Hackney Gutter Press issues 1 and 6 (plus PDFs) 1972

Cartoon from Hackney Gutter Press issue 1

Hackney Gutter Press was the most revolutionary, counter-cultural and colourful of the plethora of community newspapers published in the borough in the early 1970s. Previous entries on this blog have covered issues 2-5.

The excellent Sparrows Nest archive in Nottingham have now scanned issues 1, 2, 4 and 6 as PDFs.

Issues 3 and 5 can be found on archive.org – so as far as I know, the complete set is now online. (If you were involved with the project or know more about it, get in touch!)

Most people in Hackney don’t like the way their lives are controlled by work, rents, councillors, police, schools etc. A lot of us are organising to fight their control – but we feel we don’t know enough about each other. For example with the coming tenants’ campaign against the Fair Rents Act we’re going to need a united fight if we are going to win – women at home, people going to work, claimants and kids together: we’re all tenants.

We want this newspaper to be used as part of getting to know each other. Organising to fight together. We want it to be used as a WEAPON TO FIGHT FOR OUR OWN CONTROL OF HACKNEY.

This first issue was produced by a group of people whjo are involved in organised activities such as Claimants’ Unions, squatting, Womens Liberation, playhouses for children, food co-ops.

We have intense discontent with the Hackney Gazette. Not only do they always report in favour of the rich and those in authority, but even this reporting is inadequate, amateurish and often totally inaccurate.

HACKNEY GUTTER PRESS is non-profit making and its policy will be decided from issue to issue by open meetings.

The first meeting witll be at Centerprise, 34, Dalston Lane on Thursday May 4th at 8pm. This is open to all wishing to help produce the paper, writing, drawing cartoons, distributing, reporting, etc.

Introduction from Hackney Gutter Press issue 1

It looks like the debut issue was published in April 1972. (Judging by the dates referred to in the articles)

Contents of the first issue include:

  • Why Not Squat? On direction action to solve the homeless issue. The Council faces resistance when it tries to evict four families squatting Grayling Road in Stoke Newington.
  • The Stoke Newington 8 – update on the arrests of 6 people in Amhurst Road the previous year in relation to Angry Brigade bombings.
  • Mildmay Action House, 26 Mildmay Park N1. “We’d had enough, kids around the house all day, fed up with endless housework and nowhere else to go. So we took action – women and children from Grosvenor Avenue marched on the Council last summer and demanded a house and money – we got both, and started work straight away on repairing and painting the house, clearing the garden” – plans to run the house collectively as community/childcare centre and Claimant’s Union.
  • Militant protests outside two different Hackney Social Security Offices, both broken up by police.
  • Last train to Dalston Junction? North London line station (i.e. Dalston Kingsland now) threatened with closure.
  • In the Courts – defend yourself with McKenzie advisors – Three members of Highbury and Hackney Claimants’ Union were charged with criminal damage for painting slogans on the side of a Social Security Office. They defended themselves in court were initially fined £30 and then acquitted on appeal. “The defendants told the magistrates what a load of deathlike, corrupt, prejudiced, bastards they were, representing a law designed only to prevent people taking back what is their own.” The defendants also demanded a minute’s silence for the 13 people murdered in Derry recently! (NB – do not do any of this now, Radical History of Hackney will not be held legally liable if you happen to spray paint a benefits office and/or are convicted after defending yourself in court).
  • Rents Will Double – Then There’ll Be Trouble. Calls for rent strikes if council rents increase from £3.50 to £7.47. And quite right too. Suggestion that the tenants associations run by the Labour Party will not be aggressive enough in challenging the increase.
Cover of the final issue

The design for issue 6 was more sombre. Perhaps reflecting the contents or possibly the budget. It seems to have been published in December 1972.

The cover story is on the conclusion of the trial of the Stoke Newington 8 “after 111 days and nearly £1,000,000 in costs”:

Four of the Stoke Newington 8 were convicted, four were not.

Hackney Gutter Press was concerned about the policing of the suspects, the safety of convictions and the wider implications of the use of conspiracy to imprison radicals. It called for James Greenfield, Anna Mendelssohn, John Barker and Hilary Creek (who were found guilty) to be regarded as political prisoners.

