• U.S.


3 minute read

Morning fog slithered through the cobbled streets when the first of the 200,000 men, women & children funneled into the old cathedral town of Durham. In a noisy, hilarious parade, they cascaded through the streets to the old abandoned race course, where every year the coal miners of Durham County quaff free beer and quiver at oratory at their annual Miners’ Gala (pronounced gayler).

Romping past the Royal County Hotel, the paraders roused the day’s distinguished guest—that horny veteran of the pits and stormy rebel of the Labor Party, Aneurin Bevan himself. Past his hotel balcony streamed rugged oldtimers who well remembered the “bad old days” Nye Bevan liked so much to talk about, and younger, well-dressed miners and their ladies, with pockets bulging with money—more than enough for each to take a holiday to Paris.

Nye Bevan stood on the hotel balcony and took the salutes. A child, pink-faced and pudgy like himself, skipped past and Bevan pointed with a laugh: “He is my brother, my brother!”

On to the gala grounds went Aneurin Bevan to provide the kind of fighting oratory that goes with the Miners’ Gala the way bubble goes with squeak. Girls with hats bearing mottoes, “Cuddle me quick” or “It’s now or never,” stormed the distinguished guest with autograph books. Miners pranced past with placards that told of deprivations of the past and displayed likenesses of men who had helped in the climb from poverty. All that seemed far away in happy Durham: today miners are a privileged class in Britain. Because Britain so badly needs them, they get better rations and more government benefits than any other group in the land, while Britannia figuratively begs them to help save her from the shame of bankruptcy by mining just 10% more coal.

Nye Bevan wagged a pudgy finger at the crowd and said: “We have opportunities our forefathers never had. Thanks to Socialism, the bad old days are behind us, new urgencies press upon us, but ordinary men and ordinary women using free institutions can do extraordinary things. It’s just that we can’t afford the luxury of a Tory government. The most patriotic thing Churchill can do is to resign next week.”

The miners drank it up. They had money in their pockets, free chits for beer in their hands, and the pubs were mercifully endowed with special all-day licenses. “Fill your lungs with good Durham air before you fill your bellies with good beer,” advised Nye, “and before you drink, let’s have three cheers for the Labor Party.” And so they did.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com