New play staged in Bedford tells story of jailed building workers, including actor Ricky Tomlinson, one of the ‘Shrewsbury 24’

United We Stand at The Place, Bedford.
United We Stand at The Place, Bedford.

A new play based on the story of jailed buildings workers - including actor Ricky Tomlinson - is to preview in Bedford before a national tour.

United We Stand tells the story of the “Shrewsbury 24” when 24 building workers were accused and three jailed, including actor Ricky Tomlinson, for violent picketing and intimidating workers in Shropshire in 1973.

United We Stand at The Place, Bedford.

United We Stand at The Place, Bedford.

The preview is at The Place, Bedford on Sunday, September 21 at 6pm.

In the 1960s and 70s the UK’s building companies were making millions re-building the country, but building workers faced the most dangerous working conditions and poorest wages of any trade. In the summer of 1972, for 12 weeks, 300,000 building workers launched their industry’s first national all-out strike to end cash “lump” wages and seek better pay by using the controversial tactic of ‘flying pickets’.

The partial success of the strike, and the methods used, enraged the construction industry and government, and culminated in the arrest of 24 builders in North Wales who were charged with offences including conspiracy to intimidate and affray.

The “24” were prosecuted at Shrewsbury Crown Court in 1973 and three were jailed, including building workers Des Warren and Ricky Tomlinson.

Sharp and humorous, United We Stand tells the story behind the compelling dispute and dispels the myth, put about at the time, that the pickets were a criminally violent rather than ordinary working men seeking a better life for themselves and their fellow workers.

Combining Townsend Productions’ trademark cast of two playing multiple roles, grand theatrical style and wit with popular and political songs about the strike, arranged by renowned folk musician John Kirkpatrick and Ricky Tomlinson’s poems from his time in prison, the production aims to bring the full story of the compelling dispute to life in a powerful and thought-provoking new play.

The events surrounding the strike are still making headlines to this day, and 42 years on, the high-profile Shrewsbury 24 Campaign, led by picket turned actor Ricky Tomlinson, is still seeking to overturn the unjust prosecution of the 24 building workers.

Ricky Tomlinson said: “I am delighted The Townsend Theatre Company are presenting a play about the 1972 building workers strike, and the plight of the Shrewsbury 24 building worker pickets. It is 41 years since I together with Des Warren and John McKinsie Jones were charged with conspiracy and jailed.

“We were charged with conspiracy, but we believe the real conspiracy was between the government, the building contractors and the judiciary. They wanted the prison sentences to act as a deterrent, to prevent workers from taking strike action.

“Every worker should know what happened to us so as to ensure it does not happen again.”

United We Stand is directed by Louise Townsend and will feature in its cast Neil Gore and William Fox.

Tickets are £10 (concessions £8.50) from the box office on 01234 718112 or visit www.theplacebedford.org.uk

Visit www.townsendproductions.co.uk