Ex-miners bare all to strike a handsome seam

LOUISE JURY

The writer Ken Blakeson did not know it, but the plot for his latest comedy-drama was not as outrageous as it seemed.

In The Bare Necessities, to be screened on ITV tonight , five gritty northern miners find new careers as strippers when their pit closes down.

Uproarious scenes with screaming women relishing the troupe's finest efforts were filmed in the Astley and Tyldesley miners' welfare club in Gin Pit village, near Manchester.

It was quite a coincidence. For seven years ago, Rhydian Lewis was a good-looking local lad who had the idea first.

The son and grandson of miners, Rhydian left school at 18 and went down Agecroft colliery at Salford, Manchester. Faced with redundancy after only two years at work, he decided to re-train but found it difficult to survive on a grant.

A chance visit with a friend to a nightclub proved an inspiration. "There were these guys called the Dream Boys strutting their stuff," Rhydian said yesterday. "I'd never seen anything like it. I said to my friend, 'We can do that'."

The Untouchables, a five-man strippers troupe, were born. "We weren't really like the lads in the film. We weren't strippers, more like the Chippendales," Rhydian said.

Their risque dance routines helped pay his way through college where he gained a diploma in horticulture. But his two and a half years on the stage gained him an Equity card, an agent and a new career on television and as a model.

He now earns in an hour what he used to earn in a week, and has travelled the world.

It was what his coalface colleagues had always encouraged him to do. "They were always telling me to get out and go into modelling," he said.

"Handsome" was how the men and women at the Gin Pit club remembered him yesterday. "As fit as a butcher's dog," said Margaret Weir, a bar maid.

Settling down to a sneak preview of the drama, the club members agreed with Rhydian that it captured something of a way of life that is disappearing.

"It brought a lot of memories back about what pit villages used to be like," said Joe Gorringe, 50, a club trustee and miner for 26 years: "Lots of fun and laughter and tragedy."

Kevin Harris, a 33-year-old pipe fitter, added: "You could get five lads in here daft enough to do it, certainly."

Dorothy Sharratt, 68, whose home was turned over to the television crews for a week, thought the result "smashing. If they had done that here when people were being made redundant, they would have done better, wouldn't they?"

There are no pits left in the area now. The last of the five collieries closed in 1993. The welfare club, founded in 1926, the year of the General Strike, once had 15,000 members but now has fewer than 1,000, though it remains the soul of the community.

Rhydian, now 27 and living in London, hated every moment of his work down the pit but was grateful for having grown up in such a community.

"I'm very glad to have been a miner. I still have nightmares about the pit but I appreciate what I have now more," he said. "I know what graft is."

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