Still brassed off: Mining village used in film reveals grim reality of closed pits

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Today "the welfare" is empty, save a few former miners who declare that those looking for work in this part of South Yorkshire have long since given up the ghost on the place. "The work's in South Hempstall or up in Barnsley," said Victor Clarke, 64, who was a Grimethorpe "coalface man" and worked in its haulage area before retiring in 1989. "There no jobs and there's no social scene around here."

The scene of desolation is straight out of the film which assigned Grimethorpe a place in the national spotlight, 10 years ago. Mark Herman's Brassed Off was inspired by Grimethorpe colliery band's success in the National Brass Band championships at a time when the pit's 33,000 miners faced redundancy. The film provided a memorable portrayal of what can happen to a pit community when the jobs start to go. A decade on from the box-office hit, Grimethorpe is better known but not much better off.

Herman, who will mark the anniversary by appearing with the colliery band for a discussion and re-screening of his film at the Bradford Film Festival tonight, shares the view that the post-industrial years have not been kind to the village. "The knock-on effects are extraordinary," he said. "Every aspect of village life changes utterly when the pit closes and the village is still not in any great shape. I'm not a political animal ... but people do seem deflated about what Labour has brought to the place. It's struggling to move on."

Herman, whose subsequent hits have included Purely Belter and Little Voice, first encountered Grimethorpe in the late 1970s when he drove around Yorkshire butchers selling them bacon from a van bearing the name H C Herman Ltd - his father's Hull bacon firm. "Then, years later, I just happened to drive through there again," he said. "It was quite a long time after the miners' strikes and I didn't know much about the devastating effects of the closures, so it was a shock to see somewhere like this with all the shops closed down."

There is still no butcher's shop on Grimethorpe High Street and the much-loved chip shop In Cod We Trust, which featured in the film, is bricked up. Even the local Kwik Save supermarket is to close following the company's sell-out to Somerfield. The grim facts of commercial life here are that just 37 per cent of Grimethorpe's adult population is economically active, the average household income is £8,000 compared with a national average of £20,000, nearly 46 per cent of locals are on housing benefit and 33 per cent are unemployed.

The Grimethorpe Regeneration Executive, based in the village's old National Coal Board offices, has been too busy trying to stem the flow of economically active adults to create the inevitable Brassed Off heritage trail, which might also include the band's rehearsal rooms. The only civic recognition of the pit is the recently erected memorial to the 154 men who perished between 1894 and its closure, 99 years later.

Neither is there any indication of the colliery band's continued success in the years since the film. The band has 12-month advance bookings and has just won the northern brass band championships for the second year in a row. This means it will take its place in the national finals at the Albert Hall, where Herman's cast, including Pete Postlethwaite, Ewan McGregor and Tara Fitzgerald, recreated the village's 1980 triumph.

In Bradford tonight, Herman will reflect on how his film nearly did not get off the ground. Channel 4 agreed to provide half of the money, but the other half came from an unlikely source: Harvey Weinstein's Miramax studio. "Nobody in England wanted to do a film about suicidal trumpet players," he said. "I think it touched a nerve with Weinstein, because it is quite a heart-warming story."

Herman will also be asked to help Grimethorpe through yet another financial setback which it could well do without. UK Coal has announced it is to withdraw its annual £80,000 sponsorship for the colliery band. "We'll never recover that sum from one sponsor so it's going to be a battle to secure a number of sponsors who can help us towards the sum," said Alex Vodden, a local councillor and one of the band's trustees. Herman says he will do whatever he can.

The fate of four pit towns

* Orgreave, South Yorkshire

Site of a battle between police and miners during the 1984 strike. Developers plan to build a leisure resort on the site, including the largest theatre outside the West End, an extreme sports centre, a spa, exhibition centre and golf range, and homes for 8,000 people

* Cortonwood, South Yorkshire

The cricketer Johnny Wardle, of Yorkshire and England, was a collier at the village pit. Now the village doesn't even have a team. But in a village of 3,000 residents, the social club still has 520 members.

* Annesley, Nottinghamshire

The old colliery is derelict, still strewn with orange overalls, boxes of receipts and glass from the canteen where the cricketer Harold Larwood, right, once supped tea.

* Ellington, Northumberland

The last 18 workers left the site in November last year when the colliery closed, marked by a march past the gates with brass band accompaniment. The village sells itself to tourists as the home of the last deep mine in the Northumberland coalfield.

Additional reporting by Deborah Linton

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