Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Mining Review 10/9: The Best Little Doorboy (1957)


Main image of Mining Review 10/9: The Best Little Doorboy (1957)
Mining Review 10th Year No. 9: Songs of the Coalfields 2: 'The Best Little Doorboy'
35mm, black and white, 3 mins
Production CompanyData Film Productions
SponsorNational Coal Board

Ewan MacColl performs a mining ballad from South Wales.

Show full synopsis

By the time of this film's release, there would still have been quite a few miners, nearing retirement age, who had first been put to pit work, in late Victorian times, at a shockingly young age. The stock figure of the doorboy dated to a still earlier era. Earlier in the 19th century, and before, boys as young as five would sit in passageways, their job to open and close the trap doors through which miners and their ventilation passed.

The ghastliness of the concept is merely implicit in this cheerful folk song. And as filmed by Mining Review, with the enthusiastic participation of some 1957 Welsh miners (and, presumably, their sons, suitably kitted out), the camaraderie of generations bound by work as well as family ties is what comes across, together with the sheer cuteness of the fresher faces on screen. The horrors of child labour might be inferred, in helpful contrast (from the NCB's viewpoint) with the more civilised industry of 1957. But they aren't directly stated.

The political desirability of including Wales in the 'Songs of the Coalfields' sequence of Mining Review stories posed a problem for its producers. Their main reference was A.L. Lloyd's nationwide hunt for mining ballads, with which they'd assisted, but he reported that Wales had proved his biggest disappointment. Few lands are more musical than the valleys of South Wales. But their tradition was that of Non-Conformist choirs rather than unaccompanied singers, their presentation formal, their subject-matter biblical and redemptive, rather than local and everyday.

Luckily for Mining Review, the American folklorist Alan Lomax discovered this song, after Lloyd had published his research. Like the other 'Songs', the footage was shot hastily, and the editing is slightly slapdash - and the result is fantastic. It's actually the ideal means by which to bring to the cinema screen songs whose charm and power lies in their poetry's rough edge, and Ewan MacColl performs with his usual passion. He and Peggy Seeger later recorded the song for their second album of industrial folksong, Second Shift, released in 1958.

Patrick Russell

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete item (2:45)
Complete newsreel (10:05)
Mining Review: 10th Year (1956-57)
Songs of the Coalfields