I was at school with the son of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) boss Len Murray and together with a mate of mine, Mark, and some other kids, we all went down to the Anti-Nazi League carnival in 1978. It now seems like an epoch ago but was an incredibly exciting day.
The extreme-Right National Front had been gaining ground on the streets and in terms of votes in London. Since the mid-70s, the economy had been on a downward slide, the mainstream parties were failing to inspire young people and racism was being fuelled by sections of the media. It was a perfect storm for the neo-Nazis.
Even in my school in the east London suburbs, there were individuals who felt empowered to be openly racist. One pupil, who had been a mate of mine a year or two earlier, joined the British Movement. The target of their hate, where we lived, were Jewish and Asian people.
This documentary from the time gives a real flavour of how a movement arose through the Labour Party, trade unions and pressure groups to push back against the NF and the purveyors of race hate.
There’s increasing concern about neo-fascist infiltration of school playgrounds today – so it’s worth having a quick glance back to what the situation was like in the late 70s and early 80s when neo-Nazis were very active among school pupils.
Football terraces were recruitment grounds for the extreme right but schools were another arena of activity. In one report, there was a quote from a fascist group:
We welcome young people. We make or break them. Many are coming to us with the rise in unemployment. Skinheads are prime material – raw and aggressive. They need an identity. The whole point of getting children is to indoctrinate them. We are building a Nazi society through the youth of today.
Chilling stuff. The British Movement and National Front were particularly active. I recall one pupil from my school returning from a BM conference (from memory in Brussels in 1980) replete with skinhead cut and a perma-snarl. He walked up to me in the school library and informed me that I was a “pinko…leftie…etc”.
John Tyndall, chairman of the NF in the 70s said that “until children reach an age at which they are able to determine their own values, some sort of values have to be instilled into them”. According to the 1974 NF manifesto, schools were to be segregated on the basis of race and liberal studies – or “academic Marxism” as they called it – would be banned.
The NF’s youth wing took over the magazine Bulldog and that became its main recruiting tool in schools. It included a campaign to remove “red teachers” from the classroom.
They sometimes found themselves competing with other far right groups like Viking Youth, led by Paul Jarvis – who was also looking for recruits in the Scout movement! The BM produced a publication called Fact Finder, which included a “Lie Detector”. According to this, the heroes of the Nuremburg Trials were those on trial! Needless to say, holocaust denial featured highly.
Reported incidents in 1980/81 included:
May 1980 – black pupils at a Camden school attacked by skinheads from the National Socialist Party of the United Kingdom
October 1980 – BM recruiting at schools in Dartford, Kent
October 1980 – Young National Front campaign against a teacher at a Dover school
February 1981 – Manchester school daubed with swastikas and NF symbols
March 1981 – 33 pupils, mostly Asian, leave a classroom at a Birmingham school before a fire-bomb explosion – racist attack suspected
Digging up this National Front filth from my archives, I was struck how far to the right the mainstream political parties have moved these days.
There was the NF calling on Britain to leave the Common Market (forerunner of the European Union) and we’ve now gone the whole hog and voted for Brexit.
On immigration – the main parties haven’t advocated repatriation but the assumption that immigration is a ‘bad thing’ has become the conventional wisdom.
Back in the 70s, the NF wasn’t shy about talk of “sending THEM back” – even if the people they were referring to were second even third generation black and Asian Britons. Today, UKIP has called for the children of immigrants to be classed as migrants and all parties have promised to ‘get tough’ on immigration and remove benefits.
The NF made great headway spreading lies about immigrants grabbing social housing – yet that assumption goes unchallenged today by many mainstream politicians. Ditto the health service being overrun by so-called “health tourists”.
And we’ve had British jobs for British workers rhetoric from politicians on the left that would have been screamed down as utterly racist 30 years back.
So what did Thatcher and the people around her think about race related issues in the 70s and 80s?
One of her key advisers, Alfred Sherman, had views on ethnic minority issues that would be regarded as slightly beyond the pale in our more inclusive times. One such was that immigration had been from cultures that were alien to English values including “sex, honesty, public display and respect for the law”.
A recurring theme from Sherman was that waves of immigrants from ‘alien cultures’ had resulted in a loss of control of what it meant to be British. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Margaret Thatcher similarly remarked in 1978 on TV that many Britons “fear rather being swamped by an alien culture”.
Behind Thatcher, on the Tory backbenches, views on immigration and race relations were a touch reactionary. In one debate on immigration in the House of Commons on 5th July, 1976 – some rum comments were made.
Winston Churchill’s grandson, who shared the same name but not the same glittering career as the war leader, thought the tolerance and generosity of the British people was being tested to the limit.
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.