There are some reprints of the wildly lurid coverage of the trial from the tabloids:

Also in this issue:

  • Demonstration at the Town Hall against the implementation of the government’s Housing Finance Act.
  • Up The Squatters! 25 people squatting 4 houses in Dalston take on Second Actel Housing Association. Scenes of disorder in the courtroom. The case was thrown out, eviction staved off. Also a new squat at 98 Richmond Road E8.
  • Freedom of the Press? Or ideology of the State? on BBC and media bias.
  • Justice in Action – British Home Stores in Mare Street takes a 75 year old pensioner to court for allegedly nicking 16 pence worth of sweets.
  • Securicor – concern that private security firms will be used against protestors / poor people more generally.
  • Fight To Live – unemployment and the radical demand for an equal living income for all.
  • Hackney Dossers – survey of rough sleeping in the borough.

The back page has the usual contacts for radical and community organisations as well as a bold short piece slagging off a magistrate:

Also on the back page, a plea for assistance. with production and sale of the magazine. “The Gutter Press needs helpers if it is to keep going”. This looks like the last issue though. After this the paper merged with the more moderate Hackney Action to form the much longer running Hackney People’s Press.

Club des Femmes seeks 1980s Rio habitues

Pumping Iron II: The Women – from Club des Femmes tweet

WE WANT YOU!

Did you come to the women’s film and video screenings at the Rio in the 1980s? Were you a member of the Rio Women’s Cinema and the Women’s Media Resource Project? If so, we want to hear from you!

From 22 February – 30 May 2020 we will be facilitating a series of feminist re-imaginings, re-screenings, archival activations and reflections at the Rio. 

Please get in touch to take part in this vital project which aims to keep feminist moving image history present and future-looking: hello@clubdesfemmes.com

Club des Femmes are “a queer feminist collective who curate film screenings + events. Our mission is to offer a freed up space for the re-examination of ideas through art.”

Twitter.

https://www.clubdesfemmes.com/

Did anarchists torch Tories' Hackney HQ in 1987?

1. What Happened?

The building in question was 27 Stamford Hill, which is now a posh nursery. It caught fire in the early hours of Wednesday 3rd June 1987, eight days before the general election.

The blaze severely damaged the three storey building used by Hackney North and Stoke Newington Conservative Association.

The fire started at at about 3 o’clock this morning and completely wrecked the second floor and the roof. Scotland Yard say traces of petrol were found on an internal staircase leading to the basement. Fire investigation officers are now sifting through the debris for more clues.

The Conservatives say valuable computer equipment was lost as well as 45,000 letters containing election literature that was being sent out to voters. They say they have received threats before.

Thames News – transcript of clip above. Reporter Christopher Rainbow

Chairman of the Conservative Party, Norman Tebbit arrived later that day for a press conference outside the building. He remarked on the wider context of anti-Tory violence during the campaign:

Not far from the gutted building in Stoke Newington is a billboard poster which someone has tried to burn down – and four vans displaying Tory posters were set alight near Vauxhall bridge four days ago.

Inspector Peter Turner went on:

A mob of youths damaged cars bearing Conservative stickers outside Stoke Newington Assembly Hall in nearby Church Street earlier in the evening. But we are not linking the two attacks at the moment.

The Gazette also noted that the Fire Brigade had evacuated women and children from the council-run hostel for single mothers next door.

2. Who was Oliver Letwin and how did he end up in Hackney?

Thatcher with Letwin (right, front)

Letwin was born in London in 1956. His parents were conservative academics. He went to Eton and then Cambridge University. After a few years of academia, he joined Margaret Thatcher’s Policy Unit in 1983.

It was Letwin who recommended that the hated Poll Tax be road-tested on Scotland before being inflicted on the rest of the population. (Hackney had its own Poll Tax Riot in 1990 and was number one for non-payment at one point.)

In 1985 he stated (in private correspondence only recently released under the 30 year rule) that the Broadwater Farm riot happened, not because of endemic police racism and poverty, but because of “individual… bad moral attitudes” – and that this was the reason black people were apparently more likely to riot than white people. Therefore these areas should not be invested in as this would “subsidise Rastafarian arts and crafts workshops” and black “entrepreneurs will set up in the disco and drug trade.”. He has since apologised for this.

Letwin is a career Conservative who more recently worked as an advisor to David Cameron, where he distinguished himself by being photographed throwing away more than 100 secret government documents in public bins in St. James’s Park.

