Activists hope TV series will save Full Monty workers’ club | Sheffield

AAs anticipation grows for the release of a new eight-part Full Monty series, hundreds of Sheffield residents are hoping that renewed interest in the stories of the group of steelworkers-turned-strippers will help stave off the demolition of the workers’ club where the original film was made.

In the 1997 Bafta winner, made and set in post-industrial Sheffield, the characters Gaz, Dave, Gerald and Lomper choreographed a strip act to earn money after losing their jobs at the local steelworks.

Now, in a case of life mimicking the art, the community is coming together to try to overcome adversity – and campaigners are confident the new series will bolster their bid to keep the wrecking ball at bay after developers shut down the club.

With the original cast reprising their roles 25 years since we last saw them in all their glory, the new series, filmed in Sheffield and Manchester, will see the gang struggle with collapsing healthcare and the job in their city. Original screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, who also wrote Slumdog Millionaire, is helming the reboot, and Andrew Chaplin and Catherine Morshead are directing.

The Shiregreen Workers’ Club is unlikely to feature in the latest offering, but in 1997 it was used as the focal point of the characters’ lives and provided the concert hall where they all unveiled themselves in the famous final scene of the film. Today, although barricaded, it still sports a sign on the front saying “Home of the Full Monty” and has attracted visitors from around the world.

When the venue was purchased in 2013 by local company Eyre Enterprises, members and regulars expected it to retain its status as a tourist hotspot, but in the summer of 2018 club members were invited to leave and owner Peter Eyre kept the club open for another 12 weeks before closing in November. It has remained vacant ever since.

Ann Bentley, former club steward. Photography: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

In recent years, the company has purchased several other workers’ clubs in the area, one of which was demolished to make way for apartments. The people of Shiregreen are desperate to make sure their club doesn’t meet the same fate and believe the new series, which is due to air on Disney+ later this year, could have arrived just in time.

Shiregreen was originally chosen as the location by 20th Century Fox for “its sense of authenticity as a community center in the north of England”, says former steward Ann Bentley. She was behind the bar during filming and remembers the chaos as dozens of extras showed up every day for weeks. “They were paid £40 a day – a small fortune,” she laughs, “but we got nothing – except of course for extra punters who wanted to get a glimpse of the action.”

“I remember the Oscars wire being cut for all of us at the club as we waited to find out if we had won the Best Picture award,” she said. “In the end, Titanic just propelled us to the post.”

Bentley met her husband, Roy, at the club in the 1960s and continued to manage it with him when he was dismissed. When Roy died 13 years ago, the Sheffield Telegraph published an article dedicated to him, the ‘real man of Full Monty’.

When the club closed four years ago, Bentley got to work compiling a petition to save it in memory of her husband. Despite securing over a thousand signatures, the club’s future hangs in the balance, with the windows rolled up and a demolition notice hanging outside. There has been no public announcement of the owners’ intentions for the building.

A scene from the movie The Full Monty
A scene from the 1997 film The Full Monty. Photography: 20th Century Fox/Allstar

Bentley thinks Covid has slowed down procedures for developers and hopes the new TV series could get the attention the campaign needs to finally succeed. “It’s such an important place to so many people, and it would be a dream come true to see it open again.”

Peter Price, a Shiregreen and Brightside ward councilor, agrees. He used to hold his usual medical practice there and says: “The idea that there is no future at this type of club is wrong. It retained a large membership until its closure, and even then several offers were submitted by groups who wanted to hire him. He could thrive again in the right hands.

Longtime club secretary and life member David Howden says activists “will not back down” and adds: “The club has been in business for nearly a century, and the community needs it now more than ever.”

The Guardian contacted Eyre Enterprises but declined to comment.

The new series will air in eight 60-minute episodes on Disney+, Star+ in Latin America and Hulu in the United States.

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