The Great Money Trick. A scene from the stage version of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, featured in the new film.
Still Ragged: 100 Years of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists
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]