The Thatcher Crisis Years

1980s politics blog from TV historian Tony McMahon

four Coventry heroes

In recent years, I’ve co-authored the biographies of two Coventry black British heroes: Neville Staple and Errol Christie. I’ve also come up with the idea and optioned a movie/TV script based on four young people from Coventry seeking to escape the city in the early 1980s through music or sport. Neville Staple and Pauline Black through music. Errol Christie and Garry Thompson through sport. They are my four Coventry heroes trying to escape from the Ghost Town.

The idea struck me like a thunderbolt walking home one day – months after the Errol Christie biography, No Place To Hide, was put up for two literary awards. Aurum Press published that hard-hitting life story along with the biography I also co-authored of Neville Staple’s musical odyssey titled Original Rude Boy. Pauline Black penned her own book, published by Serpent’s Tail, called Black by Design.

There were so many thematic overlaps between the stories that combining them into a single drama made perfect sense. Pauline and Neville had been part of the 2Tone family and knew each other well. Errol Christie wasn’t buddies with either of them back in the early 1980s but his brother Andy did know Neville. Garry Thompson was a professional football for Coventry FC and, to my knowledge, didn’t know the other three.

What I wanted to explore was how black British youth felt and acted in the run up to the 1981 riots that engulfed Britain in the summer of that year. The 2Tone bands – The Specials and The Selecter – sought to promote unity and peace as Britain descended into rioting. Errol Christie participated in the Coventry riot following the murder of a local Asian youth.

FIND OUT MORE: Ghost Town – my ska 2Tone optioned drama

I’m not black. So my life experience at that time as an 18-year-old in 1981 was very different. Errol Christie was born in late June 1963 and I was born in early June 1963. But his life story was a world away from mine. However, I immersed myself in the biographies of Errol and Neville. They took me to a world that I had never seen at the time.

In the process of optioning this idea, I met Pauline Black and Garry Thompson. All four of these Coventry heroes really are towering figures. They conquered adversity to realise their dreams. I hope we can bring their achievements to the cinema or TV screen in the near future. The sound track would be the universally loved sound of 2Tone. The songs of The Specials and The Selecter have more relevance today than ever.

Let’s hope you will soon be learning about these four incredible Coventry heroes!

DISCOVER: Young, black and British in 1970s Coventry

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