Travel round many of the old British mining areas today and it's hard to imagine the scale of the mining industry fifty years and more ago - an industry that employed tens of thousands and was the heart and soul of many of our industrial communities. After doing a little research into the County Durham mining, I came across `Portrait of a Miner' and decided to take a chance.
The contents are an eclectic collection of the mining review (what today we would call a magazine program, produced by the National Coal Board) and sundry other informational programs covering technical, business and social aspects of mining and mining communities from the 1940's to the late 1970's. In total, there is over three and a half hours of footage although the individual programs are quite short - ranging from five to fifteen or so minutes. As well as mining coal, you will see singing, dancing, ponies, pigeons, brief nudity and learn the intimate details of selecting and using a shovel. The styles are as varied as the contents including black and white, color, animation, news-like narration, interviews and rather cheesy dramatizations.
Released by the BFI, Volume One (...which suggests that more are planned), is a two DVD set, packaged in the usual way and comes with a very nicely produced booklet (50+ pages) covering the background to the material. All has been remastered and within the limits of the original material, I found the picture and sound quality throughout very good. Overall this is a good quality package, nicely produced and nicely presented.
The appeal of the material is obviously specific. Clearly this will appeal to anyone interested in the modern history of the mining industry. There is also some technical information, but it really doesn't go into too much detail. Probably the richest area is the social history that is woven throughout the programs and if you're interested in that aspect of British life - particularly in the 1950's and 1960's, you'll find this an absolutely fascinating collection and well worth the money. This part of our heritage disappeared fast. Some of the footage here is from little more than 30 years ago - yet is seems as distant as the Corn Laws or the battle of Waterloo. When you've finally decided to buy a copy, listen to the poignant change in tone of the various narrators between the 1960's and 1970's programs. The rest - as they say - is history.