I’ve not been able to find out how Oliver Letwin came to be selected as a Conservative Party candidate in 1987. He mentions in his autobiography that he left Downing Street the day he was selected, but he doesn’t say how that happened. What had Letwin done to piss people off so much that he was given one of the unsafest constituencies in England? Journalist Terry Coleman followed him around on the campaign trail: “In the streets a few people yelled at Mr Letwin to fuck off”. The Independent mentions that “he was chased down the street by a knifeman“.

3. What about the election?

Terry Coleman’s book Thatchers Britain is a travelogue covering the 1987 election. The chapter on Hackney is interesting for a number of reasons, but one of them is that Letwin’s voting base featured two distinct demographics. The first were orthodox Jews in Stamford Hill (where Hackney’s sole Conservative councillors are today). The second were people who would usually vote Labour but weren’t going to this time because of the party’s new candidate – Diane Abbott: “‘You see the colour of my face?’, said one elderly white man. ‘That’s where I’ll be voting'”.

Abbott and the SDP-Liberal Alliance candidate both condemned the arson attack in the Hackney Gazette. These two clips show that a few days after the fire there was also vandalism against the Labour Party HQ and that of… Red Front.

The upper clip includes a classic Letwin gaffe: “I’m afraid it’s a very unpleasant place” [awkward pause] “to be campaigning”.

(Lefty trainspotter aside – Red Front was a brief electoral alliance between the middle class academics of the Revolutionary Communist Party and ultra-workerist anti-fascists Red Action. There is an excellent piece about Red Front at New Historical Express. Red Action have cropped up here previously because one of their members who lived in Stoke Newington was convicted for the 1993 IRA bomb attack on Harrods.)

Photo by Chris Dorley Brown on Flickr

The outcome of the 1987 election in Hackney North and Stoke Newington was definitive. Diane Abbott won with a 7,678 majority. She therefore became the first black woman to be elected to House of Commons and has remained in post ever since. Red Front got 228 votes.

4. So Whodunnit? (aka Wild Speculation)

As far as I’m aware nobody was ever charged with setting the fire, which has lead to some imaginative theories about the identity and motivation of the culprit.

Norman Tebbit was first out of the starting blocks at the press conference in front of the smouldering ruins:

One can only assume if it is arson it was an outrage perpetrated by the extreme Left. I don’t know whether by members of the Labour Party, or the SWP (Socialist Workers Party), or anything else. But what I do know is that all of us in democratic parties would deplore this sort of thing. I’m sure Mr Kinnock would deplore this extremely vigorously. I recollect his vigorous denunciation of violence during the coal strike.

Terry Coleman – Thatcher’s Britain: a journey through the promised lands (Bantam, 1987)

But there were much more dramatic suspects to point the finger at:

There was no real evidence of who did it. But just down the road, Anarchist posters were pasted on the walls. One said “Never Trust A Politician. They Always Lie”. Another, which showed a Rolls Royce being bashed in, said “Let’s Kick Out The Tories? Let’s Kick Them In”.

Terry Coleman – Thatcher’s Britain: A Journey through the Promised Lands (Bantam, 1987)

It’s undeniable that there was a huge counterculture of squatting and anarchist and animal liberation activism in Hackney throughout the 1980s. The account of the fly-posters seems real and people I have met reminisce fondly of consistent low level acts of violent subversion against Barclays Bank (hated for its investment in Apartheid South Africa), butchers’ shops etc. But glueing locks and a bit of fly-posting is several notches down from an arson attack on a major political party during an election, you’d think?

Letwin himself doesn’t hold back from speculating about the culprits in his autobiography:

As I came the next morning to the point on the road outside the headquarters, I could see that there was something wrong. Gradually, I focused on the fact that what was wrong was the headquarters building itself. Not to put too fine a point on it, the building wasn’t there any more. It- and all the hand-addressed election manifestoes within – had been burned to the ground.

It was considered to be a case of arson, and it seemed at least possible that whoever had done it might have been associated with, or perhaps inspired by, a now defunct organisation known as Class War. Class War (though not directly participating in the election on the grounds that elections were bourgeois conspiracies) had been campaigning actively under the perspicuous slogan “We will bomb, blast and burn every bourgeois out of Hackney”.

