The TUC, where 'fings aint wot they used to be'

The Trades Union Congress is meeting this week, but it's unlikely that you'll see as much of it as you would have done 25 years ago, when its proceedings were televised live on two channels (BBC and Channel 4).

Back in 1984, the miners' strike was still in full swing, as too was Arthur Scargill who was given centre stage to rally support from the TUC.

Granada Television were filming Claptrap (which can be seen HERE) and had sent Ann Brennan and me there in preparation for her own speech at the SDP conference the following week.

As you'll see in the following clip, there was a TV camera aimed at us as we sat in the audience and, though not visible, we'd both been fitted up with microphones. The idea was that, as Scargill was speaking, I was to show Ann which rhetorical techniques he was using and anything else she should take note of.

But we had to abandon the plan almost as soon as I'd started to speak, as the people sitting behind us in the audience were Scargill fans with some rather threatening advice along the lines of "If you don't bloody well shut up, we'll knock your f****** head in."

Not particularly pleasant at the time, but one thing I learnt from them was the pressure members of a crowd can exert on each other to toe the official party line. They didn't know what we were doing, and were assuming that I was criticising what Scargill was saying, rather than analsing how he was saying it - and therefore had to be silenced to let their hero rant on without interruption.

So the Granada team had to 'fake' it by making out that Ann and I had gone back stage afterwards for further instruction.

In fact, the second part of this sequence was shot a week later at the SDP conference in Buxton. To make it look convincing, I was told to make a note of what I was wearing at Brighton the previous week - and I've just realised that it's taken me 25 years to notice a continuity error I'd never spotted before - I'd remembered the jacket, trousers, shirt and tie, but, as you'll see when we get back stage, the TUC admission badge has mysteriously disappeared:


  1. Avoid the temptation to "analsing" Arthur Scargill.

  2. Yes, but (1) it was 25 years ago, (2) he was worryingly equipped with all the techniques a rabble rouser needs and (3) I was still an academic whose credibility depended on doing 'objective' analysis, regardless of how obnoxious I might have thought him to be - on which, as one born and brought up in the same part of Yorkshire, I had stronger views than most people.

    Interestingly, there were many who said that Scargof's rise to the top of the NUM was largely thanks to Austin Mitchell, MP, who used to work for Yorkshire Television and kept on giving Arthur the platform he needed to win his way to become president of the NUM (and preside over the demise of such an important traditional industry).

    Not that I was ever very impressed by his slogan (in spite of its being a 3 part list): saving "jobs, pits and communitiies." The jobs were hard, the pits were dangerous and the communities were fairly dismal places. But he thought, and, as far as I can see, still thinks, that he knew best.


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