The Battle of Orgreave

Recreating the climactic clash of the 1984 miners' strike

Orgreave, Nr. Rotherham, South Yorkshire, 17 June 2001

Click for an extensive gallery of photographs of the recreation.

In November 2000 Howard Giles of EventPlan (parent company to Historical Film Services) was invited by innovative arts production company Artangel Media to produce a feasibility study on a very unusual project, a live re-enactment of the climactic clash between picketing miners of the NUM and riot police, outside the BSC coking plant at Orgreave, South Yorkshire, on 18 June 1984. Click here for a historical account. The project - a recreation of history as art - was the brainchild of conceptual artist Jeremy Deller, noted for unusual yet striking projects such as Acid Brass and The Uses of Literacy. Jeremy's grand idea, our live recreation and the subsequent film all made such an impact that they are still a regular topic of conversation over 5 years later, especially within the arts world, which has never seen anything like it before or since. Even amongst seasoned re-enactors used to exciting battles and mass spectacle, those who participated are generally quite proud to have been there.

Part of the way through initial planning, Hollywood director Mike Figgis joined the team, later filming (but not directing) EventPlan's battle recreation for Channel 4, who provided much of the funding. The resulting programme - at times powerful and moving - was first screened on TV on Sunday 20 October 2002. Although viewers could perhaps not expect a completely objective account of the battle or miners' strike as Figgis is well-known for his political views,  the reconstruction sequences scripted and directed by EventPlan looked terrifyingly real and the miners' accounts were fascinating. Click for a review of the film. Was the programme accurate, or unfair to the police? Read our (hopefully completely objective) account of the events of 18 June 1984 and judge for yourself. Alternatively, find out how others saw the confrontation via our Orgreave links page. 

As a result of our feasibility study, we were commissioned in January 2001 to organise, script and direct a major re-enactment on Sunday 17 June 2001, the day before the 17th anniversary. Despite a short time scale, we were to feature 800 people, mostly historical re-enactors that we recruited but also including - in another innovation - 280 local people, including some of whom were ex-miners who had been present in 1984.  Art, community event and film all rolled into one, this was the first live re-enactment of late 20th century social history, depicting the dramatic turning point in the policing of British industrial disputes that although only recent, already seems to many not directly involved to be from a distant era. Please click if you would like to read a more detailed article about staging the reconstruction.

One of EventPlan's key objectives was to remain entirely objective and non-political, recreating the battle as accurately as possible free of the "spin" (from both sides) that had at the time and has since clouded the facts. We appreciated that the Channel 4 film might not reflect this viewpoint, however.

Our central role included background research and scripting the action (both in close liaison with Jeremy), recruiting the re-enactors, appointing key commanders and group leaders, overseeing the production of key props including riot police helmets and shields (different from those in current use), arranging the training of the participants, and directing the action on the day. Unlike our re-enactors, the local extras (recruited by an agency) were not "battle trained", so one of our key objectives became to safely incorporate them into the action via suitable training and a "command structure". We were also responsible for detailed planning papers, risk assessments, safety marshals, signage and specialist event equipment such as safety barriers. We also advised on provision of site services and appropriate locations, which were arranged by Artangel and Euphoria Films.

Success depended on both sides looking and acting the part. To do so we organised the police into realistically-sized PSUs (Police Support Units) of long and short shield riot police, “ordinary” bobbies, a dozen mounted police, “1st Aiders”, and even two dog handlers. Meanwhile, Euphoria Films sourced 450 uniforms in appropriate sizes, no mean feat!

Organising and directing the miners was a greater challenge than the police in many respects, for although they had to look unorganised, for safety and scripting reasons they had actually to be highly organised. This was achieved by appointing experienced re-enactors to command 16 mixed groups of re-enactors and local extras. Clothing also had to look the part, with special “Coal not Dole” stickers and posters produced by Artangel. We engaged specialist stuntmen used to working in “real time” and planned the recreation of crucial incidents. Safety “rocks” were produced in quantity for throwing at the police, primarily at the (original) site of the bitterest fighting, just over the railway bridge in Highfield Lane. Additionally, we advised the film production company on the placing and use of action vehicles, one of which was set alight on cue as part of the recreation.

