Shocking attitudes to race in the early 80s


If I want to shock the millennials I work with, I tell them of a grim time not so long ago when racism was not only casual but endemic. Worse, it tipped from the mouths of MPs, broadcasters, senior police officers and judges. I find it almost impossible to believe that when I was in my teens, people could utter some of what follows here…

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Powell – putting his own views in other people’s mouths

Enoch Powell MP was a posh demagogue much loved by the sort of people who would begin a sentence with “I’m not racialist but…” Powell always put his racist views into other people’s mouths. As if to say – I don’t necessarily believe this myself but I’m honour bound as a representative of my constituents to tell you that…etc.

That allowed him to posture as the unwilling messenger who had to relay to all of us the shocking truth about the perils of immigration. He once claimed that an elderly, frail white woman had “excreta pushed through her letter box”.  A woman like her was intended to embody all white people – vulnerable and overwhelmed by the aggressive and sexualised violence of people from the black Commonwealth.

It was all nods and knowing winks from Powell to the racists on the street. That’s not to say that a little old lady didn’t have poo put through her letter box.  But it sure as hell happened to a lot more Asian run newsagents at the hands of neo-fascists – a fact that conveniently escaped Powell.

Winston Churchill’s grandson was a prominent MP in the 1970s – same name as his granddad but less illustrious career. In 1976, he made a very Powell-esque speech himself. He imagined his constituents not being able to recognise their own neighbourhoods anymore.

We can not fail to recognise the deep bitterness that exists among ordinary people who one day were living in Lancashire and woke up the next day in New Delhi Calcutta or Kingston, Jamaica.”

Churchill, incidentally, once described one of his constituents to the House of Commons as being “as black as your coat, Mister Deputy Speaker”.

Sir Kenneth Newman of the Metropolitan Police had some positives in his career such as backing the formation of Crimestoppers. But he also opined that Jamaicans were incapable of obeying the law: “It’s simply in their make up, they’re constitutionally disposed to be anti-authority”.  Another commentator even said that mugging was a form of self-employment for “West Indians”.  Crime reporting in those days was often underpinned by the assumption that black people were more disposed to criminality.

Another knighted copper called Ken was Sir Kenneth Oxford running the force in Merseyside. BBC reporter Martin Young spent some time with the Liverpool police and wrote a report for The Listener magazine. Jaws dropped round Merseyside when he claimed there was a view that “half-castes in Liverpool today” were the “products of liaisons between black seamen and white prostitutes in Liverpool 8 – the red light district”. Oxford bitterly denied that any senior police officer had said such a thing to the reporter – who in turn stood by his story.

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Alfred Sherman

Right-wing ideologues often conflated the perceived threat posed by immigrants – from the Indian sub-continent and Caribbean mainly – with the permissive society unleashed by the 1960s. Alfred Sherman was a political guru to Margaret Thatcher and once declared that:

“…the imposition of mass immigration from backward alien cultures is just one symptom of this self-destructive urge reflected in the assault on patriotism, the family – both as a conjugal and economic unit – the Christian religion in public life and schools, traditional morality in matters of sex, honesty, public display and respect for the law – in short, all that is English and wholesome…”

How did black Britons view this kind of thing? In the late 70s and early 80s, change was slowly happening. A new generation born and bred in Britain wasn’t prepared to doff its cap to the former colonial master. And they wanted to succeed in British society.

However, there was still very widespread discrimination in employment and housing. I found a copy of a teen mag called Fab208 – mentioned elsewhere on this blog – where a black single mother was interviewed about what Christmas would be like for her. Mrs Jones, who lived in a dingy flat in Wapping with her kids replied:  “I don’t know how I’ve avoided committing suicide.”

There was so little room in the flat that clothes were hung up outside to dry but were then stolen. The family never went on holidays. Her 14 year old daughter Sharon told Fab208:  “At school I hear them talking about the places they’ve been to and I feel like the odd one out.”

Mrs Jones pointed out she had never been on social security and worked to keep her family.  “I’m not a sponger.  I wouldn’t like the idea of someone else supporting my children.” 

Shame Enoch Powell never dropped by to hear her account of life in Britain during the 70s and 80s.

NWOBHM – the new wave of British heavy metal


IMG_6907Heavy metal is a genre that refuses to die – like the walking dead, it can never rest in the grave. In the early 70s, the rock scene was dominated by giants like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. But then along came punk and traditional rock banks looked a bit lost.

But rock was not dead. It was merely slumbering. Punk rubbed some of its aggressiveness and thrashiness off on to a new generation of rockers and so emerged the NWOBHM. Faster beats, a frenetic pace and audiences that no longer politely sat through gigs.

