Part 3 – Handsworth Songs

Handsworth Songs (1986), is a vital representation of much that Les Misérables avoids. Produced by Black Audio Film Collective, and directed by John Akomfrah, the documentary montage was commissioned by Channel 4 for the series “Britain: The Lie of the Land”. The film unpicks the violence that took place during the late summer and autumn of 1985 by refusing to obey narrative expectations of a single story.[i]

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Part 2 – Rehearsals and Riots, a chronology

Les Misérables was in rehearsals when the so called Handsworth Riots took place. During 9–11 September 1985, Handsworth, an area to the north-west of Birmingham, experienced widespread protests and street violence. In this post, we’ll look at the context for that Autumn and see how the chronology overlaps.

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Staging race, protest, justice and revolution in Thatcher’s Britain: Les Misérables and the autumn of 1985

I’ve been sitting on this academic article for a couple of years – I meant to come back and edit it and revise it, but decided that ultimately I wanted it to exist. As ever, I’m writing from the position of a white British academic in making these arguments. It explores the relationship in much further detail and thinks about how whiteness is coded into what we experience in megamusicals. Because it’s written in the ‘before-times’ – it doesn’t mention the most recent summer of protest. Also, academic articles are generally massive – I’ve posted it as a series of blog posts and slightly edited it so it works on a blog series rather than an individual piece.

Part 1: Staging race, protest, justice and revolution

Part 2: Rehearsals and Riots- a chronology

Part 3: Handsworth Songs

Part 4: Staging Revolution in Handsworth Songs

Part 5: Les Mis, white optimism, and Autumn 1985

Part 6: The Megamusical and Whiteness

Part 7: White Women in Les Mis – a sense of an ending

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Tracing the history of Hulme Hippodrome

Save the Hulme Hippodrome campaign ( is raising funds to save the theatre from developers ( The theatre has an important place in British theatre history, as a surviving venue in the variety theatre networks that dominated British theatre from 1900 to the 1950s. In this article, I explore some of the performers who worked at this beautiful and at-risk theatre.

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Archive Research: Recovering Minoritised Identities

Dr Sarah Whitfield: archival research, recovering minoritised histories - this text is on a pink background, on the left hand side there is a greeny bluey tinted imaged of library bookshelves behind some kind of wire fence.
Session given on 25th November 2020

This is a session about finding stories in the archive which are inclusive and open up the presence of people who have been thought to be not part of the official story. It is for the Doctoral College here at the University of Wolverhampton, and partly for them and anyone else interested in this topic I’ve put together some notes and starting points. There’s also a huge overview of digitised archives you might consult and look at.

The key thing to remember before we get too far into this is to note that the language we use to discuss these topics matters. If we talk about diversity rather than minoritised histories, we are drawing on a specifically white word:

Diversity is a white word, or as Ghassan Hage describes, a ‘white concept’. It seeks to make sense, through the white lens, of difference by creating, curating and demanding palatable definitions of ‘diversity’ but only in relation to what this means in terms of whiteness.

Tania Cañas –  Diversity is a White Word

Throughout we will be talking about minoritised histories.

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Scrappy paperwork and beautiful fragments: our incomplete archives

[Digging through my google drive came across this that I wrote for a session on creative writing, and thought I’d share, though I’ve lost the picture I drew of the extremely Jeremy Bearemy style writing approach my work usually takes. Please enjoy!]

I wrestle with revisions on this one article for months on end. To keep the appearance of working on it, it’s always open somewhere in the eight microsoft word documents I have open at any given moment. I drag it out when I talk to students who are revising dissertations – and I show them that I am doing this too, it’s normal, I say, attempting to sound convincing, it’s a community of writers and we are all learning to write better. 

Except I’m not exactly doing writing, I’m just keeping a document open on my laptop. 

Realistically this is about as close as I’m getting at this point, because other than dithering about with paragraphs one and two, I’ve done nothing for months. The feeling of not having finished it is somewhere between the nagging sense of ‘I’ve left the hob on’, and the utter guilt of leaving my crying daughter in the arms of the childminder. ‘YOUR WORK SPOILS EVERYTHING’ she shouts, and I think, you know, you might have a point.  

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Restoring the Lost Histories of Black Theatre Performers in the West Midlands

This event took place with Sean Mayes and Sarah Whitfield on 14th October – it largely focused the research in the so-called Black Country (for its industrial heritage) in the West Midlands, and showcases some of the findings from the forthcoming book with Bloomsbury Methuen drama.

Yusuf/Cat Stevens, My Dad, and Me

So for some reason this morning, Amazon Music decided today was the day to line up Father and Son for me. And it got me thinking about how music can freeze time, and act as a time machine to other places. My Dad had a record player and maybe about eighty records or so – and every so often we would have a Saturday night music night, where he would play the music he loved, so a mix of 70s Glam Rock (yes, he did do thumb in belt buckle dancing, yes I was increasingly embarrassed), mixed up with some 70s Christian music (hello Keith Green) and almost always Cat Stevens in there.

Morning Has Broken': New Year Of 1972 Breaks For Cat Stevens
Most of Dad’s albums had a man with a beard, and a vague 1970s photo effect going on.

But he did really love Cat Stevens – he definitely had Tea for the Tillerman album – and this was a song I remember him playing and having in the car. I have a surprising lack of things of Dad – a few short video clips – lots of photos, but not very much more than that. No recordings of him talking really, and in some ways I’m not sure whether I can remember it or I’m remembering what I remember (does that make any sense? like the echo not the actual sound).

But something about this one song, Father and Son, kind of knocks me for six every time. I remember when his father died, we were clearing the attic, and we discovered that his Dad had been slowly purchasing his railway gauge (the size of railway track he used, not his Dad). And I remember Dad being genuinely puzzled at why his admittedly shop-a-holic father had done this, and I said, well he was buying it for you. I remember Dad speechless, which didn’t happen very often. And just holding it and looking at it.

I know… that I have to go.

So as you might imagine, I avoid listening to Father and Son, because you know, I cry at music at the best of times. But I did go on a bit of Yusuf Stevens spiral this morning and even found myself listening to one of Dad’s true favourites, Morning Has Broken (seriously – check out the 1970s ah choir in the background). And I was thinking that even though I don’t have very much of Dad’s physically left (I have his cycling proficiency test certificate, not even sure why), I do have this toy theatre that was my pride and joy when I was about 9. It was a plastic amazing spectacular that had LIGHTS and MAGNETS and little people you could move around.

Anyway the batteries leaked and it was gross and sticky and I was heart broken, and there was no way to get any of it off. I had assumed that it had been thrown away – and while it’s fair to say my Dad was not what one would call, minimalistic, in his attitude to belongings, sometime after he died, it turned up in the back of the attic. He kept it for me.

Listening to Cat Stevens made me think of that.

Women in 1930s Musicals: Anne Croft

This is another entry for an ongoing dictionary of women who worked in musical theatre in the 1930s in the UK. It is an evolving document – for more please get in touch via Twitter.

Anne Croft (b. Hull 1896 – d. 1944)

An image of Croft from a local Hull newspaper in the early 1930s, finally – there’s a photo!

Croft was an actor, producer and director: her career raises intriguing questions about the relationship between twice nightly variety and musical theatre, that at the very least, is far more complicated than you might think.

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