From the TUC

Still Ragged: 100 Years of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

24 Oct 2014, By Guest

It all started after a night out in January this year. The taxi driver who drove me back to my flat in Walton informed that Robert Tressell, author of ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’, was buried just over the road from where I lived. I was amazed – I read Tressell’s masterpiece two years earlier and was mesmerised by its realism. The next morning, and accompanied by a hangover, I made my way over to what is now Rice Lane City Farm. After a bit of investigating I found the mass grave in which Bob Tressell is buried, hidden away at the back of the farm.

After paying my respects I spotted a flyer tied to a tree above the grave. It was put there by The Association of The Ragged Trousered – a not for profit organization whose sole aim is to spread the word of ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ with membership free and open to all. As a filmmaker I thought I could do my bit to help the association, so got in touch with the chairman, Kevin Jones, about making a mini-promo video for them, in the hope it would attract more members. After meeting and talking with Kevin, I realised it was the centenary year of the book’s publication. Discovering that no one else had plans to celebrate this momentous occasion with a documentary, we decided to be a bit bold and go one step above and make a film celebrating the origins, the everlasting impact and the future of the book.

With no budget at all and a deadline to get the film done before the end of the year, we started approaching people about interviews – Dennis Skinner, Tom Watson, Ricky Tomlinson, Len McCluskey, Neil Gore, writers Dave Harker and Stephen Lowe – and much to our surprise, everyone was more than forthcoming in helping us out with information and interviews. We also managed to visit the TUC Library in London and film the original manuscript, which was a special moment.

Making this film was a great opportunity for me, but I feel that more could have been done to celebrate the book’s anniversary. Why didn’t any of the big TV companies or channels do anything? It deserves more respect and attention away from the left-wing fan base it has. It’s a book that needs to be recognised as a major piece of work in the landscape of English Literature.

This book speaks to everyone who has ever had to work for a living and with workers today facing uncertainty in their jobs with zero-hour contracts and many struggling to live on minimum-wage, it’s essential that more people read this book and realise that, quite sadly, not much has changed in a hundred years. Tresell died a pauper and had no idea that his book would go on to inspire generations of people, but I’m sure he’s shudder to think that capitalism still thrives at the expense of the working man.

With many young people not being politicised, and seeming to accept the status quo, we can use Tressell’s words to highlight the arguments against capitalism and how the only real remedy to the problem is socialism. It’s often said that ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ won the 1945 election for Labour, as many returning soldiers read it in the trenches during the war. Under Atlee’s government we saw the creation of the welfare state and the NHS. Let’s use Tressell’s book to show how we need to go back to such days of optimism and inspire a new generation of British people.

‘Still Ragged: 100 Years of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ is a documentary that is free to anyone who wants to host a free screening of the film. We hope the film can spearhead a mini-campaign to get more people reading the book. If you’d like a free copy to host a showing, please contact us; [email protected]

13 Responses to Still Ragged: 100 Years of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

  1. William TABARN
    Oct 24th 2014, 3:00 pm

    Read the book and we’re going back to those times, under the evil Tory and lib dem scum.

  2. Shirley Downie
    Oct 24th 2014, 3:59 pm

    This book should be part of the school curriculum. It covers the subjects: English, Maths, Modern Studies and empowers the kids to know when they are being exploited! As they surely will be. It may encourage them to unionise to support each other.

  3. Michael Knapp
    Oct 24th 2014, 5:54 pm

    “Why didn’t any of the big TV companies or channels do anything? It deserves more respect and attention away from the left-wing fan base it has. It’s a book that needs to be recognised as a major piece of work in the landscape of English Literature”. Irony which perfectly sums up where the media’s interests are these days and most worrying of all how the BBC has been hijacked and dumbed down by those who don’t want us to know our democracy is being undermined by international capital. I wish you well with this project.

  4. james sheppard
    Oct 24th 2014, 10:50 pm

    I love this book. I am so glad this documentary has been made. I really hope someone does a great adaptation of it one day. Truly inspiring – there is no better.

  5. Martin Chomsky
    Oct 25th 2014, 6:53 pm

    I adapted Tressell’s book into a graphic novel for kids called ‘RTP Downsized’, with an audio book to follow before Xmas. We’ve also adapted a live stage show we’re hoping to take into schools in 2015.
    More info from

  6. Barrie Scott
    Oct 26th 2014, 10:06 am

    I had the same tone of conversation as Owen, the book’s main character, with some workmates on an 80’s building site. There were no toilets, safety was poor and it made The Man a lot of money. They were great guys but mocked and scorned the idea of any kind of protest or union – the way the tabloids dictated. They had worked for this local builder for decades on low wages. The boss died, the son took over sold the whole business when the building was done, avoided the bonuses he’d promised, paid nothing for redundancy – and drove off laughing in his Lotus.
    No. We don’t learn.

  7. Chris Reilly
    Oct 26th 2014, 6:30 pm

    hi would be interested in showing the film to my branch, and also to arrange for a showing regionally as I am the Regional Council Secretary. Please send me details etc.

    Solidarity to all


  8. Alan Shearn
    Oct 26th 2014, 11:52 pm

    Simply the most important book I have ever read. Although the introduction of the welfare state in 1945 prevented some of the more grinding examples poverty described in the book, other developments like the rise of zero hours contracts and pay cuts show how little has changed over the years.
    I would love to see a modern version of the book or a film set within a warehouse or call centre.

  9. david campbell
    Oct 27th 2014, 5:13 pm

    I have worked has a painter in the building trade most of my life am 62 and can tell you not much as changed the way firms treat you

  10. Graham Dixon
    Oct 28th 2014, 2:52 pm

    After reading the book. for the first time, about 30 years ago – My wife and I went to see the play at The Dukes Theatre – in Lancaster. It was a ‘Theatre in the round’ and on purchasing of tickets we were advised to wear old clothes because there would be ‘Whitewash’ splashing around.
    The play ended at ‘The Beanfeast’ – the actors took their well deserved bows and left the stage which was set out for the banquet. Sat directly opposite us were a middle aged couple with (I presume their son) a lad of about 18 – the lad obviously had Downes syndrome – but he very definitely got the message; he walked onto the ‘stag’ picked up a pint off the table – raised it in the air and shouted “What about the workers” it brought a tear of joy to my eye.

  11. Jon Rudge
    Oct 29th 2014, 10:18 am

    This was my grandads favourite book, I didn’t get chance to discuss it with him, as an adult, before he died. I thank him for the guidance to this book and feel it should be compulsory literature in working class schools! I read somewhere that it was voted the 72nd best book of all time (im sure to our socialist world it ranks much higher) well done lads for keeping tressell alive and doing Walton proud! I usually think of the book when I pass through

  12. Terry Parker
    Oct 30th 2014, 10:53 pm

    Still relevant after a century – sadly

  13. Gill
    Nov 5th 2014, 8:40 am

    Chris, contact ‘shut out the light’ via their website. They’ll be only too pleased to help with free viewings of ‘still ragged’