The Pitmen Painters
by Lee Hall

Lee Hall - The Pitmen Painters

The Pitmen Painters.2007

By Lee Hall. 23 Dec 07. Inspired by the book by William Feaver, writer Lee Hall questions why the arts seem to belong to the privileged few. Seventy years ago, in an old army hut in Ashington, Northumberland, a group of miners met to talk about art. They wanted their visiting lecturer to explain the secret of a remote world, but he did better than that, he got them painting and put that world in their hands. (BBC publicity)

The Pitmen Painters asks - as Hall did in Billy Elliot - why the arts seem to belong to a privileged cabal. What makes others - that's to say, most of the population - feel excluded? I hope the Culture Secretary has booked a ticket, because the question - the main point he should be tackling - will probably never again be put so buoyantly.

Seventy years ago, in an old army hut in Ashington, Northumberland, a group of miners met to talk about art. Most of them had started down the pit when they were 12; none of them had been inside an art gallery; they wanted their visiting university lecturer to explain the secret of a remote world. He did better than that: he got them painting and put that world into their hands. They painted ponies hauling coal, women pumping water for washday, men showing off whippets. 'We made our life into art,' one of them says. 'It don't get better than that.'" ..Susannah Clapp, The Observer

"What struck me most about the Pitmen Painters was that despite being a group of very ordinary men whose personal histories had been harsh and brutal: surviving war, personal tragedy, and the scantest of educations, they wrote knowledgeably about Cezanne and Picasso, and were ardent devotees of Turner, Ruskin and Blake.

The idea that art is somehow a commodity, that culture is something one consumes rather than takes part in, is, of course, a very modern notion. Culture is something we share and we are all the poorer for excluding anyone from it." ..Lee Hall, Aug2007

George Brown ...... Deka Walmsley
Oliver Kilbourn ...... Christopher Connel
Jimmy Floyd ...... David Whitaker
Young lad, Ben Nicholson ...... Brian Lonsdale
Harry Wilson ...... Michael Hodgson
Robert Lyon ...... Ian Kelly
Susan Parks ...... Lisa McGrillis
Helen Sutherland, Vera Brown ...... Phillippa Wilson

Directed for radio by Kate Rowland.

Comment from ND: Great writing and a superb production. Will it be entered for an award, I wonder?

UPDATE.... so far as I know, it wasn't......

Jim's notes follow below....

    BBC Radio 3: Drama on 3

    Broadcast: Sunday 23rd December 2007 @ 8:00 p.m.

    Inspired by William Feaver's 1988 book, "Pitmen Painters: Ashington Group, 1934-84", Lee Hall tells the story of the Woodhorn Colliery miners who in the 1930s hoped to take evening classes in economics but, unable to find a tutor, instead invited Robert Lyon to give them art appreciation lectures. Before long they had taken up painting themselves and briefly became acclaimed by the art world, before life and war intervened and they slid back into obscurity.

    Spanning the mid-1930s to the nationalisation of the mines in 1947, Hall tells the story of these strong, silent men with his customary mix of grit and earthy humour, as they discover the joy of creativity and self-expression, and in the process discover themselves. One of the pleasures of the play - directed with beautiful understatement by Max Roberts and acted with integrity by its cast of eight - is the way it places the pictures centre stage and finds a style and language which mirrors the paintings' direct and unselfconscious depiction of everyday life.

    Like the paintings, this is a play that bursts with the struggle of life, particularly in the story of Olivier Kilbourn - the most talented and self-aware of the group - who would have liked to become a full time painter, but knew he could not detach himself from the community into which he was born. Denied access to education, his only escape was through the imagination. The closing scenes are tinged with the euphoria of a postwar Britain and the bitterness of the unfulfi lled promises of that brave new world .

    It is enormously moving, not just because Hall intimately understands the community about which he is writing, but because the play celebrates the very notion of community, and a working class spirit - that now only flickers and splutters - which understood that it had as much right to education and culture as those born into the middle and upper classes. Hall rightly celebrates that, and the individuals involved, with hardly a hint of sentimentality, and in a way that never patronises its audience or the men it portrays. This is a play is about the importance not just of feeding your stomach and your brain, but about feeding your soul. And it does just that.

    Adapted for radio from Lee Hall's stage play, "The Pitmen Painters", which was first performed at the Live Theatre in Newcastle in September 2007.

    With Deka Walmsley [George Brown], Christopher Connel [Oliver Kilbourn], David Whitaker [Jimmy Floyd], Michael Hodgson [Harry Wilson / Young Lad], Brian Lonsdale [Brian Nicholson], Ian Kelly [Robert Lyon], Lisa McGrillis [Susan Parks], and Phillippa Wilson [Helen Sutherland / Vera Brown].

    "Gresford", the miner's hymn, was arranged by David Whitaker and performed by the Hetton Silver Band

    Directed for radio by Kate Rowland.

    105 min.


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