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Mining Review 10/8: Hungarians in Britain (1957)


Main image of Mining Review 10/8: Hungarians in Britain (1957)
Mining Review 10th Year No. 8: Hungarians in Britain
April 1957
35mm, black and white, 3 mins
Production CompanyData Film Productions
SponsorNational Coal Board

Interviewer: John Slater

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Refugee miners from Hungary are retrained for work in British pits.

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As befitted its tradition of social concern, Mining Review's coverage of the NCB's training of over 4,000 Hungarian refugees for British mine work is sweetly well-intentioned. John Slater (seen on-screen with mic, as in many mid-period issues of the series) is genuine if delightfully gauche in his hospitality. And having Hungarians, stranded in Warwickshire, sing 'Oh My Darling, Clementine' - American goldmining ballad turned global ditty - is a wonderfully economical way to express the melancholy multiculturalism of their situation.

But the gnomic closing title hints at a story unfinished - and its unwritten ending was sadder. Refugees of 1956's crushed Hungarian uprising received a relatively generous welcome in Britain, partly because they could be classified as on 'our' side of the Cold War, but the mining community was a major exception. Although the NUM nationally was at one with the NCB in enthusiastically-enough accepting the additional (often highly skilled) labour, local branches reserved the right not to cooperate. Past coalfield immigration, of Poles and Italians, had been fraught with similar difficulties. Atavistic economic fears (of unemployment and downward pressure on wages) played the biggest part, but prejudice was doubtless a factor. By June 1957, when this item (filmed in March) was released, it was already evident things weren't going swimmingly. By the end of the year, the NCB reported that only 18 per cent of the Hungarian trainees had yet been placed successfully.

Ultimately, two thirds (many highly trained for pit work, not once but twice - first in Hungary, then the UK) ended up in other industries. Athough among the less edifying episodes in the annals of mining history, it shouldn't be forgotten: it's still topical.

Patrick Russell

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Portrait of a Miner: The National Coal Board Collection Volume 1'.

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Video Clips
Complete item (3:26)
Complete newsreel (10:31)
Mining Review 17/7: Czech-Mates (1964)
Magyars in Mayfair
Mining Review: 10th Year (1956-57)