Big Flame



Posted by archivearchie on November 9, 2009

SSshotFor many former members the annual Summer Schools are one of the most fondly remembered aspects of being in Big Flame were . In “Coming Down to Earth”, an article in Revolutionary Socialism which was part of the “Daily Life” theme, the author wrote: “At our Summer Schools, when many of us live together for a week. It is remarkable how thoroughly we try and act on our ideals of open, supportive, and non-sexist relationships” (article available via a link in Episode 18).  The Summer Schools were generally felt to be one of more successful examples of collective childcare (and probably something the present government has rendered illegal with the requirement for all those providing childcare to be registered). It should also be acknowledged that they resembled life in the real world with their share of bust ups.

A very good introduction to the Big Flame Summer Schools can be found in an article in the February 1981 Discussion Bulletin: A Short History of Big Flame Summer Schools (Warts and All).

Using this article, and another “Summer School Feedback 1980” from the August 1980 Discussion Bulletin, the following picture of the annual event emerges:

–                The first one was in 1977. Most lasted a week. The intention was to combine education with comradeship. The venue moved around, with Beechwood House near Leeds the most common one.

–                Some years had a theme for the educational sessions, other not. Sometimes “big name” speakers were invited. Other times they were “home grown”. There was a combination of large plenary sessions and small workshops.

–                Tasks were shared, the exact arrangements changing from year to year. The 1980 approach was to assign people into groups for the week, ensuring a balance of gender and their local group. Each day they had a task: crèche, cleaning, washing up, bar tendering, and baby sitting. The groups also provide the basis of educational workshop discussions, and a support group, especially for people new to Big Flame.

–                Entertainment, apart from the bar, included films, sing songs and sometimes an outing away from the venue.

–                Controversial flash points included the choice of films. “Themroc” and “Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment” were strongly criticised for sexism, with walkouts. There was never agreement on the plenary/workshop split, with some unhappy with having the former, and others feeling speakers went on too long.


The Big Flame paper carried reports on many of the Summer Schools. Often a new woman member or sympathiser was commissioned to write it (sometimes with additional comments by children). Here are the relevant articles:

Big Flame on Sea: Paper September 1978.

On Our Hols: Paper September 1979.

Summer Support: Paper November 1979 (letter).

“Its Magic” with Big Eric: Paper September 1980.

A Sado-Masochist Bonanza?: Paper October 1981.

A Working Class Woman’s View: Paper November 1981.

Archive Archie

Note: Titles of articles or documents in red and bold are links to the full version. Press on them to bring up a PDF of the document.

One Response to “EPISODES IN BIG FLAME HISTORY: No 21 The Summer School”

  1. max farrar said

    Archie’s report on the Summer Schools (and my ‘warts and all’ article in the Discussion Bulletin) made me recall how much fun it was being in BF. It made me laugh too (apart from the bit where we lost our daughter, now 33 and a mother of two, who never get lost). The newspaper report on Big Eric and his Magic reminded me of one of the stranger features of BF: the fact that the state sent in spies to check us out more thoroughly than it could be reading our publications. Big Eric was unmasked several years later as an M15 informer (after a life-time as a workers’ college teacher in Birmingham). Our West London BF group eventually realised that it had another M15 mole in its ‘Troops Out’ (of the north of Ireland) group. I suppose were proud to be what the state apparently now calls ‘domestic extremists’, and this no doubt makes us even more sympathetic to the plight of the British Muslims who are currently being framed under the draconian new ‘terror’ legislation.

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