The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists:
Robert Tressell

This was broadcast as a three-part Classic Serial during 2008, adapted by Andrew Lynch , based on the well-known novel by Robert Tressell (1870–1911), published 1914.

Robert Tressell was the pseudonym of Robert Noonan, who chose the surname Tressell in reference to the trestle table, an important part of his kit as a painter and decorator. Based on his own experiences of poverty, exploitation, and his fear of being sent to the workhouse if he became ill, Tressell wrote a scathing 1600-page satire on the relationship between working-class people and their employers.

The "philanthropists" of the title are the workers who, in Tressell's view, acquiesce in their own exploitation in the interests of their bosses.

There is a fuller description of the novel in Wikipedia (q.v.).

Production details:
8, 15 and 22 Jun 08, R4. Cast: Owen ... Andrew Lincoln, Easton ... Johnny Vegas, Crass ...Timothy Spall, Hunter (‘Old Misery’) ... Paul Whitehouse, Ruth ... Shirley Henderson, Rushton ... Bill Bailey, Barrington/ Reverend Starr ...Tom Goodman-Hill, The Policeman ... John Prescott MP, Nora ... Raquel Cassidy, Sweater/ Dawson/ Mr Didlum ... Rupert Degas, Linden ... Philip Jackson, Mrs Linden ... Gwyneth Powell, Philpot ... Tony Haygarth, Bundy ... Tony Pitts, Sawkins ... Andrew Langtree, Bert ... Des O’Malley, Frankie ... Robert Madge, Mary ... Emma Fryer, Elsie ... Yasmin Garrad, Charlie ... Jake Pratt, producers Rebecca Pinfield and Johnny Vegas; director Dirk Maggs.

The production drew many comments from listeners on the BBC messageboard, and I've paraphrased and edited some of the more interesting ones. If you see your contribution, and would like it credited (or removed), please send me an email.

from 'm', commenting on John Prescott's cameo role in the play:
....John Prescott, cast as the policeman to remind us that socialism is achievable, but not when the Labour Party is policing the working class rather than supporting it.

Perhaps we need a production of Jaroslav Hasek's anarchist classic 'The Good Soldier Svejk' with Jack Straw as Lieutenant Lukas. This will remind us that the working class is always at the beck and call of the ruling class.

from 'h', bbc messageboard
....most of the voices were distinctive; and I was seldom in doubt as to who was speaking. Johnny Vegas was particularly identifiable and convincing. It was compelling listening, especially so when you realise that the problems in Mugsborough have now become global.

Dennis Healey recounts that that Tressell's book was the most read by troops during WWll and he thought that it was a major factor in the Labour victory in the '45 election.

from 'mwt'
Some years ago I sat on the panel of experts revising the Construction (Design & Management) Regulations 2007.

Reading this book and having my own experiences of working conditions in the building industry, I worked towards trying to ensure that there would be proper welfare facilities for all building sites: proper toilets, somewhere to wash, places to hang clothes and change, a rest room, a place to eat and prepare food, and clean drinking water - these are now laid down in law. Work cannot start on site unless they are in place. We take these for granted when we work in an office.

Forget John Prescott's policeman or poking fun at him. Leave that to the public school bullies on the opposition front bench. Just listen and apply what you are hearing as an explanation of the world we still live in.

I found the production quite brilliant.

and a later comment by the same writer....
..........Plato describes a cave where the prisoners sit chained to face the wall, they cannot turn their heads. On the wall is projected a series of shadows from behind them. All they can hear are echoes from outside the cave. That is their reality.

There is a similar reality for the men in Tressell's novel. Their shadows are cast by the Daily Obscurer or the Daily Chloroform, they agree with Crass and fear Hunter and fear even more Rushton the Builder. All bow down before Adam Sweater the owner of the 'Cave", the local mayor who gets the local council to pay for drains that are on his land by working a fiddle with Hunter.

The story is ageless and may well predate Plato.

from 'c.r.'
.......an amazing aspect of the book is its relevance. The conversations between the workers during their tea break mirror conversations between workmen today: Crime, immigrants, crime carried out by immigrants, the economy, shiftless politicians... all exactly the same.

I remember reading 'The Road To Wigan Pier' by George Orwell, and being amused when one of the characters says that his local Public House is down for modernisation and will become just another bright glitzy bar with no character. The lesson is that nothing changes and the world goes around in circles.

compiled by Nigel Deacon / Diversity website

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