When Hollywood royalty came to Corby

Vanessa Redgrave in Corby 1979
Vanessa Redgrave in Corby 1979

A little-remembered piece of Corby Steel works history has been rediscovered after 40 years.

In 1979, at the height of the campaign to stop British Steel from closing down the works, help was sought by celebrities to further the cause.

Vanessa Redgrave in Corby

Vanessa Redgrave in Corby

Union representatives enlisted well-known faces to highlight the plight of the town - one of the most starry of the names was Vanessa Redgrave.

In February 1979, British Steel announced plans to close the works, which were nationalised in 1967.

Fresh from her collecting her Golden Globe and Oscar, the award-winning actress had been invited to a rally in support of the steel workers.

Former Evening Telegraph Chief Photographer Glyn Dobbs recalls: “I took the photograph of Vanessa Redgrave, if I recall corectly, at The Trades and Labour Club in Stuart Road, Corby.

“She was actually very ordinary and there to show her support for the steel workers.

“There was always an event on at that time.”

The photographs show the then 42-year-old star of stage and screen and well-known political activist sporting a ‘Save Steel - Save Corby’ button badge.

Former shop steward for the Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU) and author of The Essence of Corby, Dougie Reid said: “I think it was John Cowling from the British Iron and Steel Trades Confederation who helped organise her visit.

“It was helpful to have any celebrity who you could get to come along to publicise what was happening to the steel works.

“We had high profile Glasgow shipyard union leader Jimmy Reid come down from Scotland to speak at our events sometimes at the Trades and Labour Club but often at The Festival Hall which was a huge venue.

Comedian and singer Billy Connolly, who had first performed in Corby early in his career, also put on a show in support of the steel workers.

Dougie remembers: “The first place Billy Connolly played in England was Corby.

“He had been a welder in the ship yards and he supported us. I was part of the organising committee that brought him down to Corby.”

Another photograph shows Miss Redgrave with activists including Peter McGowan and John Cowling - both men went on to be mayor of Corby.

The closure of the British Steelworks left more than 10,000 people redundant and the Corby’s unemployment level rose to 30 per cent.

Tata Steel still manufactures about 250,000 tonnes per year of “thin-wall welded tube from steel strip” and employing about 500 people.

Anyone with any memories or photographs of Vanessa Redgrave or other well-known visitors can email them to alison.bagley@jpimedia.co.uk.