A Year in the Life of Gary Clarke
The common perception of the Miners' Strike of 1984/85 was that it wrecked the
communities of Barnsley and the Dearne Valley and robbed people of any hope for
the future. But Gary Clarke, Grimethorpe born and bred and still quite clearly
proud to say that he lives in the town where he grew up when he's not working
in London, has a different take on one of the most destructive industrial disputes
of the 20th century and the subsequent decline of the mining industry which had
employed whole families for generations.
'The trade in Grimethorpe was the pits and with that gone and shut down, it threw wide open the doors for everybody and anybody to do what they pleased,' he says, taking an unexpectedly upbeat view on the dispute and its aftermath.
His grandfather had been a miner and his father had worked in a local bottle factory but Gary took a very different route and is now one of the new generation of dancers and choreographers bringing new life and vision to the world of contemporary dance.
'I'm not saying I would have gone to the mines but there might have been a kind of pressure to do that because that's what was expected of a man, that was the trade and that was what supported the village,' he says. 'But when that support was taken away, what do you do?'
The question of how a lad who was brought up in the Dearne Valley became a dancer
is one that really seems to baffle him and for which he has no easy answer. 'I
remember loving dancing but I was never sent to ballet at the age of five or anything
like that,' he says. 'But I have always been an active kid.
'I would win disco competitions against people who were a lot older than me - they never liked losing to a ginger four-year-old!'
The closest Grimethorpe could offer to a dance class was the local majorettes team, hardly the sort of thing a Barnsley lad was expected to take up. 'No, my parents never tried to suppress it,' he laughs. 'The house was an open house and I could do what I wanted. I was a free child.'
When the movies came to town to make the critically acclaimed Brassed Off, Gary was like a lot of the locals and landed himself some extra work - he says there's a scene where you can see him right behind star Ewan McGregor. But even then he insists: 'I never thought about being an actor. I never even thought I could earn a living at it.'