During the 1976 debate, Churchill pointed out that a West Indian had told him at his MP’s surgery that he would remove his daughter from a school, which was 75% immigrant, because she had no chance of a ‘proper English education’. Churchill added, “that man was as black as your coat, Mr Deputy Speaker”.
John Stokes, MP for Halesowen and Stourbridge claimed that a petition to the Home Office might be replied to in six weeks but an “immigrant leader” who wanted to see the Prime Minister would get an audience in two days.
He went on to claim that a vast gap existed between what he called the pro-immigrant camp – made up of race relations people, intellectuals, the media and do-gooders – and “the ordinary people who look to us in the House of Commons for protection”.
They do not want a multi-racial society. They do not believe that integration will work.
And in case anybody thought that by immigration, the Commons debate might be referring to all those who entered the UK, George Rodgers – MP for Chorley – put them on the right track.
The difficulties revolve around the colour of people’s skins. We should bear that in mind and recognise the problem, not avoid it.
And so it went on with Nicholas Winterton, MP for Macclesfield, even demanding that the then Labour government apologise to Enoch Powell for the comments they had made after his notorious 1968 anti-immigration ‘rivers of blood’ speech.
Three years later, the 1979 Conservative Manifesto would include proposals for toughening up of immigration policy directly under its promises on fighting crime. It acknowledged that the ethnic minorities had made a valuable contribution to the life of the nation.
But firm immigration control for the future is essential if we are to achieve good community relations.
Here’s a piece of complete trivia about those involved in the TV series Happy Days. In case you’re too young to remember, Happy Days was a sitcom set in 1950s America. It was shamelessly nostalgic, bubblegum entertainment.
Since then, the cast have led very different lives and held markedly different political views. And the moral is: Being a liberal/Democrat in California ensures you a happy and productive media career whereas being a red in tooth and claw registered Republican, may not work out so well.
Scott Baio is definitely the latter. He has posted some pretty horrible stuff on his Twitter including a misogynist cheap shot at Michelle Obama that even our very own Daily Mail picked up on last year. Click here to read the story. Baio’s anti-Obama comment led to him claiming that he was receiving death threats and needed FBI protection.
This wasn’t the only Twitter meltdown that Baio inflicted on himself in 2010 – he then penned this anti-tax tweet that was picked up and led to an online feud between him and a website called Jezebel dot com.
In complete contrast, Henry Winkler and Ron Howard took up their old roles as the Fonz and Richie Cunningham to encourage people to vote for Obama during the last presidential election. Whereas Baio’s career can hardly be described as stellar since he stopped playing Chachi, Ron Howard has become a globally renowned director. Winkler hasn’t done too badly either.
Lorimar is to blame for a big part of your youthful TV viewing if you were growing up in the 1970s. It was eventually swallowed up in to Time Warner where its logo lived on for a while longer till it eventually disappeared completely.
This production company, born in 1969 and bought by Warner in the mid-80s, brought you The Waltons, Dallas, Knots Landing and the controversial movie Cruising (1980) and Being There (1979). Lorimar’s logo always popped up at the end of your regular viewing but changed over time till eventually Time Warner made it very slick and charmless.
School was over for another week. In the 1970s, you would have woken up on a Saturday morning, showered with Lifebuoy soap, put on your flared jeans and Harlem Globetrotters T-shirt (yes, I did own such things) and go downstairs to watch the telly.
Aside from the BBC and ITV’s kids’ programmes – like Swap Shop and Tiswas – there was a slew of American TV series. For example, an adaptation of the movie Planet of the Apes, of Little House on the Prairie and if that wasn’t saccharine enough for you, then there was The Waltons.
And do we all remember the mawkish nonsense that was Mork and Mindy. What I love about the opening credits of M and M and other similar series was that they rushed to tell an establishing story in under a minute. So you see Mork waving goodbye to his fellow aliens, heading in an egg shaped spacecraft to Earth and then going to live in Boulder – Mork and Mindy put that town firmly on the map.
There’s some terrible US shows that have been completely forgotten. Makin’ It was a disco based series that cashed in on the Saturday Night Fever craze and starred Ellen Travolta, older sister of the man with the same surname who was the star of SNF.
Ellen also played the mother of Chachi Arcola (Scott Baio) in Happy Days – which turned out to the be the happiest days of Scott Baio’s life – can’t say he made a huge impact afterwards with such turkey spin-offs as Joanie Loves Chachi and Charles in Charge.
Many of these shows were made – churned out – by Lorimar Productions, founded by Irwin Molasky. It’s interesting to me to see how many Italian American and Jewish characters there were – but hardly a black face and certain no hispanics to be seen.
In all honesty, I didn’t notice this at the time but a black friend of mine who is the same age as me said he found it pretty dispiriting back in 1979 to have no role models on mainstream TV to look up to.