Ever since the Tory government of Margaret Thatcher shut down
dozens of coal mining pits in England in the early 1980s, writer/director
Mark Herman had wanted to do a movie about how those closures
affected the towns around them. He just couldn't find the right
dramatic hook on which to hang his story--that is until he heard
about a colliery (coal mining) town whose traditional brass band
was threatened when the miners/musicians were forced into retirement.
Herman found his peg. The resulting comedy/drama Brassed Off
has been a huge hit in England and is now making its way to
the shores of America. Recently, Weekly Alibi had the privilege
of talking to Mr. Herman about moviemaking, coal mining and brass
How did this story develop for you?
Well, there's an area of northern England that I used to know
quite well. I used to sell bacon there in a former life. I used
to go 'round up the coal mining areas. It was a thriving area.
I just happened to drive through again 15 years later, in 1982,
just after the pits had closed. The devastation was amazing. Shops
were boarded up. It was like a ghost town. ... All this had happened
with very little media coverage. So I wanted to try and tell some
sort of story. But it's too depressing a story to get money to
make a film (about). So we had to add humor and music and that
sort of stuff to get it made.
What are those towns like now?
Well, they're past hope really. The town we were shooting in,
which is Grimethorpe, is virtually a war zone now.
What was the reaction to the film in those areas?
Oh, tremendous. Really strong. As a writer you get worried that
you've done too much caricature. That you've made a comedy about
pit closures. The big test, the acid test, is to show that film
in the heartland. The reaction has been huge. The (people in those
communities) do use their humor as a defense mechanism.
The spirit of the film is very positive, not at all defeatist.
Is that true of the real people?
Yes. They've got enormous spirit, even now. Five years after the
pit closed in their area, the spirit of community is still very
What was it like working with an actual colliery band?
It was interesting to introduce four or five actors into that
band to such an extent that people can't see the joint. It's just
a question of casting the actors right, so they look like normal
people. I suppose the band were as good at acting as the actors
were as musicians. But the story is very close coincidentally
to what happened to them in Grimethorpe.
Did you get any inspiration off them?
No. That was all sort of coincidental. A sort of made up story.
And then when we arrived in Grimethorpe, it just happened to be
very close to what happened to them. Their pit closed the year
that they won the (national) championship. So when we were shooting
that scene in the Albert Hall, it was the first time they'd heard
that (anti-government) speech with (band-leader) Danny and they
were quite shocked to hear that. They wished that they'd done
Was there any concern how this story might play internationally?
I don't know. I spent years trying to write films that I thought
would have appeal internationally, but they never got made. I
finally just decided to write one from the heart. It's the one
that got made and actually became a big hit in England. I'd always
thought I was making a film about my home territory. But it does
travel well. At a film festival in Germany, they really got something
out of it. Testing the film out in New York, it was very surprising
to me that they could get it. I think there's a sort of anti-Hollywood
feeling (right now). The reaction in New York was (that) these
people really are real. Their teeth might not be straight, but