Clyde shipbuilders 'work-in' inspires new stage musical half a century later

A famous protest by Clyde shipyard workers who staged a "work-in" at their closure-threatened yards half a century ago is to inspire a new Scottish stage musical.

Saturday, 11th December 2021, 11:55 pm

Thousands of workers at the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders thwarted a bid by the then 1971 Convervative government to close down its yards by taking them over themselves and finishing off a half-built ship.

Rock and folk music from the early 1970s will be revived for the show - Yes! Yes! UCS! - which will be based on verbatim interviews with shipyard workers involved in the campaign to save their company.

Produced and directed by Louise Townsend, who founded the theatre company with writer Neil Gore, the new show will focus on the little-known role played by the women who made up five per cent of the workforce in the yards.

The new musical theatre production Yes! Yes! UCS! is expected to go on tour throughout the UK between February and May.

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    When the musical will goes on tour across the UK between February and May, local choirs are expected to join the show’s three-strong core cast to add their voices to rousing songs and music of the era, as well as brand new material.

    The show is being created by the Galloway-based company, Townsend Theatre Productions, which says Yes! Yes! UCS! will “shine a light on the role women played in the fight for the right to work, the power of community solidarity, collective resistance and workers’ control”.

    The UCS was formed in 1968 from a merger of shipbuilders in Govan, Linthouse, Scotstoun and Clydebank.

    More than 6000 jobs were put at risk when the UCS went into receivership three years later and then Prime Minister Edward Heath’s Government refused to provide any support for what was described as the “lame duck” industries on the Clyde.

    Neil Gore has writtten the new stage show Yes! Yes! UCS!.

    Backed by Billy Connolly and John Lennon, the work-in saw workers manage and operate the yards until the government changed its policy. It was intended to prove they were viable, with tight discipline to ensure workers projected the best possible image.

    Gore said accounts of life in the shipyards from former workers across the UK had influenced the show, which will feature animated projections of graphic art evoking the early 1970s.

    Gore said: “We started the research and development about two and a half years ago, and interviewed people in Govan and Clydebank, who worked at UCS and were involved in the work in, about life in the yards and the impact of their eventual closure in the 1980s and 1990s.

    “It meant we could look at what happened from a very personal angle rather than it being a dry history lesson.

    The new stage production will recall the story of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders "work in" through the eyes of two female workers.

    "We were about to piece the show together and go into production when Covid hit, so we had to put things on ice, but we will just catch the 50th anniversary of the UCS work in.”

    Heather Gourdie who will star alongside fellow actor-musician Janie Thomson and Gore, said: “I think it will be an on-your feel, political show with a strong message which audiences can learn a lot from.

    "There will comedy littered throughout the show, as well as through a lot of obviously really serious elements.

    "I don’t think anybody is going to leave the show feeling sorry for women, but I think they will think that they need to be properly recognised now and in the future over their role in industry.”

    Upper Clyde Shipbuilders workers demonstrate their support of their shop stewards with a show of hands at a mass meeting in Govan shipyard Glasgow in September 1971.
    Heather Gourdie will be one of the stars of Yes! Yes! UCS! - the new stage show inspired by the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders "work in."