Leicester – Night Shadows

Amos 070817 Alice 070817

In the night we talk,
Ghosts of a shared past, now immortalised;
On the fields of France and Belguim they died
But you believed the sacrifice was worth it
– cowards never prosper
But brave men give their blood for a higher cause
– Women’s voices needed to heard
– Their deaths were not in vain for that
The war to end all wars was a lie,
Women (and men) needed the truth
And that you denied
– They’ll build a statue to me
A statue of lies and needless deaths
– The cause of women shall go on
And so it should, but in the light of truth
– Truth?
Not in the shadow of deception,
Not in the opportunism,
Not hand in hand with those who exploit our kind;
– You are forgotten;
And you will one day be remembered for what you were;
I’ll bide my time for that, forgotten, remembered, statue or no.

Let’s all of us be like Amos

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As I read, see and hear day after day of the class attacks of the Tories and their Liberal Democrat creatures as well as the spineless response of Labour, I am proud to have concluded my play, A Man of Humble Beginnings, with the following speech from the principal character, Amos Sherriff. Knowing that this was me as author speaking through the character gives me strength to carry on the fight:

What other answer is there, but yes, yes. Although I have been all but forgotten this wonderful British, Roman, English and now international city continues to twinkle with as full a light as the Wharf Street gas lamps on a clear, cold winters evening in November.  (He moves forward to address the audience) But it is for future generations to complete the work in which George Sticky White and I played our small, but hopefully not insignificant part. Even with the divide of time unemployment will always be a scourge and evil, whilst men and women are made dependent on others for their survival. Should you anymore than we did permit the exploiters and their apologists to hide the iniquity of an economic system that deprives many in the interests of a few? (The barrel organ replaces the guitar again and it is as if he is listening to distant sounds that only he can hear)  I hear the echoes of that brickworks from over a century ago, and I can still see one unaware that he was a victim of the system in his practice of brutality upon others equally powerless and ignorant of the true state of things. Should that be the fate of humankind? To make profit only to be enjoyed by a privileged few? (The barrel organ cuts and he pauses fleetingly) Uz ain’t meant to live like this and uz ain’t gonna.

(Blackout)

Is it the place of the working men of Europe to shed their common blood…

This is an imagined speech I gave to the character of Amos Sherriff in A Man of Humble Beginnings. It seems appropriate to reproduce it in view of my earlier post: 

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But by 1914 with the war clouds hovering over the whole of Europe Amos shared a bond with Macdonald that ten years before would have been unthinkable, the bond of opposing mass slaughter in the name of profit. Against the patriotic fervour that engulfed even some in the Labour Party Amos and Macdonald spoke with passion against the tide.

(WHITE exits and AMOS steps forward to address the audience. The lights dim. Keep the Home Fires Burning is now being sung loud enough to almost drown out what he says)

AMOS:     Is it the place of the working men of Europe to take up murderous arms against one another to shed their common blood not in the cause of freeing humanity from the burden of capitalism but to defend the profits of the very capitalists who daily exploit their sweat and toil? Is this the Jerusalem that we want to see built here amongst our green and pleasant land?

(The singing suddenly becomes deafening)

James Ramsey Macdonald may be a voice of the minority, for yes we are few in number and we are not as loud as the voices of Asquith, Lloyd-George or Grey on the government’s benches. But we will continue to express with vigour the undeniable truth at every opportunity that this is a war for profits being conducted not in the interests of the British common man and woman –

No, it wasn’t a lovely war

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As we enter 2014, much will be made of the centenary of the outbreak of World War One. David Cameron has pledged to lead patriotic celebrations to remember Britain’s role in ‘the war to end all wars.’

As a local political figure and also a playwright, I will not be joining in this repeat of jingoism. I have read and seen too many accounts of the thousands of young men (and women in support roles) who died far from home. My current Facebook profile picture is a still from a production of the theatre show, Oh What a Lovely War, showing on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916 60,000 men died without any advance into enemy territory. A terrible price to pay in young predominantly working class lives. A price made worse still by the fact that the object of the war was to allow the capitalists of Europe to divide up the spoils once Germany was defeated. Working people in Britain failed to gain anything from the war, but it sowed seeds for the poverty of the 1930’s and was the breeding ground for the rise of fascism and the second great world conflict.

I shall start 2014 by remembering those who opposed Britain entering the conflict. Those like the members of the Independent Labour Party locally. Men such as Leicester MP, Ramsey Macdonald (who of course later disgraced himself in the eyes of many working people by collaborating with the Tories in a National Government), George Banton (also at one time a Leicester MP) and Amos Sherriff, who played the key role in securing Leicester’s modern city status, mayor in 1922 and the subject of my play performed in October 2013, A Man of Humble Beginnings.

