Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Topical Budget 503-1: In the Shadow of Disaster (1921)


Main image of Topical Budget 503-1: In the Shadow of Disaster (1921)
35mm, black and white, 229 feet
Production CompanyTopical Film Company

The Great Coal Crisis of 1921 - scenes of the coal strike prior to a threatened general strike.

Show full synopsis

The 1921 crisis in the coal industry was the result of worldwide recession after the war and the loss of foreign markets due to an agreement allowing Germany to make its reparations to France and Italy in coal. Following on the heels of recession came a slump in domestic demand, just at the point when the government decided to relinquish its wartime control of this vital strategic industry. Falling wages and lay-offs led to a period of desparately poor labour relations, exacerbated by the mine owners, whose first action on regaining control of the mines on 30th March 1921 was to lock the miners out.

The Miners Federation responded by threatening a general strike and invoking the Triple Alliance (miners, railwaymen and transport workers). In turn, Lloyd George's government called up reservists to deal with the threatened strike. It is at this crucial point, on 14th April, with negotiations going badly, that this film was shot by Topical Budget's cameramen.

The event is played up by the newsreel's editors and title-writers, as we can see from the head title, and the item is given a longer than usual running time. The subtitle refers to the 'great coal crisis of 1921'. We see the two negotiating teams exit the Board of Trade building, both sides in visibly serious mood. We see troops, many of them reservists (including many miners, according to a title), and scenes of non-union miners descibed as 'Tommy Atkins of the Rhondda' . A party of women and children, presumably in South Wales, are introduced by the title 'Are We Downhearted? No!', in reference to a popular music hall song that had been co-opted as a cheerful tune with new patriotic lyrics during the War.

Topical Budget's editors are evidently strongly supportive of the Government's standpoint, if not that of the mine owners. A spirit of cheerful co-operation is suggested for those who will run the buses and trains and pump the flooded mine galleries. The miners themselves are unseen and unmentioned, but the implication is that the potential strikers are merely a few rotten apples. On 15th April 1921, the day after this film was shot, the Miners Federation, let down by its Triple Alliance partners, was forced to abandon the strike. That day is remembered in trade union history as Black Friday, a name you won't find in any film or newsreel of the period.

Bryony Dixon

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete item (3:52)
Topical Budget 502-1: The Greatest Menace We Have Ever Known (1921)