By Ifan Tomos
A pile of dusty tapes from the ITV Wales tape library landed on my desk in May. Mike Talbot, the series editor of Wales This Week, had heard that they contained some interesting footage of the Rhondda in the 1980s. Exactly what was on the tapes surprised us both.
The tapes contained interviews with five young lads from the Rhondda talking about their struggle to find work during the recession of the early 1980s. As well as the UK-wide recession during that time, the Rhondda was battling job losses stemming from the decline of the coal mining industry.
Youth unemployment hit one million during the 1980s. We’re not far from that figure today, with just under one million 16-24 year-olds out of work in the UK.
What could we learn from the experiences of the five lads, interviewed during this national crisis? A crisis which led to riots in some inner-city areas.
The interviews were broadcast in 1980, 1981 and 1986, capturing the reality of youth unemployment at the time. During the interviews the lads discuss how schemes such as the Youth Training Scheme and Youth Opportunity Programmes, seen as a solution by the Thatcher Government, resulted in the opinion of the lads to short term, low pay work. However, they recognise that the schemes did provide them with new practical skills.
During the long days of unemployment some of the lads turned to music as an escape route and a way to vent their frustration. They formed bands, which allowed them to leave the Rhondda and travel further afield, playing pubs and clubs across South Wales. Their lyrics reflected their feelings, and their style of music mirrored the rise of punk rock across the UK.
Having watched the tapes, we decided that it would be worth finding the lads today, to see how their lives compared to 30 years ago. We found Nigel Buckland, who was happy to be filmed re-tracing his steps.
Nigel had been unemployed for much of the early 1980s. We headed back to Treorchy Youth Club, the location for much of the original filming, to film Nigel watching those original interviews. It was his opportunity to re-live the experience of growing up during a recession.
Having watched the tapes again, Nigel feels that his opinions at the time are still valid today.
He was shocked at how acclimatised he’d come to unemployment at the time. He enjoyed watching himself singing some of those protest songs again, and managed to laugh off the hair styles and fashion of the time.
During the programme you can see how the streets and landscape surrounding Treorchy has changed, or in some cases hasn’t changed since the 1980s.
The photograph of the Station Café is an example of how a classic design can survive the passage of time. The advert next to the entrance of the cafe shows that ice cream remains popular at the café. It’s fair to say that the mountains surrounding Treorchy are certainly greener today.
The mountains may be greener and the lad’s hairstyles may be shorter, but youth unemployment remains an issue that affects the Rhondda and much of the UK as it did during the early 1980s.
Wales This Week airs tonight at 19:30 on ITV 1 Wales.