Paul Foot

Defiant laughter

(16 October 1994)

From Socialist Worker, 16 October 1994.
Reprinted in Paul Foot, Articles of Resistance, London 2000, pp. 60–61.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

In the prevailing gloom one or two lights shine out brightly. One of them is Ken Loach. Another is Ricky Tomlinson.

The other day Ken was interviewed by Melvyn Bragg on The South Bank Show. Bragg’s light does not shine at all. He is one of the new millionaires, after cashing in on the share options in London Weekend Television which were granted by the directors and ‘personalities’ to each other with the single purpose of making each other rich.

Still, Bragg gave up a lot of his programme to Ken Loach, whose film about the miners’ strike he had once censored. Explaining the censorship, Bragg said he had wanted ‘art’ not politics. He accused Ken Loach of having a ‘political agenda’.

‘Yes’, came the reply, modest but firm. ‘I am not ducking that at all.’

‘What do you mean?’ asked Bragg, who is still a strong supporter of the Labour Party.

‘I mean’, said Ken Loach, ‘that the future lies in common ownership and democratic control of the society by the people who work in it.’

Bragg shut up and went on to discuss art. He did not comment on the courage and strength of a film-maker who has dedicated all his huge talent to what he believes in.

Special genius

Ken made films to expose the world we live in – in particular Cathy Come Home, a classic about homelessness.

But his special genius was to capture the reality of working class life – the pathos and anger which lies behind the bare political anger. He went on making these films as more and more of his formerly radical friends and colleagues fell away into glamour and success.

In the early 1980s he was horrified by the trade union leaders’ surrender to the Thatcher onslaught. His four programmes, Questions of Leadership, have been banned ever since they were made by every television channel.

The ban held up Ken’s film-making for half a decade, but he never flinched from his insistence that there should be no political censorship – especially in the name of ‘art’.

Bragg asked him about his new film Raining Stones and chided him about the sentimental ‘happy ending’ to the film.

Ken’s reply was that what needs stressing now is not just the wretchedness of working class life, not just the constant failures and dashing of hopes, but the resilience. If there were unhappy endings to his films when we were winning, there should be happy endings when we are losing, to remind us of our strength and potential.

Ken Loach has always used a small group of actors whom he trusts and who think the same way he does. I’m not sure when he stumbled on Ricky Tomlinson, but it was a glorious meeting. Ricky’s uproarious defiant performance in Ken’s film about the building trade in London, Riff Raff, was magnificent.

I haven’t seen Raining Stones yet, but the clips are all of Ricky Tomlinson defying and laughing. I have no doubt that the most exhilarating journalistic assignment I ever had was to travel at five in the morning to Leicester in the summer of 1975 to welcome Ricky Tomlinson as he came out of prison.

He had got two years after a prosecution inspired and masterminded by the McAlpine family for holding together the 1972 building workers’ strike in Shropshire and North Wales. When Ricky came out of the prison he was laughing. His message to the reporters was that even prison could be defied.

It was a great performance, but he was not acting. And, in partnership with Ken Loach, he still isn’t.

Last updated on 30 June 2014