This film is part of Free

Lifestyle: The Shapes of Cornish

A shot against time: the last ‘pitman painter’ turns an unblinking eye on the near-vanished world of the County Durham coalfields.

Documentary 1976 26 mins

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Far from camera shy, the celebrated 'pitman painter' Norman Cornish is a gifted wordsmith. He describes his inspiration with a visual wonder that is infectious. Cornish admits to being 'flaming well obsessed by shapes …' Constellations of flat caps, telegraph poles, corner-enders and pit rows, miners' oil lamps on darkened gantries 'like fireflies trapped' in steel webs: his work as a coal miner and his life around Spennymoor, County Durham, are rooted in his art.

In 1933, at the age of 14, Norman Cornish started work in the Dean and Chapter colliery, a mine so notorious for accidents it was known as the Butcher’s Shop. Calling art ‘an itch I had to scratch’, he attended the Spennymoor Settlement in his spare time, an enlightened educational and cultural experiment, established in 1930 with funds from the Pilgrim Trust. Contemporaries included writer Sid Chaplin, also a Durham pitman, who would later champion Cornish’s art, declaring it ‘a shot against time’. This Tyne Tees Lifestyle documentary on Cornish was directed by Andrea Wonfor whose creative credentials as a dynamic television producer and executive included cult music show The Tube and Byker Grove.