Stephen McGinty’s justifiably enthusiastic account of the premiere of Anthony Wonke’s film version of his book about the 1988 Piper Alpha tragedy (“Fire in the Night”, 22 June) reminds us of the story of the late Bob Ballantyne, a key figure in the survivors’ group and a founder member of the Offshore Industry Liaison Committee, now part of the RMT union.
As McGinty mentions, a fuller (and even more moving) version of how Ballantyne recalled his escape from the blazing platform, with Voltaire’s Candide stuffed in his pocket at the last moment – while the two mates he shared a cabin with perished – can be heard in Hugo Manson’s Lives in the Oil Industry oral history archive at the University of Aberdeen and the British Library.
The interviews are not, as McGinty suggests, available online. But summaries of them are; and the archivists at Aberdeen’s Sir Duncan Rice Library will advise on listening to the self-narrated life stories of Ballantyne and many other industry participants.
McGinty writes also of the maintenance of the Aberdeen garden where Sue Jane Taylor’s memorial statue stands, notes that the role of oil in Scotland’s future is again under scrutiny, and asks what Ballantyne would have thought of Wonke’s film. From the interview, I think you will be able to deduce that he would have welcomed commemoration in whatever form.
But he would particularly have allied himself with the recent warning from RMT regional organiser Jake Molloy, speaking at a conference last week on safety 25 years after Piper Alpha, that a culture of fear still prevails in an industry where the anti-trade-union culture of the Thatcher years – which Ballantyne thought a major factor in the tragedy – has been incompletely addressed, and where workers still hesitate to speak out on perceived dangers.
Director of the Lives in the Oil Industry Oral History Project
University of Aberdeen