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 summer of 1981, riots gripped every major city in Britain – but with particular ferocity in Brixton, London and Toxteth, Liverpool. However – there had been some dress rehearsals in the years immediately previous. Throughout the late 1970s, Notting Hill Carnival had ended in violence. Some of the following account contains language from that era that obviously I do not endorse.
In the run up to the 1976 carnival, the Carnival Development Committee faced opposition to the big event from several quarters. Chief Superintendant Ron Patterson was photographed for the local newspaper holding up a long roll of paper – a petition by local residents to stop the carnival.
“It was handed to me by a North Kensington housewife. She said it was a token of support for the police by the ordinary people of North Kensington.”
Local councillors suggested moving the event to White City stadium and the Chief Superintendant thought Battersea Park would be an acceptable alternative. The top cop even took a member of the carnival committee for a walk in the park to convince them that it would be a better venue than the streets of Notting Hill.
But the committee decided to stand firm on the now almost traditional carnival route over the August Bank Holiday and one might say that battle lines were drawn. The black community wanted its festivity while councillors, residents and the police were either hostile or distinctly lukewarm.
Through the Spring, the carnival organisers and police had increasingly intemperate meetings over the route, stewarding and liquor licensing. What became clear was that in 1976, the police presence would be upped in spite of a warning from the Black People’s Information Centre that this would be an explosive move.
The very fateful day arrived and before long, tens of thousands of people had thronged the streets. Estimates of the eventual numbers on the streets vary from 150,000 to 200,000 so the carnival was already a major event in Britain.
One young guy remembered the steel bands playing and drifting away from his friends, found himself at the corner of Acklam and Portobello Road.
“Across the ‘bello flies a highway and under the fly-over the heavy dub groups were staging their section of the carnival, belting out the sounds of bass guitars.”
The followers of various sound systems were in attendance including one called Prince Melody. But the young black reveller didn’t have much time to take in the sounds as he walked in to a large group that already had about thirty policemen on the run. All around, he could see people picking up whatever was to hand and throwing it at the cops.
Somebody selling revolutionary pamphlets decided that this was one barricade he didn’t wish to stand on and packed up. Nearby, loudspeakers were blaring ‘Chase Them Crazy Baldheads Out of Town’. And to cap off this surreal scene of mayhem, a black woman was shouting in to a megaphone: “Yeah, lick them.”
As photographs of the time testify, the police had indeed turned out in force but once the heat was turned on, many of them had only dustbin lids and bottle crates for defence. There were no riot helmets, padded uniforms or shields. Instead, many had zero head protection, were in rolled up shirtsleeves and just swinging a truncheon around.
But if the crowd thought this was a rout for the police, they were about to be disabused. They had been surprised by the ferocity of the crowd reaction but the retreat was a moment to regroup not leave.
The young guy now saw a ‘rastaman’ standing in front of five hundred youth and shaking a red, green and gold stick in the air urging them to “burn the wicked”.
“I walk through fire,” he yelled, strutting towards the cowering officers. Behind him, more cautiously, came the youths still hurling bricks and bottles. But suddenly things changed dramatically.
The cry came from the police lines and a phalanx of dustbin lid clutching Metropolitan officers hurtled forward, truncheons chopping the air in all directions. The rastaman disappeared in the melee and the young guy was bundled in to a police van with four others.
Coats covered the windows and he claimed a police inspector poked his head in the head door and barked an instruction to a subordinate.
“Take down the coats, they mightn’t stone us if they see niggers inside.”
Though there would be several stages towards the development of the riot police we know today, this was an early milestone. After the 1976 carnival, the police returned – minus their Chief Superintendant who had moved on – with much better equipment.
Instead of flooding the area haphazardly and relying on bottle crates for defence, the police returned with shields, helmets and even night goggles. Battle re-commenced with an expectant media having pretty much earmarked an annual carnival riot in their planning calendars.
The media would not be disappointed. All hell duly broke loose in 1977 with a distinctly unpleasant bust up between police and revellers inside the Mangrove Restaurant on All Saints Road. The restaurant had turned away a gang of youths they felt were looking for trouble and was full of revellers watching the steel bands go by.
Eye witnesses claimed that a large force of police entered All Saints Road from Lancaster Road and sealed off that point of exit and the Westbourne Park Road end as well. Beating on their riot shields, the police advanced down the road towards the Mangrove.
The owner of the premises, Frank Critchlow, tried to persuade the police not to enter but earned a truncheon blow for his efforts. Stewards that had been appointed by the restaurant to keep order in the area now found themselves pushing against the doors to the Mangrove to prevent the police entering but they eventually got in.
Everybody was told to leave in no uncertain terms and resistance was met with more truncheon blows. One DJ, Basil, stood by helplessly while his sound system, Black Patch, was smashed to pieces.
The anguish of people like Basil was of little concern to the Daily Mail, which went in to fulmination mode in the aftermath.
“If the West Indians wish to preserve what should be a happy celebration which gives free rein to their natural exuberance, vitality and joy, then it is up to their leaders to take steps necessary to ensure its survival.”
The Daily Express was reminded of a different group of blacks on its front page the day after.
“War Cry! The unprecedented scenes in the darkness of London streets looked and sounded like something out of the film classic Zulu.”
On the floor of the Mangrove lay the remnants of Basil’s hi-fi and the broken vinyl pieces from forty-eight singles and five LPs. This was the kind of memory that would be stored then unleashed in a torrent of violence three years later.
Londoners of a certain age remember the two massive Anti Nazi League carnivals in 1978 with glowing nostalgia. But Manchester was in on the act too. Let’s not forget that. Here was the Mancunian ANL carnival with acts like Steel Pulse, the Buzzcocks and China Street.
I loved Steel Pulse’s Jah Pickney with that song’s delightful lyrics about hunting the National Front. Check it out on YouTube. Buzzcocks – we all know them! But I’d quite forgotten China Street, a favourite of John Peel and on the EMI label for a while.
The march was sponsored by the north west region TUC. The trade unions were very much a backbone of the whole anti-racist push against the National Front at that time.
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.