Banner Theatre: Thirty Years of Memories
A tribute by Rose Hunter
Presentation for the Catching Stories and Banner Reunion Day, 30 September 2017
Rose Hunter is a member the North Staffs Miners’ Wives Action Group (NSMWAG). The group was formed during the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike by women of the ten food centres which were set up around the North Staffordshire coalfields. Throughout the whole of the strike, the women were involved in building support for the strike, standing on picket lines, going on speaking tours, going on speaking tours and organising collections as well as major rallies and events. When the strike ended, the group continued to give solidarity and support to others in struggle: striking print workers at Wapping, Silentnight workers, Seafarers, Liverpool Dockers, the “Women from 10 Downing Street” (the Asian factory workers striking for union recognition at Burnsall’s in Smethwick), as well as anti-fascist and anti-deportation campaigns, and many more disputes all over the country.
I met Banner for the first time during the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike. Although, it was probably Brenda  who first met them through the Birmingham Trades Council’s meetings, when she used to come down weekly to coordinate support for the striking North Staffs miners and their families.
I remember seeing them at Hem Heath Club and being blown away by their songs about our struggle, and them recounting our stories from other coalfield areas – they went everywhere…
I felt – we felt – that we were not on our own. These were our protest songs and stories. And when you’re in the middle of a strike, trying to feed the kids, worrying about how you’re going to keep a roof over your head, these songs – Banner Theatre – gave us hope, strength, a feeling of camaraderie. They made us laugh with all the strike songs we could join in with, songs such as I’d Rather Be a Picket Than a Scab, Kiss Me Goodnight, Arthur Scargill, and my personal favourite: The Snowman Song… also known as Silly Bugger Mr Nesbitt ! 
And then the real tear-jerkers, like Walton Jail, written about the Stoke lads who set the scab buses on fire and who were sent to prison as punishment…
Banner didn’t go away when the strike ended, and that’s when the North Staffs Miners’ Wives Action Group decided – with a lot of persuasion from Banner Theatre and Anna Seymour  – to start singing. We couldn’t believe this could be done. We thought we could hold a tune on the picket lines, shouting at the coppers and scabs. But in reality – despite me desperately wanting to sound like Tina Turner, we were hopeless.
Nonetheless, the most important thing for us was the message – the struggle, the politics – which all sounds a bit heavy, but what was the point of singing about stuff that didn’t mean anything to anyone? Banner gave us the opportunity to express how we felt. The songs challenged us, challenged our audience. We sang about our experiences in Belfast. Belfast City was a perfect song for us. Written by Dave Rogers, it’s our favourite one: raw, emotional, tender, strong, uniting all our struggles. Not everybody in our own community liked us singing that song, but we didn’t care. We sang it loud and proud, and, in Belfast, we were always asked to bring it out as a single!
Banner are like our family. More than comrades, they’re our friends, our brothers and our sisters. Thirty years have gone by in the blink of an eye. The NSMWAG have changed, sadly. Doreen Mason’s gone, Hilary McLaren’s gone, and just this year, our Bren – Brenda Procter – died. And Bridget – Bridget Bell – cannot be with us today either, as she’s too ill to attend.
So, today, we remember them, as we remember Peter Yates, and Joyce Canaan who is going through her own personal struggle. They’re all big characters in the struggle, comrades who have influenced and shaped and inspired me, along with Dave, Kevin Hayes, Dave Dale, Jilah, Anna, Fred, Vince, Jacqueline … everybody.
To you, beloved comrades
We make this solemn vow
The fight will go on
Till we win
Until we win 
30 September 2017
For the women of the North Staffs Miners’ Wives Action Group:
Bridget Bell, Pauline Bentley, Rose Hunter, Doreen Mason, Hilary McLaren, Debbie Patton, Pauline Plant, Brenda Procter, Maureen Rowley, Deana Welsh
 In the words of her son Ryan, Brenda Procter (1950-2017) was an activist and fighter for social justice who was first politicised during the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike. With other miners’ wives, she started the food parcel distribution centre at Florence Colliery Miners’ Welfare in Stoke-on-Trent and helped form the National Women Against Pit Closures (of which she was elected Chair in 2003). Brenda was also a founder member of the North Staffs Miners’ Wives Action Group and campaigned tirelessly to support communities in struggle, standing on picket lines, singing at rallies, demonstrations and functions across the country and abroad, sharing platforms with Tony Benn, Arthur Scargill and Jeremy Corbyn. She became a Labour councillor on Stoke City Council and studied for a degree in industrial relations at Keele University.
 The song refers to the time one Chief Superintendent Nesbitt saw a snowman built by striking miners at Kiveton Park Colliery and adorned with policeman’s helmet. Enraged, Nesbitt drove his Range Rover at the snowman, only to discover it had been built round a concrete bollard.
Banner Theatre turned the snowman story into a song snippet to the tune of John Brown’s Body, and, every time the Chief Superintendent showed his face near a picket line, Miners’ Support Groups taunted him with greetings of “Silly Bugger Mr Nesbitt”.
The song goes:
The miners built a snowman down on the picket line
And Nesbitt went to knock it down
Silly bugger Mister Nesbitt
Silly bugger Mister Nesbitt
Silly bugger Mister Nesbitt
’Cos he wrapped his Range Rover round a concrete post
 Anna Seymour worked with Banner Theatre as theatre director from 1984 to 1989. In 1986, West Midland Arts funded the North Staffs Miners’ Wives Action Group to work with Banner on singing and writing songs about their experiences. With Anna’s direction, the group put on their first show, Unfinished Business. This was followed by a long list of tours and gigs all over the country with workers and trade unionists booking the group to hear their songs of struggle.
 Beloved Comrade was written by poet and lyricist Abel Meeropol (under his pen name Lewis Allan), originally on the death of Franklin Roosevelt. It became associated with Spanish Civil War international brigades.