Oliver Letwin – Hearts and Minds: The Battle for the Conservative Party from Thatcher to the Present (Biteback Publishing, 2017)

It’s also undeniable that Class War were all over Hackney in 1987. Indeed, the edition of the Hackney Gazette which has the fire as its cover story also features, coincidentally, a full page article on Class War and its anti-yuppie campaign. Which itself raises an interesting issue with Letwin’s accusations above.

The language in Letwin’s quoted Class War slogan is a bit off – and I have not been able to find a source for it other than his book. Class War was infamous for its “tabloid” approach to propaganda and its unlikely that they would have used the word “bourgeois” – directing their bile instead at yuppies, cops and the rich. Similarly “bomb, blast and burn” seems like an incitement to individual terror that was out of step with the organisation’s fetishism for collective working class violence (like rioting) – and their understandable desire not to get nicked for incitement.

Also, oddly for anarchists, Class War did actually stand a candidate in the 1988 Kensington by-election – and more recently put up seven candidates in the 2015 general election.

I remain unconvinced that “people associated with” Class War in particular, or non-specific anarchists in general, burned down the Hackney Tory HQ in 1987. I think that’s a bit of neat scapegoating and misjudges the often wide gap between insurrectionary propaganda and actual anarchist deeds. Mind you, I doubt there were many anarchists who were upset by it at the time.

Just as plausible non-anarchist options:

  • Far right? Letwin is Jewish and as we have seen, ten years earlier fascists were trying to burn down Centerprise.
  • Disgruntled party activist? Being a Hackney Tory must bring its own tensions and internal disputes and who I am to discount an “inside job”?
  • Criminal/insurance? The front cover headline of the Hackney Gazette the week after was “Man Dies In Shop Blaze” which the paper feels could have been part of “a string of arson attacks” on empty shop properties in Dalston.
  • One of the countless victims of eight years of Thatcherism? The circle of suspicion would be quite wide in an increasingly impoverished borough, where Tories are told to fuck off in street or chased by knife-wielding assailants.
  • Spycop? Now, hear me out on this one! We know that Hackney was infested with Spycops in the 1980s and 1990s. Just six weeks after this fire, Spycop Bob Lambert was involved with an arson attack on a Debenhams store in Harrow as part of his infiltration of animal rights groups.

Short of a deathbed confession, it is unlikely we will ever find out…

With thanks to the lovely staff at Hackney Archives.

Hackney People's Press 1977

Part of an excitingly sporadic series, charting the radical history of Hackney through its community newspapers…

HPP started 1977 as a quarterly A4 newsletter and finished it as a tabloid monthly. This meant that an impressive six issues were published.

You can now view all six editions from this year in full as PDFs on archive.org  (and all the ones from 1976 too)

Each issue included listings for community and political groups which make fascinating reading.

Here are some other highlights from 1977:

HPP23-Feb-77cov

Issue 23‘s cover includes some dizzying references to price increases – Hackney People’s Press itself undergoing a two pence increase to 7p – and unhappiness about the rent on Hackney’s 26,000 Council homes going up by £2.50 a week. Whilst inflation means that these increases were fairly dramatic at the time, what is more interesting is that people felt that price increases should be apologised for – or resisted. These days they are often seen as a natural phenomenon like rain or the sun rising. Indeed the centre pages include a detailed account of several Labour councillors resigning – or being expelled – from Hackney Labour over protesting the rent rises.

Other bits in this issue:

  • An expose of the prospective GLC election candidate for Hackney Liberal Party, his connections with the National Front and views on immigration.HPP congratulates John Pilger on his cover story for the Daily Mirror on the state of Hackneys hospitals – including “fungus on the walls”
  • Hackney Women’s Aid open a new refuge.
  • Chats Palace – a new community centre in Brooksby’s Walk
  • Hackney Law Centre – a critical review of its first year.
  • An emergency supplement about the prosecutions under the Official Secrets Act that would become known as the ABC Trial. Crispin Aubrey, a founder of HPP, was one of the three journalists prosecuted.