By 1979, punk had seriously run out of steam. There were some laughable punk-style acts that Sounds magazine tried to convince us were ‘working class’ but in reality were truly awful. I mean, how many times can you say the F-word and shock anybody? Let alone screaming ‘anarchy’. Punk was becoming a parody of itself. New Wave filled the void but didn’t capture the anger and frustration many young people felt as the country tanked into economic meltdown from 1979 to 1981.

IMG_6909So, along came the metal monsters. Rock had returned re-energised. Def Leppard, Motorhead, Saxon and Iron Maiden. Ozzy Osbourne, lead singer of Black Sabbath, resurrected with the comedic Blizzard of Ozz and the hilarious single Crazy Train. Black Sabbath replaced Ozzie with Ronnie James Dio and released Heaven and Hell.

Ian Gillan, formerly of Deep Purple, clawed his way back with his own eponymous band. Other Deep Purple ex-members re-surfacing included Richie Blackmore with a band called Rainbow and David Coverdale fronting Whitesnake. All these bands popped up in the late 70s coming to prominence at the end of the decade.

So you had new faces and new bands plus the old guard in different guises. AC/DC topped the charts with their album Back in Black while Canada’s Rush brought out Permanent Waves and toured the UK in 1980. Rush were a sort of prog rock band with rock sensibilities.

IMG_6908After 1976, I never thought I’d grow my hair long again but somehow I succumbed for about a year to NWOBHM. Then I lost my virginity and recovered my senses and scuttled as fast as I could away from it.

But for that year, there was a denim jacket adorned with Rush patches and badges. And I will confess to a continuing soft spot for Rush and Motorhead – who both put on amazing gigs back in the day.

In 1980, the Reading Festival was nicknamed the Can Festival – because of the amount of tinnies that hit the stage and spectators. Some were stamped on and thrown like frisbees. These were often violent times at all kinds of gigs. There was a crackle in the air and a lot of discontent. This would all boil over in riots during the summer of 1981. One interesting band at Reading was Girl – a rather camp metal combo with more than a hint of the New York Dolls about them.

NWOBHM was one safety valve for pissed off teenagers to head bang and play air guitars. DJ Tommy Vance on Radio 1 was one of the few outlets that would play the music. Top of the Pops, needless to say, was too busy with Shakatak to notice. After 1981, it all went very mainstream and most of us moved on a little embarrassed to admit we had indulged NWOBHM.

When the Left condemned theocrat rule in Iran


IMG_6949Some people on the Left seem unhappy about condemning the infringement of women and workers’ rights in Iran today. Such unease didn’t exist back in the early 80s.

Most of the Left did not welcome the victory of theocrats in Iran. Like many people in that country’s major urban centres, they had hoped for a democracy and a secular republic.

Not only was there dismay at the rise of the “mullahs” – but also the widespread use of capital punishment. It was not only the Shah of Iran’s people being rounded up and disappeared but socialists and democracy activists.

This is a flier for a meeting from the time opposing some of the recent hangings and naming the victims. Labour party members were repelled by this barbarity and were joined by Muslim students in the UK. There were calls for “solidarity” with Iranian workers against the ayatollahs.

Maybe those who are reticent to criticise the Iranian government today should read this blog and remember what the Left used to stand for.

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Crashing the National Grid for the miners


Seems a rather strange idea now but back in 1984 during the miners’ strike, we were told to fire up as many electrical appliances as possible between 6pm and 6.30pm to crash the national grid. The intention was to force a peak in consumption that would make the CEGB (Central Electricity Generating Board) burn more coal. This would reduce the stocks built up by the government to try and beat the strike. And so victory for the strikers would be hastened.

Well, that was the intention. In truth, I can’t remember anybody going for this ruse. If you did do tell me. Here was the postcard distributed at the time with instructions on what to do.

What did new technology look like in 1983?


These are adverts and one competition feature from SHE magazine in December 1983 – discovered in my 80s archives. A good spread of new technology from that year. A computer inside your washing machine, a Sunday roast done in your microwave and the latest in hi-tec cameras. The camera advertised below is a Minolta. That company’s cameras were taken into space with the Apollo missions and the company partnered with Leica on its lenses. It was later merged with Konica then swallowed up by Sony.

The gap-toothed man pointing at the microwave is “comedian” Jimmy Tarbuck – not a favourite of mine hence the speech marks – and the legendary Diana Dors is the heavily airbrushed lady. She died in 1984. Once a British screen diva, she had a starring role in the Adam and the Ants video for Prince Charming.