Famous South Shields artist Bob Olley to be subject of documentary

South Tyneside's pitman painter Bob Olley is going to be put in the picture himself - after 30 years

Friday, 29th December 2017, 8:00 am
Updated Friday, 29th December 2017, 10:00 am
Bob Olley being filmed for a documentary on his life and work

The world-famous artist is to be the subject of a documentary marking the 50th anniversary of him leaving his mining days behind.

Cameraman Karl Coates is picking up where his father Les left off when he was commissioned to film the painter in 1980.

Discussing times down the mines

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The footage was never shown and lay dormant until it was discovered by his son.

He has now set about bringing the documentary up to date.

Karl’s documentary aims to continue the story of 77-year-old Bob’s life and work and includes him being reunited with his beloved “Westoe Netty”.

The once public loos, which had served the miners and the community for decades, was demolished and is currently lying as a pile of bricks at Beamish Museum in County Durham - hopefully one day to be restored.

Taking a step back in a time

Karl is aiming for the film to be completed by April in time for the launch of a major exhibition of Bob’s work,

He said: “This started in 1980 when a film about Bob Olley was commissioned, but it was never shown. It was shot by my father Les who was also a cameraman, then it was passed onto me.

“I grew up with Bob’s work and after receiving the OK from James Bolam’s agency, as he narrated the original footage, I decided to bring the footage up to date.

“Bob is 78 next year, he has a big exhibition coming up and it is also 50 years since he left the pit. I thought it would be nice to try and reunite Bob with the Westoe Netty.”

Karl Coates with Bob Olley and former miners

He added: “As part of the documentary, I met with some of the town’s former miners at Harton and Westoe Welfare and the stories they told me was mind-blowing.”

Bob Olley is a former miner turned artist and sculptor and is best known for his mining subjects, humorous drawings and paintings of everyday life.

One of his best known works is the Westoe Netty.

He has also worked on projects including the sculpture of John Simpson Kirkpatrick in South Shields town centre and Stan Laurel for a Persimmon Homes development in North Shields.

Artist Bob Olley with his work The Last Drop

When the council decided to bulldoze the Westoe Netty, Bob and his friends demolished it themselves brick by brick - storing it in a shipyard containers in a bid to preserve it for future generations.

It was later given to Beamish Museum.

Bob said: “This has come about by accident. I was at an exhibition in Bishop Auckland and Karl was the cameraman who was filming.

“He got in touch and decided he wanted to put something together.

“The Westoe Netty has taken on a life of it’s own and I have messages from people from all over the world who have copies of it.

“The footage which was shot originally shows you just how much things have changed - until you look back you don’t realise.

Discussing times down the mines

“I’m not sure what Beamish have planned for the Westoe Netty.”

The exhibition of Bob Olley’s work is scheduled to go on display next year at South Shields Museum in Ocean Road.

Taking a step back in a time
Karl Coates with Bob Olley and former miners
Artist Bob Olley with his work The Last Drop