Safety was of crucial importance, with all participants constantly reminded before and during the event of the need to “pull their blows” to minimise any chance of real injury. This worked so well that on the day, only one self-inflicted injury (a twisted knee) was sustained.

In just two days, theory was turned into practice. On the Saturday of the event weekend we “drilled” and rehearsed the participants (with the invaluable help of four police instructors from Lancashire Constabulary) and on Sunday June 17 directed the live action as it unfolded.

Each unit commander was issued with a radio so he could act on each cue from Event Director Howard Giles and his assistant Ian Castle. Working within a "battle script" carefully researched and compiled by Howard, the re-enactors and other extras would attempt to recreate the actual confrontation as accurately as possible.

Plans were brought to fruition with a vivid two-part recreation, adjacent to and then on the actual “battlefield”, the village of Orgreave near Sheffield. One wonders what Jeremy Deller must have thought as his vision was brought to life before his very eyes. Certainly he seemed very happy with what we had created for him.

Part 1 of the re-enactment recreated the initial confrontation between pickets and police outside the BSC coking plant (now disappeared within a giant open cast mine) in a nearby field. Lines of "police" confronted angry "miners", "rocks" were thrown,  and two pushes against the police line recreated, along with Arthur Scargill's famous walk along the line of riot police. The  police then advanced up the field, driving the miners off with a combination of mounted police and baton charges.  After an interval during which we changed locations,  Part 2 followed, a recreation the police advance over the railway bridge and up Highfield Lane into the heart of the village, which has scarcely changed. More rocks were hurled, a car burned and the road was a seething mass of miners confronting lines of riot police banging their truncheons on their shields. Period swearing was allowed, so as to more fully recapture the fury and chaos of the real clash. Standing in the middle of the action, observers were hard put to tell that this was 2001 not 1984. It was as the Independent newspaper put it, “eerily convincing”.

Only one part of the real events of 18 June 1984 - the panic-stricken crossing of the Rotherham to Worksop railway line by miners pursued by police - could not be recreated for safety reasons. Apart from this, every effort was made to restage all the key phases of the original “battle”.

Within the 3000-strong audience of predominantly local people, hairs stood on end as riot police swept through the streets. The action culminated in a charge by mounted police over the village crossroads, scattering hundreds of “miners” in all directions. According to many participants and audience alike, it was the most realistic re-enactment they had ever witnessed.

Ending with genuinely emotional handshakes between “police” and “miners”, the recreation had a major positive effect on the local community. To the pleasure of all, a belated healing process had began for many Orgreave “veterans”, who until the recreation had found the memory of June 1984 just too painful to discuss.

 

Footnote

As noted above, Hollywood director Mike Figgis filmed the event and rehearsals for a major Channel 4 documentary about the battle, premiered on the big screen in London and Sheffield in November 2001 and screened on Channel 4 on 20 October 2002 (and repeated since then). The event was judged to be a huge success by all and has set a new benchmark for standards of planning and realism in re-enactments, whether live or staged for film. EventPlan’s expenditure on the project was slightly under budget, another bonus for producers Artangel.

On 18th October 2004, EventPlan director Howard Giles introduced a special screening of the Battle of Orgreave at the UGC cinema in Nottingham (as part of the NOW Festival, staged by Nottingham City Council) and explained how this violent confrontation was recreated. 

In 2004 Jeremy Deller won the Turner Prize. Throughout the run up to the prize declaration great interest was shown in Jeremy's work, with the Battle of Orgreave noted as one of his best known projects.

View our photographs of the re-enactment taken by Dick Clark and Natalia Wieczorek.

A report with pictures appeared in the August 2001 issue of Skirmish magazine.  A more detailed feature appeared in issue 4 (October 2001) of Echoes from the Past  magazine.

Please click if you would like to read a mmore detailed article about staging the reconstruction  or  an account of the actual events of 1984, which we hopefully faithfully recreated.

