by Allan Fish
(UK 1975 410m) DVD2
Know Thy Place
p Tony Garnett d Ken Loach w Jim Allen ph Tony Pierce-Roberts, John Else m Marc Wilkinson
Paul Copley (Ben Matthews), Pamela Brighton (Sarah Hargreaves), Nikolas Simmonds (Philip Hargreaves), Melvin Thomas (Ernest Bevin), Gary Roberts (Joel Barnett), Alun Armstrong (Billy Shepherd), Helene Palmer (Martha Matthews), Hughie Turner (Tom Crisp), Jean Spence (May Barnett), Christine Anderson (Jenny Barnett), Clifford Kershaw (Tom Matthews), Brian Hayes (Stanley Baldwin), Peter Kerrigan (Peter), John Young (Ramsay MacDonald), Edward Underdown (Pritchard), Stephen Rea (reporter),
Jim Allen’s Molotov Cocktail of a series aimed at the betrayers of the working classes was advertised as “a series of Four Films from the Great War to the General Strike.” It was Ken Loach’s return to TV after several years away and would prove the hottest potato of his entire career. Indeed, elements of what would follow, from Land and Freedom to Hidden Agenda and to The Wind That Shakes the Barley can be glimpsed here, a generation earlier. Or at least they could have been, had the series been available. It was only ever shown twice, the last time in 1978, was never released on VHS and only made it to DVD in 2011 as part of a boxset. People asked why it was never seen, but those who had seen it knew very well why. Indeed it’s amazing in retrospect that the BBC even green-lighted the project in the first place. It was like Charles I sponsoring the New Model Army.
Like Our Friends in the North a generation later, it is a series of films set in different years, following the same characters. The first, ‘1916 – Joining Up’, showcased the fight of Philip Hargreaves, a conscientious objector refusing to join up in 1916 and the effect on both his wife Sarah and Sarah’s younger brother, Ben, who does join up at 16 but is then shipped off to Ireland. We then follow Ben in ‘1921 – Lockout’ in which he deserts from the army and hides away in a mining community currently on strike in the North-East. He falls in love with an activist’s daughter, but the authorities and the mining bosses betray the workers and Ben and his friend are arrested. We next see him in ‘1924 – First Labour Government’, where he comes out of prison and meets Sarah and Philip, the latter a newly elected MP in the Ramsay MacDonald minority government. Finally it’s ‘1926 – General Strike’ (should have been called ‘Sellout’), the longest of the films by far and the most impassioned, detailing the rise of the General Strike, the near victory and the capitulation after the betrayal of the TUC and heads of the Labour party.
Both Loach and Allen were dyed-in-the-wool socialists, and as is often the case, the title of Allen’s piece is tinged with cynical irony. Just as The Spongers showed people who were anything but, so Days of Hope is about the period when hope was callously extinguished and Judases were ten-a-penny. Conservatives were in uproar, condemning the portrayal of the police, army and Whitehall, while now it seems prophetic. In looking back to the 1920s, Loach and Allen were in fear for the future, and within a decade we had the Miners Strike and the brutal crushing of the Unions under Thatcher. The Labour Party comes off no better, and it’s hard not to see the betrayal of the workers by the party mirrored in the casting off of Clause IV and effective denouncement of its principals by Tony Blair’s New Labour. The same old divide and conquer tactics, the same old knives in the back and broken promises and an establishment only interested in preserving the status quo and staying in power leaving the small matter of winning elections as irrelevant. That it’s powerfully performed goes without saying, each cast member as natural as the other. Poor Ben is left unsatisfied in every respect, even his love live. His beloved Jenny marries while he’s inside, and when on his last day inside he asks a young girl to give him a quick flash and she thinks ‘why not?’, she’s only got one button open before the prison chaplain comes in to patronise and annoy. As the Sunday Times said, it’s “so manifestly superior to what we normally find on television that criticism was temporarily disarmed.” As Sarah put it, “bugger the constitution!”