These men and others took a brave stand against a patriotic fervour and were called cowards and much worse. Perhaps I shall be called unpatriotic and a coward now for remembering them, but I will take such insults as I believe the stance in opposing a capitalist war for capitalists profits that these men took a century ago was the correct one.

In the coming summer, the Leicester and District Trades Union Council and Stage Left Theatre Workshop will be holding an event in front of Leicester’s Corn Exchange to remember the horrors of this war. It will include recreations of the speeches ILP members made at the very eve of its outbreak. In its own small way I hope this will bring some balance to the outpourings of rehashed jingoism from the Prime Minister and no doubt many others.

PS It would be remiss not to mention that women were also active in the ILP and spoke at meetings all around the country opposing the war. One such woman was Mrs Edna Penny from Sheffield who spoke in Leicester’s Market Place on Sunday 2nd August 1914.

On accents and dialects – A Man of Humble Beginnings

AMOHB at VP

I’ve had a few queries about why I made Leicester-based characters use ‘thee’ and ‘thy’ etc. It would appear that a modern audience associates such words with northern (Yorkshire/Lancashire) dialects. One person asked me if it was because my director is from ‘up north!’

No, the choice was not John’s. It was entirely mine. Over the last forty years the Leicester dialect has changed. Yes, we still have ‘eh up, mi duck( (which actually is common to a great proportion of the East Midlands and not just Leicester), but we have been influenced by many international dialects and accents. So the ‘Leicester’ we speak today is very different to the ‘Leicester’ spoken in the times in which Amos Sherriff lived.

My research for the play showed that as little as ninety years ago, ‘thee’, ‘thy’ , ‘thine’ and ‘thou’ were in regular use in Leicester conversation and I do remember those of my grandparents generation (late nineteenth century) using these words – I was born late and my paternal grandmother lived to be ninety.

These words of course have biblical connections, but  I would like to think that perhaps there is another reason why they were common once upon time and that is because the traditional industries of Leicester were hosiery and boot and shoe making.  The raw materials for these trades were coming from the mills and other factories in the north and I think as we are now influenced by the sounds of the Indian sub-continent, the Caribbean and most recently Eastern Europe, we were in past times influenced by the dialects of Yorkshire, Lancashire and other places in the northern parts of England.

It is obviously my conjecture that this is why these words were once current, but from my research and my own knowledge I am satisfied that they were not so long ago used in this city and that they had a place in the play reflecting the times represented.

A review of A Man of Humble Beginnings

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The mainstream media (‘our so-called serious local newspapers [and local radio station]’) ignored the production last week; in spite of two releases. They obviously intend to continue the writing out of history of Amos Sherriff. They can try! We will continue to be little terriers snapping at their heels. Nevertheless, a friend of mine who uses the handle, Easy on the mayo sandwich boy, provided this small review, so many thanks to him.

AMOS SHERRIFF: PLAY TELLS A PIECE OF FORGOTTEN LEICESTER SOCIALIST HISTORY

A Man of Humble Beginnings charts the life of Leicester socialist, Amos Sherriff. Although originally written for four actors, it received its premiere as a one man show performed by its author, Tony Church, with recorded voices and photographs at the Upstairs at the Western theatre in the city on October 1st and 3rd.

The play appears to take place in the head of the dying character and uses his memories from the nineteenth to early twentieth century. During this time, Amos Sherriff learns as a young man to read and write (taught by a Salvation Army woman), leads an unemployed march of 400 men from Leicester to London and moves the motion to give Leicester its city status back.

Most poignantly, he reveals that brutal treatment of a fellow child worker (Amos started work in a brickworks when he was six) stirs the socialist conscience in him and makes him what he becomes, “Us ain’t meant to live like this.”

The production by Stage Left Theatre features a lectern at which Amos makes his public speeches and as it becomes clear that Amos sees little difference between his Christian and socialist views, this could also be representative of a pulpit.

Maybe the play should have had four actors, but Tony Church gives an enthralling performance as Amos Sherriff. There is immense power in the scenes with public speeches, but the Amos in private is also handled with aplomb. The development of Amos from what he describes as being from the gutter to accomplished working class politician is a credit to the writing and performance. The voices in his head work well and their pictorial representation adds to, rather than detracts from, this one man show.

Although the performances have only just ended, I hope that it is not long before the play is revived, as it is a good contribution to a small political theatre scene,