The Book

Jeremy Deller's book "The English Civil War Part II" features personal accounts from  those who took part in 1984, articles (including a "tactical" account of the battle by Howard Giles), images, pamphlets, clippings and even the words of songs from the time, and colour/black & white photographs of both the original battle and re-enactment.  It also includes a CD with over an hour of interviews with former miners and some of their wives.

Re-enactors, social historians and most of all, those who were present in 1984 will find this book fascinating. Soft back, approx 160pp. Published by Artangel. Available in selected book shops, by post from Artangel, 31 Eyre Street Hill, London EC1R 5EW. Tel: 020 7713 1400, email cm@artangel.org.uk.  Price: £19.95 plus £2.35 p&p.

 

Credits

Although it is not possible to list everyone, EventPlan would like to heartily thank all the re-enactors, extras and stunt men who made the success of this event possible.

The Battle of Orgreave was conceived by Jeremy Deller.

Commissioned and produced by Artangel in association with Channel 4 Television.

EventPlan

Organising team:

Event Director: Howard Giles

Assistant Event Director: Ian Castle

Event Managers: Barbara Giles & Natalia Wieczorek

PA to Howard Giles: Sue Jones

Safety Marshal Leaders: Sue Cooper & Ros Taylor

Equipment Team Leader: Steve Mead

Commentator: Des Thomas

Police:

Assistant Chief Constable Anthony Clements played by Anthony Kirkham

Police Commander: Philipp Elliot-Wright

Non Shield Commander: Jonathan Taylor

Long shield Commander: Robert Tomkins

Short Shield Commander: Ian Tindle

Non Shield Commander (Second Line): Andrew Newton

Non Shield Commander (Third Line); Thomas Zugic

PSU Commanders: Scott Bradbury, Bob Clegg, Marcus Holmes, Greg Hornsey, Keith Jackman, Elliot Kennedy, Geoff King, David Langham, John Naylor, David Richardson, Steven Southcoat.

Horse Master/ Mounted Police Commander: Alan Larsen

Technical Advisor, Police: Mac McLoughlin

Defensive Tactics Trainers: Lancashire Constabulary

Miners:

Arthur Scargill played by Simon Kirk

Picket Commander: Simon Frame

Deputy Picket Commander: Kevin Cotgrave

Picket Group Commanders: Baz Barrow, Peter Campbell, John Elbro, Kevin Fisher, Jim Gillbanks, Chris Iles, Andy Jarvis, Chris Jones, Michael Lloyd, Kevin Oates, Paul Norton, Dave Palfreyman, David Rayner, J Shannon.

Specialist Suppliers:

Horse Supplier: Timbertops Equestrian Centre

Prop Master: Stephen Wisdom

Special Action Co-ordinator: Mark Griffin

Site Security: J Pickard Security

Photography: Dick Clark

Artangel

Co-Directors: James Lingwood & Michael Morris

Head of Admin & Production: Antoinette O'Loughlin

Artangel Publishing: Gerrie van Noord

Finance Manager: Milly Momin

Artangel Project Coordinator: Melanie Smith

Development Associate: Natalie Kancheli

Administrative Assistant: Francesca Lewis

Press & PR: Samira Kafala

Local Publicity Liaison: Neil Anderson

Photography: Martin Jenkinson (who also photographed the original confrontation in 1984)

Miners' Liaison: Kevin Lee

Local Research: Lee Clapham

Project Trainee: Kirstin Borchart

Artangel Media

Film Director: Mike Figgis

Film Producer: Sophie Gardiner

Associate Film Producer: Ginny Roncorini

Production Coordinator: Helen Roshier

Costume Designer: Teresa Hughes (with additional research by Howard Giles & Stephen Wisdom)

The Battle of Orgreave was in part supported by the National Lottery through the A4E scheme administered by the Arts Council of England.

 

 

Links to:

Historical account

More detailed article about staging the reconstruction

Battle of Orgreave film review  

Photographs of the reconstruction

Other Battle of Orgreave links

 

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Updated 5 April 2008