June 2021 Reads

Here’s the books I read in June…

200 Weeks by Gavin Richards

In May I watched Gavin Richards perform in his adaptation of Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist and became a bit obsessed! I bought this memoir-cum-poetry anthology that he published a few years back off ebay and to my surprise, on the last page, there was a handwritten note from Richards himself welcoming feedback, with his email address provided. I contacted him and we’ve been chatting ever since. This book is a very emotional read, detailing as it does his brush with mortality a decade ago, his new life in New Zealand and his 70+ years on the planet overall. A remarkable book from a remarkable man.

Rating 4/5

England Expects by Gavin Richards

The text of one of Richards’ plays performed by his Belt and Braces theatre group extensively during the mid 1970s. The story of an Irish woman who comes to England, gets imprisoned, starts work as a spot welder, joins an union and goes on strike. With songs!

Rating 3/5

Weight by Gavin Richards and War Child by Gavin Richards

Chatting with Gavin has seen me be gifted with copies of two further plays. Weight was another Belt and Braces production that was performed in the 1970s. Much less Brechtian than England Expects it tells the true life story of the Betteshanger miners’ strike of 1942 and was published in book form in 1984. War Child was a production Richards staged with young actors in New Zealand in the mid 00s and remains unpublished and indeed unseen beyond its original 8 performance run. It’s a crying shame – this is a potent look at the universal arms trade and the use of child soldiers in newly developing worlds. It’s message is political, but it presents to a mainstream audience via the use of contemporary pop and rock music from several well known artists.

Rating: 5/5

Looks and Smiles by Barry Hines

I’ve been a fan of the Ken Loach film this is based on for several years now but I’d never actually read the novel until this month. I’m so glad that I did. It’s a brilliant evocation of young life being placed upon the scrapheap. Many would point to this and say it’s about Thatcher’s Britain, but the reality is that for these northern industrial towns, many young people still don’t have the opportunities they deserve.

Rating 5/5

The Price of Coal by Barry Hines

Again, I’d loved the Loach production of this for many years but had never got around to reading the book. My experience with Looks and Smiles spurred me on to do so, and I was not disappointed.

Rating 4/5

Blacklist by Mark Hollingsworth and Richard Norton-Taylor

Published in the late 80s, this book lifts the lid on the process of political vetting in the labour market. In the Communist Party, the WRP, CND, Greenpeace or Animal Rights? Active in a trade union? Chances are, you’ll be on a list held either by MI5 or private organisations like the shadowy Economic League (disbanded thankfully in the 90s, though it continued in another guide, The Consulting Association, until 2009) and if you are, your employment prospects are limited as you were classified as ‘subversive’ and a threat to their capitalist interests or national security. Very interesting chapters on the BBC and industry. Helped me put a few missing pieces to the jigsaw too, such as how my dad’s friend who led the Pilkington strike of 1970 was blacklisted for much of the decade before being employed by Smurfits in the early 80s – Pilkington, like many other big industry names like McAlpines and Ford, was a member of the Economic League paying its subs for their vetting services (the NW branch was in Warrington just up the road) every month. Smurfit was not. They didn’t vet anyone, if you were qualified you were in.

Rating 4/5

Number of books read in 2021 so far: 30

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