17 March 2021
Battle of Orgreave: the miner and the copper by Don McPhee.
There are a number of iconic photographs from the U.K miners strike of 1984/85, but I am sure if comrades were asked to recall one photograph it would probably be a toss-up between John Harris’s image of the mounted officer, baton raised, forever frozen in time, ready to strike photographer Lesley Boultan.
Inspecting the line
Or it could be the image I have chosen for the picture of the week, a photograph by Guardian photographer Don McPhee which shows Police Officer Paul Castle and miner George ‘Geordie’ Brealey.
A moment captured on a Nikon camera, not digital, on real photographic film, mechanical whirring as the camera lens briefly exposes the film strip to an image that is magnified through the lens.
Snapped, the picketing miner, wearing a child’s police helmet, the enemy within, facing law and order, Thatcher’s law, and order. A miner, one of over 5,000, at Orgreave cokeworks, near Rotherham, South Yorkshire.
Orgreave forever etched in the memory, as the place of a battle, but no battle honours, not this time for the victorious side.
“You saw the scenes that went on in television last night. I must tell you that what we have got is an attempt to substitute the rule of the mob for the rule of law, and it must not succeed. It must not succeed.”
“Another example of the Police State in 1984.”
Miners battling for a way of life, community, a future.
Nothing good to say about Metropolitan Police or Greater Manchester Police, history there, £20 notes waved at starving, striking miners. History there, hatred there.
Brealey was an ex-soldier and had picked up the toy hat on a brief family trip to Cleethorpes, telling his wife it was for the picket line, to inspect the police. Humour, Yorkshire humour, in the face of Thatcher’s police thugs.
Not all police, but most police, especially Metropolitan Police, Greater Manchester Police, history there.
There are other photos of Brealey, a reminder that photographs show a moment in time. Martin Jenkinson captures a different scene, same place, almost the same time.
I imagine banter between Brealey and Police Constable Castle of Kent Police, not the Metropolitan Police or Greater Manchester Police, hatred there, history there.
On Jenkinson’s photograph, you can see clearly on Brealey’s blazer a badge for the Yorkshire Main Cricket Club.
Men at work and play, community, a way of life, fighting for that way of life, community, men at play, men at work.
Taking the piss on a sunny day, a striking miner, inspecting the police, a Kent copper, not the Metropolitan Police or Greater Manchester Police, hatred there, history there.
McPhee’s photo was one of four that he took that day, in quick succession, the second one was chosen to represent our memory of the day. A striking miner and a copper, George Brealey the miner, and Castle the police officer.
Miner facing copper, a picket facing the state, the tension in that frame.
If a different image had been chosen that day by the Picture editor at the Guardian, one in which Castle shows the human side of policing (a smile?) then maybe I would have chosen a different image.
But then, thinking about it, the miner in the child’s police helmet, George Brealey that miner in the child’s police helmet, should be remembered, must be remembered.
Men fighting for their jobs, men fighting for their communities, their way of life, snapped on film in Orgreave 1984.