Film ID:
YFA 5607

SELBY: THE SAVING FACE FOR COAL

1984

Visitor Tabs

Description

This is a Yorkshire Television documentary about the new Selby coalfield and the state of the coal mining industry.  The documentary was made two and a half months into the great Miners’ Strike of 1984/85.  Although the strike figures as a backdrop to the film, the focus is on the advances of the new Selby coalfield, those working in it, and on the respective arguments of the NUM, represented by its President Arthur Scargill, and the NCB, represented by its Chairman Ian MacGregor.

The film begins with Scargill addressing a mass of striking miners, behind police lines, with some on roofs, at an unknown location.  The documentary contrasts old pits, like those at Corton Wood, with the newly opened mining complex at Selby, costing £1 billion and the most advanced in the world.  The film claims that it will employ 4.000 miners and that its 20 pits will produce 10 million tons of coal p.a..  There are several interviews with unidentified coal managers, and the documentary claims that the NCB is looking to close 20 pits with the loss of 20,000 mining jobs.    Ian MacGregor puts the case for doing this, while Arthur Scargill puts forward his economic case for keeping the pits open and for expansion.

The first phase of construction of the pit is shown with the sinking of the main shaft.  It is pointed out that the rock surrounding the coal seam is porous, and that this means there is a large problem with surplus water.  This has to be frozen for a year and then concreted.  It is stated that Selby has reserves of 236 million tons, and that this will take 30 years to mine, with the coal going to the nearby Drax power station at the rate of 10 million tons a year.  It is also stated that the modern pits will cause minimum disruption to the countryside. 

The film switches to show the new plant located near Stillingfleet, noting the absence of slag heaps because of it being “clean coal”, that is, with only small amounts of rock or earth in the mined coal.  The film goes back to July 1983 and the first day of operations at Wistow, when the coal comes on stream.  As it does so water from the surrounding rock comes pouring in, at the rate of 2,000 gallons a minute, and the miners have to rush pumps in to get rid of it, at some risk to their own safety.  A local manager states that steps are being taken to resolve this problem. 

A local farmer is interviewed, complaining about the knock on effects of subsidence: for drainage and taking areas out of agriculture.  A coal manager states that subsidence can be precisely measured and controlled.  It is stated that the miners working in the pit, mostly from the Wakefield area, have to move into new housing in the rural area.  One miner interviewed states that it is not a family pit, that is, it lacks the community of older established pits.  Miners are shown at leisure in a club where some are playing snooker.  A mining couple, Andy and Carol Thompson, arrive home by motorcycle, with Carol driving and Andy riding pillion.  They are interviewed, complaining about the costs of moving, and the animosity towards the miners from the Selby locals. 

Some young miners interviewed at the miners’ club state that although their own jobs aren’t threatened, they support the national strike because of the importance of solidarity.  

Again Arthur Scargill and Ian MacGregor are interviewed, each putting forward their vision for the industry.  The film comes to an end showing a view of Eggborough Power Station.

Yorkshire Television Production