Finally, a great cartoon on the back page encouraging people to get involved:

HPP23-Feb77-back

Issue 24 lead with a story on the forthcoming GLC elections and included a handy centre-spread on who not to vote for (National Front). Joan Margaret Morgan, Labour candidate for Hackney South was campaigning on a platform including “A Chelsea – Hackney Tube line” which sounds a bit like the Dalston Overground (opened 2010):

HPP24-May-77cov

Also in this issue:

  • “March Against Beynon’s Bill – Tory MP (and Hackney property owner) William Beynon wanted to restrict the upper limit to abortion to 20 weeks. (It is usually 24 weeks at the moment)
  • Hackney Homeworkers organise
  • More on Crispin Aubrey’s official secrets prosecution
  • Rio Cinema – “a concerted effort is being made to buy the Rio Cinema in Kingsland High Street. The idea is to turn it into a Centre for the arts and entertainment for the people who live in and around Hackney”
  • Hackney Marsh Festival
  • “Winkling” – property developers putting pressure on tenants to vacate
  • A letter from the allegedly racist Liberal Party member exposed in the previous issue
  • Concern about plans for a new lorry park in the borough
  • Friends of the Earth campaign for more allotments
  • Expansion of Haggerston Park – could some of it be given over to Gypsies?
HPP25-May-77-cov

The main story in issue 25 was a report on a demonstration opposing an election meeting held by the National Front in Shoreditch School on 30th April. At the time schools and other council buildings were obliged to allow their use for election rallies. An advert for the meeting in the Hackney Gazette lead to a walkout of journalists. Teachers, parents and other locals picketed the meeting. According to Dave Renton (in Never Again: Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League 1976-1982), there were about 500 protestors. Later that summer the NF would face serious protests when attempting to march through Lewisham.

An irreverent “Page 3” focussing on the cost of the Royal Family

Also in this issue:

  • Squatters under attack by the council free-sheet The Hackney Herald. The council rep interviewed by HPP doesn’t want to comment on how many empty homes there were in Hackney at the time.
  • Tenants on Morningside Estate getting a raw deal in the run up to the widening of Morning Lane.
  • Tenants on Frampton Park win control of their own community centre.
  • Looking back on the Metropolitan Hospital 1836-1977.
  • Hackney Teachers fight compulsory transfers
  • Poems from Hackney Writers Workshop (Centerprise)
  • A look back at “The People Take Back The Land” story from HPP issue 1.
  • Programme for Hackney Marsh Festival.

The September issue (the last of the bi-monthlies) leads with an arson attack on Centerprise – just two days after the National Front tried and failed to march through Lewisham.The article mentions other attacks on community bookshops at the time. Six weeks previously the shop had been vandalised with racist slogans and the locks glued.

Also:

  • “After Lewisham” on the anti-NF protest and its implications.
  • Critical support for the council’s “Health in Hackney” guide, distributed to all households – but reservations about funding cuts and rundown facilities
  • Fire Station on Brooke Road, Stoke Newington to become a community centre
  • An epidemic of apathy at Hackney Hospital Radio
  • Evening classes – Hackney Workers Educational Association
  • “Hackney Gasbag” – 8 page insert produced by Hackney children – squatting, hooliganism, skateboarding, Centerprise, National Union of School Students, Hackney history, live music reviews, puzzles, fashion – all the good things in life, basically.

November marked the first tabloid edition of HPP in a new monthly format – along with an apology for another price rise, up to 10 pence! The cover featured Hackney’s biggest march against racism and the National Front. This would be a long (and of course ongoing) battle – the NF opened up its National HQ in Shoreditch in the following year.

Other stories:

  • Homelessness – proposal for the formation of Hackney Community Housing Action Group to survey empty homes in the borough
  • Lenthal Road print workshop’s funding difficulties.
  • Latin America Centre opens in Hoxton Square.
  • Kingsmead tenants fight for renovations
  • Campaign to restore Wiltons Music Hall in Stepney
  • Longsight News, a community newspaper in Manchester being sued for libel by a policeman
  • Walking down the River Lea

1977 finished up with issue 28.

Lead stories on the Fireman’s strike, the council collaborating with anti-abortion hostel on Kyverdale Road, Stoke Newington, the possibility of a £5m grant for Hackney and Islington from central government – HPP is sceptical of the council’s ability to seize this opportunity.

And:

Cuts to pensioners organisation, Task Force, homelessness, criticism of John Pilger’s coverage of Hackney hospitals (also notes that the infant mortality rate in Hackney was 25% higher than the national average – “a crime against the people of Hackney”). Looking back at the first year of the Food For All on Cazenove Road (still there!) and the opening of a Womens Centre in the same building. Kids review comics.

