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Price of Coal, The : Back to Reality

The second play in Hines’ double bill, which was suggested by Hines’ producer Tony Garnett, overshadows the first, in many senses. Opening on the same milieu a month after the visit, Sid delights cricket nut Mark with a pair of tickets to see the test match at Headingly, before leaving for work with his eldest, Tony. At the pit, managers debate the ins and outs of various outstanding bits of pit maintenance. At the coal face, Sid’s ripping team are hard at work, bantering and sarking away as usual, when a sudden explosion obliterates everything. The shock is really profound, as the relatively gentle pacing suddenly erupts in a flurry of dust, snatched glimpses of bodies, and shouts.

Back on the surface, management discover the blast, and set about alerting local rescue teams, while pondering the tricky problem of when, and what, to tell relatives. Tony, stricken by the news, rushes home to tell his mum and siblings, then goes back to the pit to help with the rescue effort. In the manager’s office, a grimly silent “waiting room” for the relatives is set up, with tea and sarnies from the Salvation Army. Underground, rescue teams find the work hard going, and the first casualties are dragged out. Albert (Richards) has died, it transpires. On surface, the relatives support each other, the NUM chiefs argue with the managers about the cause (an unsupervised electrical apprentice, we learn, is the likely cause) and the ancient safety practices of the pit. Sid Storey, for a mercy, survives but is badly injured. It’s a fantastic piece of writing from Hines, and directing from Loach. The suddenness with which a disaster can strike is as assuredly put across as the strong ties that bind family, friends and the entire community. A moving story, and a fascinating window on a way of life on the way out then, and all but vanished now.

Knutt warms up for his keep fit series 'Nay Mr Wilkes', etc. There's a lot of this sort of thing
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