“Selby: the saving face of coal” Yorkshire TV film 1984

go to the Yorkshire Film Archive and search for “Selby: the saving face of coal”

This is an excellent 22 minute Yorkshire Television documentary centring around the Selby Coalfield and the coal mining industry. It was made during the Miners Strike of 1984/5, but the focus of the film is upon the development of the new Selby Coalfield and those working within it. It also presents arguments around the NUM (National Union of Miners) who are represented by the President, Arthur Scargill and the NCB (National Coal Board) by chairman Ian MacGregor.

The film opens with Scargills address to a mass of striking miners. The documentary contrasts old pits, like those at Corton Wood and the new complex at Selby, which was ‘the most advanced in the world’. It is claimed that the Selby Complex will employ 4,000 men over 20 pits and produce 10 million tons of coal a year. A number coal mine managers, who remain unidentified, are interviewed. There follows the suggestion of the NCB’s plans to close 20 pits which would remove 20,000 jobs, which sees Ian MacGregor and Scargill taking either side.

The video shows the construction of the pit, with the sinking of the main shaft. The issue of porous rock around the coal seam is highlight, which brings with it the the issue of surplus water. This needed to be frozen for a year and then concreted. The documentary highlights how Selby has approx 236 million tons of coal which will take 30 years to mine, with 10 million tons of this a year going to the nearby Drax power station. It is also stated that the modern pits will cause minimum disruption to the countryside.

The film then visits the plant at Stillingfleet, which has ‘clean coal’ which is revealed through the lack of presence of slag heaps as with ‘clean coal’ only small amounts of rock or earth are in the mined coal. We go back to 1983 and the first day of opperation at Wistow which sees water from the rock pouring in at a rate of 2,000 gallons a minute and we see the miners rushing to use pumps to get rid of this surplus water. A local manager states that steps are being taken to resolve this problem.

The documentary then interviews a local farmer who highlights the knock on effects of subsidence: for drainage and taking areas out of agriculture. The coal manager states that this subsidence can be measured and controlled – as such is not an issue. It is stated that the miners working in the pit, who hail mostly from the Wakefield and Barnsley area, had moved into new housing in the rural area. One miner states of this is not a family pit as it lacks the community of older estabished 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, discussing the costs of moving, and some animosity towards the miners from the Selby locals. (Ed: they mention the assistance they got which enabled them to buy a new home. See also our 2019 interviews with miners and their wives).

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.

Access status
The documentary can be found on the Yorkshire Film Archive website
  • Decade