The Last Miners
A new BBC One documentary tells the story of the men who lost their jobs when Kellingley Colliery in North Yorkshire shut its doors.
The Last Miners is a two-part series which follows lives of the workers who were put out of work by the closure of the last deep coalmine in Britain, which shut its doors on 18 December 2015.
Once known as “The Big K”, Kellingley Colliery began production in 1965 and was the largest coalmine in Europe. At its peak it employed more than 2,300 miners but in 2013 its owners UK Coal went into administration. A £4million government loan could only prolong the pit’s life for another two years and the miners faced the almost impossible task of hitting their target and getting the best possible redundancy deal.
The BBC documentary crew followed the 450 workers – some of whom only ever knew life in the pit – as they faced new careers in industries completely unknown to them. As we discover their hidden world, we ask: what will become of the men who spent their days in the dark to keep our lights on?
Throughout their mining careers, they’ve gone through strikes, pit closures and a shrinking workforce, but these last five weeks are the most important weeks of their career. They can’t afford to make any mistakes and a mechanical problem means the loss of 6,000 tonnes of coal, resulting in a loss of £350,000-£400,000 revenue.
This candid documentary follows them on their last commute to work, dropping over 800 metres below ground before taking a paddy train for four miles to the coalface. As temperatures rise to 33 degrees, it’s a hostile and dangerous environment to work in, but their black humour is never far from the surface.
Will they achieve their ambitious target, and will this historic moment change their lives for better or worse? As they enter their last ever shift with a smile on their faces, it becomes evident that this closure doesn’t mean the end of their friendship.
Produced by Keo Films for BBC One, The Last Miners was commissioned by Clare Paterson, executive produced by Will Anderson and Andrew Palmer, and directed by Wes Pollitt.
Clare Paterson, Commissioning Editor, says: “The Last Miners has given us remarkable access to an extraordinary and hidden world which has now completely disappeared. I am very proud that Keo Films have been able to document it for BBC One.”
Will Anderson, Executive Producer at Keo Films, says: “There have been many films made about coal mining in the past, but there will never again be a film like this one.
“This was the last ever opportunity to take cameras down to the coal face of one of Britain’s once-famous deep coal mines. It was a privilege and a pleasure to be able to work with the last miners at Kellingley Colliery documenting the last days of an industry which has now gone forever”.
The Last Miners will broadcast on BBC One on Monday at 9pm on 21 and 28 November.
A sad-but-spirited documentary which recorded the last death rattle of an industry that was, in reality, killed off years ago. What emerged was a portrait of tough men working in a truly challenging environment and the extraordinary sense of camaraderie evoked was second to none – Gerard O’Donovan, The Telegraph
If departures lay thick as coal dust over the whole affair, that never stopped the first instalment from being full of warmth and humour. Few films about slow death manage to do their job with such dignity and humour, either. – Matt Baylis, Daily Express
It took all my powers of restraint not to dissolve into a blubbering wreck. This was compelling viewing, not least because mining remains a fascinatingly strange enterprise to those of us who have never plunged half a mile down beneath the earth’s surface to earn a wage. – Hugh Montgomery, The i
The only downside to an otherwise great documentary was the political preaching. The men’s stories were strong enough without the right-on lectures. – Claudia Connell, Daily Mail
The film avoided taking a party political stance and allowed the abiding sorrow at its heart to be the focus. You don’t have to be a bleeding-heart liberal or a romantic to mourn the death of a pit, and this last pit in particular. – Lucy Mangan, The Guardian
This was a job from another era. These men dealt with things that for everyone else in Britain exist only as metaphor. They understood bedrock, they sought out motherlodes. They actually worked at the coalface. What would they do now? – Catherine Nixey, The Times
Production Manager: Trevor Lopez de Vergara
Assistant Producer: Alice McMahon-Major
Editors: Dom Coke, Paul Hammacott
Executive Producers: Will Anderson, Andrew Palmer
Filmed & Directed By: Wes Pollitt