In 1939, my dad was in the final year of his apprenticeship at Platt Brothers in Oldham, at the time probably the biggest manufacturers of textile machinery in the world. As an engineering fitter, his mechanical skills were transferable to the production of aircraft parts which was seen as a vital reserved occupation. So up to June or July 1944 he worked long hours at his trade in what was obviously regarded as a valuable part of the war effort.
In the meantime he’d married my mum in 1942 and I’d come on the scene in May 1944. Then for some unfathomable reason, a month or two later his number came out of Ernie Bevin’s hat, and whatever value had previously been placed on his engineering skills was seemingly cast aside, as he was despatched to Dinnington Colliery near Sheffield to spend his time underground as a Bevin’s Boy for the rest of the war. He hated it. When I was growing up and every house was heated by a coal fire, he always said that everybody should have to go and get their own coal so that they would see what it was like, and should that mythical day ever come it would be the only thing that would ever get him down a mine again.
My character Alf in ‘Le Grand Return’ is another former Bevin’s Boy, and as we are allowed some licence with the script I’ve relocated him to Dinnington, where the only part of my dad’s time there that seemed to provoke anything like a fond memory was of working with the pit ponies. Alf also gives the ponies a mention, so perhaps my contribution to the play can be seen as a tribute to them too.
The play itself concerns itself with just three representatives of a generation who have now largely gone and who served this country well in different ways during a difficult time of conflict. It is funny and poignant in the extreme, and I feel honoured to have a part in it. Do come and share it with us. I can promise you that you won’t be sent down the mine.
Saddleworth Players will perform La Grand Return at the Millgate Arts Centre from 1 – 8 February. Tickets available from the Millgate website (millgateartscentre.co.uk) or by telephoning the Box Office on 01457 874644, Tuesdays 2pm–5pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm–7pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30am–1pm.