Ricky Tomlinson: Guilty My Arse

He promises that next year he’ll bring his comedy show to the Fringe, but right now Ricky Tomlinson has serious matters to discuss. In a riveting one-off appearance at Assembly Rooms on the final Saturday of the festival, the 76-year-old Royle Family star spoke to a packed house about his more than 40-year struggle to find out why he was sentenced to two years in prison on what he outlines as trumped-up charges following a 1972 construction workers’ strike.

A stirring performance of his own real-life drama, speaking without notes but with passion and clarity.

Tomlinson, who has lived in Liverpool almost all his life, was a young married father of three working as a plasterer in North Wales in the early 1970s. As part of `the health and safety gang’, Tomlinson says he grew appalled at the injury and fatality rates among his fellow laborers, who suffered a death-a-day statistic equivalent to coal miners. To try to get working conditions improved and salaries raised, Tomlinson became active in his union and in leftwing politics, serving as a union steward at the time of `the one and only’ national builders’ strike.

Weeks after what he says was a peaceful strike action, where no arrests were made or cautions given, he was approached, he says, by two police detectives asking him to be a `prosecution witness’ against a group of strikers. He refused, he says, and months later was arrested along with other strikers and charged with `conspiracy to intimidate’.

The trial lasted 55 days, he recalls, with 200 witnesses (80 were policemen) taking to the witness stand to claim that Tomlinson and his co-defendants roughed up cops and incited violence among strikers. Tomlinson and one other union member came to be known as the Shrewsbury Two, as they were the only ones who maintained their innocence and refused to take a plea deal.

In detail that often made Tomlinson’s voice crack with emotion, he rewinds to the 31-day hunger strike he underwent in his early days in prison. His hair and beard grew to waist length and his clothes were taken away in solitary confinement. He was moved to 14 different prisons, he recalls, and says he `went on the blanket’, refusing to cooperate with `the screws’. Conditions inside were appalling, he remembers. `Who else is being treated like this?’ he asks the Assembly Rooms audience. `We’re after a change to let people see what goes on in British prisons to this day’.

Tomlinson says he spent his prison time reading books such as Robert Tressell’s 1914 political novel The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. He emerged to find he was blacklisted from the building trade, but he was a well-read socialist and trade union champion, a position he still defends. `Will there come a time when it will be a criminal offense to be a member of a trade union?’ he asks the audience, who respond with a loud roar of support.

Tomlinson’s case documents were locked away for 30 years `for reasons of national security’, he says. But when he filed a Freedom of Information request to see them after that deadline passed, it was refused. And continues to be. Tomlinson hired his own researcher, who he says has found evidence that he and the other defendants were railroaded on falsified evidence. `I was a political prisoner’, he says.

Being a convicted felon meant Tomlinson for many years couldn’t get a visa to travel outside the UK. (He now has one.) But he still hasn’t seen the full record of his case, with three commissioners assigned to review the papers as recently as 2013 perpetually delaying their release. `Labor governments and Conservatives are equally bad’, says Tomlinson. He also excoriates media titan Rupert Murdoch, Glenn Mulcaire and others involved in the News International phone-tapping scandal. `I wouldn’t give them the time of day. Not worth a carrot’.

Toward the end of his hour of passionate talk about his ongoing battles with authorities, Tomlinson seems almost apologetic. There have been no amusing anecdotes about his acting career, no tidbits about Brookside, Cracker or The Royle Family. But he has given a stirring performance of his own real-life drama, speaking without notes but with passion and clarity. `I don’t tell lies’, he says again and again.

And when he comes back next year with lighter stuff, he says, `I’ll be tellin’ you the truth about bloody Cilla Black’.

Reviews by Elaine Liner

The Assembly Rooms

Ricky Tomlinson: Guilty My Arse

Pleasance Courtyard

Backstage in Biscuit Land

theSpace @ Surgeons Hall

Plain English

Zoo Southside

The Ted Bundy Project

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £600,000 to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now



The Blurb

Hear from the horse’s mouth how Ricky and his building work mates were stitched up by the establishment, charged with conspiracy and sentenced to three years imprisonment, and then how he got into the acting game. The trial in 1973 lasted 55 days and in today’s money cost around £10 million. Why won’t the government release the papers after 42 years? Why does Kenneth Clarke MP not want the files reviewed until 2021? What was McAlpine's part in bringing the charges? Come and hear the truth in a no holds barred conversation with Ricky Tomlinson.

Most Popular See More

The Lion King

From £45.00

More Info

Find Tickets


From £29.00

More Info

Find Tickets


From £21.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Life of Pi

From £19.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Tina - The Tina Turner Musical

From £13.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Matilda the Musical

From £25.00

More Info

Find Tickets