The first night of the Toxteth riot – 1981


The first night involved scuffles, an arrest and some injuries on both sides but after this Toxteth simmered with a glowering rage.  On the following night, an anonymous caller to the police reported a stolen car and officers who went to investigate were pelted with bricks and stones.  This was the first skirmish of what would be a very long night of violence.

Eyewitness accounts from the time described a dairy and a car hire shop at the top of Upper Parliament Street providing a fortuitous combination for the rioters.  A group of youths took the milk bottles from the dairy and filled them with petrol from the car hire outlet.  The police line that was attempting to advance up “Parli” suddenly found itself at the receiving end of blazing Molotov cocktails.

Worse was to come as the actual hire cars were enlisted for use against the police line.  Rather like the game of dare with stolen cars in the 1950s movie ‘Rebel Without a Cause’, youths jammed the accelerators with bricks then drove at pull speed towards the police jumping out before impact.  “The police scattered like flies each time a driverless car screeched down at them,” an eye-witness later said.   One press report called the action a wild “dodgem game”.

A police officer remembered one car “hit a lamp-post and burst in to flames. If it had stayed on course, it could have killed someone.”  But it wasn’t just the cars that were hurtling towards the police line.  The Daily Express, in its coverage that weekend, claimed that twelve milk floats from the dairy were driven in a similar manner while two hundred youths built barricades of flaming car tyres sending a pall of smoke rising high above Liverpool.

Night clubs still operating a race bar in the 70s and 80s


In the two biographies I’ve had published – with Neville Staple (Original Rude Boy) and Errol Christie (No Place To Hide) – the same question came up of night clubs that operated a race bar back in the 1970s and early 1980s. That is, in breach of legislation, they refused or curtailed entry to people on grounds of skin colour. You wouldn’t believe this could have happened in England within living memory – but oh yes it did.

The proof? Well, in 1978 the Birmingham night club Pollyanna’s was ordered by the Commission for Racial Equality to stop restricting black and Chinese people from attending its functions. Unbelievably the club not only admitted what it did but tried to justify it. Their argument was that in the interests of “a happy situation”, racial quotas had to be imposed. This included telling a university lecturer not to bring in a group of Chinese students!

Errol Christie told me that several Coventry clubs as late as 1981 operated an effective colour bar making it almost impossible for black youth to enter the premises. Ironically, the aforementioned Pollyanna’s did become a meeting place for Brummie punks and skinheads including a certain Ranking Roger, later of The Beat….who was black.

Pollyanna's in trouble
Pollyanna’s in trouble