12/06/2013 - Review: Playhouse Presents... Ragged

Ricky Tomlinson and Stephen Walters star in this hard-hitting drama based on Tomlinson's fight for justice and experiences in prison. Ricky served two years for his involvement in the first-ever national building workers' strike, which took place in Shrewsbury in 1972.

24 building workers were charged. They picketed building sites in Shrewsbury during the dispute and were prosecuted in Shrewsbury Crown Court in 1973. They became known as the “Shrewsbury 24”.

Directed by Johnny Vegas and written by Andrew Lynch, the drama homes in on Tomlinson's stand against the prison guards and system. Tomlinson believed he was a political prisoner who had been wrongly imprisoned and he refused to obey prison rules on the basis that he shouldn't be there. He would not wear prison uniform. Prison authorities reacted by moving him from prison to prison and putting him in solitary confinement. Eventually he went on a hunger strike which lasted 31 days.

However, when 3,000 workers marched on parliament and his case was granted a review, the prisoner's attitude begins to change.

The development of his political views is interesting. Tomlinson began as a member of the National Front (NF). The National Front were vehmently anti-Communist and used to chant "The Reds, the reds, we've got to get rid of the Reds!" at their marches. There were frequent physical confrontations between the far-Left and the NF. Yet he did not allow the Police to use his politics to persuade him to give evidence against fellow Trade Unionists who are "reds" or "Communists". Tomlinson clearly understood their tactics. He rejected their approaches and maintained his personal integrity. He made it clear that whilst differing politically they were all building workers and trade unionists in a common struggle. He did not sell them out.

When the Prison Governor (Christopher Fulford) gives him Robert Tressell's novel The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, he began to turn towards Socialism.


The conversation between the Governor and Tomlinson on immigration is brief but goes beyond standard socialist sloganising. A slight criticism I have of the programme is that the political discussion is quite sparse! Not a criticism you would hear that often, I expect!


What works very well is the interjections from Ricky himself sitting alongside the actor playing his younger self. 'The Man' being played by just one man taking on the roles of Prison Guard, Policeman, Judge etc makes a subtle point.


If you missed this fascinating programme the first time you can catch it next on Thursday, 13 Jun at 9pm on Sky Arts 1 HD. If you are interested in the continuing campaign for Justice for the Shreswbury 24 you can find their website here.