DCSIMG

Why, after 25 years, these images of Alice still haunt us

A special anniversary will ensure a Calderdale woman has not died in vain. Virginia Mason reports

IT was iconic and moving and its message was powerful, captivating the millions who tuned in to watch.

The film, Alice, A Fight For Life, capturing the last days of a Calderdale woman stricken with cancer, was screened 25 years ago.

It told the tragic story of Alice Jefferson, a former mill girl who, after being exposed to asbestos for just three months, was to die from mesothelioma.

Alice was just 48, leaving two children to grow up without a mother.

Now, a quarter of a century later, the anniversary of the screening of the award-winning documentary is being marked by a campaign to raise funds for research into mesothelioma and asbestos-related cancers.

It is also being used as an opportunity to ensure the name Alice Jefferson is not forgotten – nor the thousands of others like her around the world who lost their lives as a result of exposure to asbestos.

"This documentary is probably the most powerful and moving account of the personal tragedy of asbestos-related cancer," says Paul Glanville, of John Pickering and Partners solicitors, based in Clare Road, Halifax.

It was Paul's firm – and more importantly solicitor John Pickering, now retired – who acted for Alice in her claim for compensation against Cape Asbestos, who owned Acre Mill in Hebden Bridge, where Alice, of Mytholmroyd, worked at the age of 17.

"Many people are continuing to die from asbestos-related cancer in West Yorkshire, a cancer which is incurable and one where very little is spent on research into a cure," he explains.

"Because of this we want to mark the 25th anniversary by doing something positive, setting up a campaign to raise funds into research and hopefully look at providing some kind of memorial on the site of Acre Mill for those who worked there and lost their lives."

He adds that it is shocking that in 1982 when the documentary was screened, around 500 deaths from mesothelioma were recorded that year. Yet years later, figures continued to rise, despite the warnings.

"Now we are talking about 1,800 deaths, which is unbelievable. That is the tragedy of mesothelioma.

"People may not know they have it until years later. It can take anything between 10 and 60 years before people realise they have it."

Paul, who is undertaking a fund-raising 2,576-mile bike ride from Paris to Marrakech, said the aim of the campaign was to keep the profile of the dangers of asbestos and asbestos-related cancers high.

All money raised will support research now being carried out at St Bartholomew's Hosp-ital, London.

John Willis was already an award-winning investigative documentary maker with Yorkshire Television when he worked as producer and director of Alice, A Fight For Life.

Now with independent television company Mentorn in London, John still recalls vividly his interviews with Alice, whose children Paul and Patsy were just 15 and five, when she died.

"I had made a number of documentaries with Yorkshire but I think this has stayed with me perhaps more than any other," he confesses.

"What was amazing was that it was given two hours of air time but the second part started late because on the night of the screening, IRA bombs went off in London, killing soldiers and their horses.

"The news over-ran, of course, and so part two didn't start until 11pm, Despite that, more than five million viewers stayed up to watch it.

"I think that is a testament to who Alice was and what she stood for.

"She had this incredible inner grace and more decency, honesty and courage than anyone I have known.

"I think what touched viewers – and us – was her concern for her children," he says.

The film charts Alice's struggle with the incurable disease, including spells at Overgate Hospice, Elland. She is captured talking frankly of how she "jumped round the room like a frog" after the doctor told her she was dying and how she worried about her children coping without her.

"It's selfish really because you worry about not being able to see your children," she explained, revealing how she only worked at Acre Mill for a few weeks and how the thick, white dust of the asbestos would collect on her clothes and in her nostrils.

"We never worried though. We fooled about and made wigs out of it and put them on our heads," she told John in the film.

Just weeks after it was screened, Alice finally lost her fight against mesothelioma.

The documentary went on to win the Broadcas-ting Press Guild prize for best single documentary as well as the Prix Futura prize for best documentary in Europe.

The film also had an effect on the asbestos industries and how they operated.

Says John: "I think it was so successful because the audience fell in love with Alice.

"She was just an ordinary woman yet extraordinary at the same time.

"She deserves to be remembered and this campaign to raise funds into research is a wonderful way to do it."

A special anniversary screening of Alice, A Fight For Life takes place

at Bradford National Media Museum on Monday, when John Willis, pictured, will show clips from the film and hold a question and answer session about the documentary.

Donations can be made to the fund by visiting

www.mesothelioma-research.org.uk

Courier Comment It can take anything between 10 and 60 years before people realise they have it.”

Paul, who is undertaking a fund-raising 2,576-mile bike ride from Paris to Marrakech, said the aim of the campaign was to keep the profile of the dangers of asbestos and asbestos-related cancers high.

All money raised will support research now being carried out at St Bartholomew’s Hosp-ital, London.

John Willis was already an award-winning investigative documentary maker with Yorkshire Television when he worked as producer and director of Alice, A Fight For Life.

Now with independent television company Mentorn in London, John still recalls vividly his interviews with Alice, whose children Paul and Patsy were just 15 and five, when she died.

“I had made a number of documentaries with Yorkshire but I think this has stayed with me perhaps more than any other,” he confesses.

“What was amazing was that it was given two hours of air time but the second part started late because on the night of the screening, IRA bombs went off in London, killing soldiers and their horses.

“The news over-ran, of course, and so part two didn’t start until 11pm, Despite that, more than five million viewers stayed up to watch it.

“I think that is a testament to who Alice was and what she stood for.

“She had this incredible inner grace and more decency, honesty and courage than anyone I have known.

“I think what touched viewers – and us – was her concern for her children,” he says.

The film charts Alice’s struggle with the incurable disease, including spells at Overgate Hospice, Elland. She is captured talking frankly of how she “jumped round the room like a frog” after the doctor told her she was dying and how she worried about her children coping without her.

“It’s selfish really because you worry about not being able to see your children,” she explained, revealing how she only worked at Acre Mill for a few weeks and how the thick, white dust of the asbestos would collect on her clothes and in her nostrils.

“We never worried though. We fooled about and made wigs out of it and put them on our heads,” she told John in the film.

Just weeks after it was screened, Alice finally lost her fight against mesothelioma.

The documentary went on to win the Broadcas-ting Press Guild prize for best single documentary as well as the Prix Futura prize for best documentary in Europe.

The film also had an effect on the asbestos industries and how they operated.

Says John: “I think it was so successful because the audience fell in love with Alice.

“She was just an ordinary woman yet extraordinary at the same time.

“She deserves to be remembered and this campaign to raise funds into research is a wonderful way to do it.”

virginia.mason@halifaxcourier.co.uk

 
 
 

Back to the top of the page