, grain and sugar. He walks off with pigeons in a box. Another fancier loads baskets in his car. Pigeons are tagged for a race, Tommy Young arriving with his pigeons. Crates of pigeons are loaded onto a transporter truck for the Up North Combine. Fanciers watch it leave. The truck is on the road to the start point of a race.

Back at the North Shields clubhouse, fanciers are synchronising clocks and sealing them before a race to prevent tampering. Subscriptions are paid. Fanciers watch the transporter truck set off at night. General view of the lights over the Tyne at night.

[End of Part One]

It’s an early morning at Offerton, Nottinghamshire and the Up North Combine transporter trucks are parked in a field for an April meeting. A truck driver and his son get out of a truck and start to uncover the crates in the back. An officiator calls time for the start of the race. Cages are opened and thousands of birds take flight. Aerial footage across England follows.

Back on Tyneside, Tommy Young looks through binoculars at his North Shields loft. In voiceover he talks about the problem of gulls attacking his pigeons. He checks his watch.

At Skinningrove, a fancier watches as his pigeon returns to the loft. He takes off the tag, puts it into his clock and locks it. Aerial view of the Tyne. A pigeon returns to its owner. At the Skinningrove clubhouse, the clocks are unlocked and times checked. Velocity is checked via a computer. Many competitors are father and son.

Exterior view of Easington Colliery Club & Institute at night. A meeting of pigeon fanciers takes place and they discuss the question of whether to kill birds that are not winning races or being productive. A man buries two dead pigeons in his garden. General views of Easington Colliery pithead and the town. Men come off shift at the colliery. Jimmy Stephenson checks in his miner’s lamp. He heads off to his loft with his dog. He was born and bred in Easington and still likes it. He arrives at his loft. He says you need at least 5 hours a day to look after pigeons. It’s ‘sheer dedication’. He’s only had 2 weeks holiday since he started flying pigeons. He releases his pigeons. Jimmy Carside talks about how uncivilised it is being down a pit. Diggers move slag on a heap at the edge of Easington. In voiceover, Jimmy Stephenson talks about the mines moving to the coast as the South West Durham coal seam was on the decline. Miners brought their hobbies with them, like pigeon racing. Panoramic shot of Easington. People shop on the busy high street. Chimneys smoke from row upon row of terraced housing. Stephenson talks about the times the mining community has come together: the 1926 strike, the Second World War, recent NUM dispute, and the 1951 disaster, in which he was involved.

Archive newsreel footage of the community during the Easington colliery mining disaster. General views of graves of those killed in the disaster in the cemetery. Stephenson talks of what he saw as one of the rescue party, and when people came to identify the dead in the colliery yard. He talks about all the pigeons that were left in their lofts when their owners had been killed.

Bobby Thompson performs on stage at the packed Easington Colliery Club & Institute. Pigeon fanciers and family chat before the performance. On stage, the ‘Little Waster’ cracks a few jokes about pigeon fanciers. General views of Easington terraces and allotments with pigeon lofts at night.

At a loft, a pigeon fancier holds two eggs and watches a chick hatching. A fancier carries a basket of pigeons up to Whitby Abbey where he releases them. Up North Combine transporter trucks are parked at the edge of a corn field at Selby, North Yorkshire, for the Young Bird Race in July. The cages are released and birds take flight, filmed in slow motion.