Survivors of Steel City: Portrait of Sheffield

1985 Chatto & Windus

This was my first non-academic book. I had started writing for the Guardian about life in the North of England during tough economic times. I wrote about the lives of unemployed steel workers and miners avoiding the supermarket when their friends might be there to save embarrassment, boxers, doormen, clubbers, ten bob 'millionaires' who were really on the dole, masseuses and burglars, those trying to get by day by day in desperate economic times. I was really interested in how people survived psychologically when they were thrown onto the scrapheap by a government who did not seem particularly interested in their fate. On the back of this book, I was the story consultant on an award winning ninety-minute documentary film about Sheffield, entitled 'Tales from a Hard City'. This documentary film won the Grand Prix at the Marseilles Film Festival and the Best Regional Film in the Indies Awards.

Sheffield 1986: Steel City has fallen on desperately hard times. In few places is the recession so painfully apparent; in few books are its consequences so movingly illuminated. Using a series of interviews as the basis for his book - with people ranging from respectable citizens to racketeers and down-and-outs - Geoffrey Beattie brings a struggling community vividly to life. But his portrait is of more than the dark truths of hardship, for it shows a city reinventing itself with verve and originality - creating a thriving alternative economy, drinking champagne in nightclubs, speaking in tongues in Charismatic churches. Brilliantly sharp and clear, 'Survivors of Steel City' is an indictment as well as a celebration - a picture in which we can see the suffering and the resilience of all British cities in the 1980s.

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‘Here's richness....His photographs are superb, and some of his evocative chapter openings would not disgrace the old master, Ed McBain....This book is a splendid example of sociology as it often could be but rarely is: Imaginatively presented, lively, well written and easy to read, but without ever losing integrity of purpose or its capacity to illuminate and inform.’
New Society, 1986

'Beattie's book is engrossing.’
The Listener, 1986

‘The book of the week.’
Yorkshire Evening Post, 1986

‘His descriptions give a rich flavour of a place where what matters most is a sense of identity.’
The Economist, 1992

‘A compulsively entertaining read.’
The Sheffield Star, 1986

‘I was utterly absorbed by Survivors of Steel City.’
Hampstead and Highgate Gazette, 1992

‘A masterly book.’
Grimsby Evening Telegraph, 1992

‘The book is sharp and clear.’
Marxism Today, 1986

‘..the strength of Beattie's work is in the ethnography. An achingly direct sympathy with losers.’
The Psychologist, 1988