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.
In the 1970s, the National Front saw Bradford as a fertile recruiting ground. The far right thought it could benefit from the misery caused by industrial decline coupled with the influx of immigrants from the Commonwealth. There was a plethora of racist and fascist organisations that sprang up around this time including the Bradford based ‘British Campaign to Stop Immigration’.
NF activity culminated in a huge stand off between their supporters and anti-fascists in 1976 dubbed the ‘Battle of Bradford’. This may have been the party’s high water mark in the city.
The NF speaker was their leader John Tyndall – an acid-faced fuhrer who is mercifully no longer with us but was a household name in the late 1970s alongside his tubby fellow leader Martin Webster.
Very grim according to veteran 1980s boxer Errol Christie. I filmed Errol in the boxing ring at Gymbox in Holborn talking about his memories of racism, street violence and fascist thuggery. Below is the great man’s perspective on 1979.
Sadly, Errol died of lung cancer in 2017 having never smoked in his life. But he always complained to me of having to box as a youth in smoke filled halls and driving around in a van where everybody was puffing away. He was only three weeks younger than me and it’s a terrible loss to all his friends and his family.
The riots of 1981 and a spate of racist attacks weren’t helped by a small number of bands whose political views were to the right of Hitler and the entire high command of the Third Reich. One Oi! gig in Southall led to the pub they were performing in being burnt to the ground by Asian youth.
So, in the months that followed the inner city riots of that year, Oi! had its work cut out improving its public image. The media was branding skin bands as fascist and racist and in part to blame for the violence that had been seen on the streets.
With these accusations ringing in their ears, some skin bands decided to show their anti-racist credentials by taking to the road which would include two anti-racist gigs and an appearance at the Right To Work campaign march. The Business, Infa-Riot, the Blitz and Partisans duly went off on tour.
Sheffield’s George IV saw the Blitz join the Mo-Dettes for an anti-racist gig while all the bands played an Oi Against Racism concert in the same city a little later on.