Previously on this blog:

Hackney People’s Press: interview with Charles Foster

Hackney Peoples Press, 1976 – opposing the NF

Hackney Peoples Press, 1975 + Hackney Mental Patients Union

Hackney Peoples Press issue 10 1974

Hackney Peoples Press – the first three issues, 1973

Hackney Action (1972) – a community newspaper

Hackney Gutter Press 1972

Hackney Peoples Paper: 1971

January 2020 updates

While this blog has hibernated, others have been busy…

Rio Cinema Archive is an Instagram feed that features scans of photographs from a community project based at the cinema in the 1980s. It’s a fantastic resource that shows Hackney in all its glorious colours and includes documentation of number of protests:

1984 collecting for the Miners Strike Support Fund
Colin Roach protest outside Stoke Newington Police Station 1985
Sept 26 1983 saw a day of community action in Hackney to protest cuts to the NHS and hospital closures at St Leonard’s and the Mother’s Hospital on Lower Clapton Rd, pictured here is an effigy of Thatcher the milk snatcher outside St Leonard’s

The scanning is being done by friend of this site Alan Denney and is an ongoing project – at the time of writing just under 700 photos have been posted. There is an article from the Hackney Gazette about the project here.

Tamara Stoll’s Ridley Road Market is a lavish 248 page hardback book featuring archival and contemporary photographs.

“Ridley Road market is where the world meets. No one has captured its vibrancy and humanity better than Tamara Stoll. Her book is now the definitive record of one of the most historic and colourful street markets of London, if not the world.”

Ken Worpole, writer, social historian and Hackney resident since 1969

You can order the book direct from https://ridleyroadmarketbook.com/ and copies were available in Stoke Newington Bookshop last time I was in there.

On a related note, Verso have published We Fight Fascists: The 43 Group and Their Forgotten Battle for Post-War Britain by Daniel Sonabend. This is a very welcome account of the story of the Jewish ex-servicemen who fought British fascists on the streets of London after World War Two. It widens the scope of the Maurice Beckman’s seminal The 43 Group: Untold Story of Their Fight Against Fascism that Centerprise published in the 1990s. (Which remains essential and was the first book on the radical history of Hackney that I read).

Sonabend has done a great job of talking to other surviving members of the 43 Group who (understandably) sometimes had slightly different recollections to Beckman. There is a whole chapter of the book given over to 1947’s “The Battle of Ridley Road” in which The 43 Group (and Communist Party of Great Britain) fought physically with the fascist League of Ex-Servicemen for speaking pitches on Ridley Road over several weeks.

You can hear the author discuss the book and his research in this episode of the thoroughly recommended 12 Rules For What anti-fascist podcast:

Ken Worpole has kindly alerted me to the publication of A New World In Essex: The Rise and Fall of the Purleigh Brotherhood Colony 1896-1903 by Victor Gray:

A story of disappointed idealism set in late-Victorian rural Essex where a group of Christian Socialists from Croydon, inspired by the writings of Leo Tolstoy, went ‘back to the land’ to create a Utopian colony. This detailed study of an influential experiment in community living tracks their struggle to survive and the reasons for its ultimate failure.”

Ken has written an interesting account of Christian Socialists J.C. Kenworthy and John Bruce Wallace, both of whom are included in the book because of their connection with the Brotherhood Church in Hackney.

Ken is also interested in any information that might confirm that Kenworthy Road in Homerton is named after J.C. Kenworthy (as am I – now that I know about it!)

You can find our more about A New World In Essex – and order a copy – from Campanula Books.

Finally, I have failed to get to the Hackney’s Got Style: Celebrating the History and Impact of African and Caribbean Fashion and Hair exhibition at Hackney Museum so am relieved that it has now been extended to Saturday 21st March. Free entry, looks very cool, be rude not to:

Images from the Hackney Museum twitter feed

I also have a bunch of unfinished posts sitting here that hopefully will get done… sometime.

“Who Killed Colin Roach?” a film by Isaac Julien

Colin Roach was a 21 year old black man who was killed by a gunshot in the lobby of Stoke Newington Police Station on the evening of January 12th, 1983.

Amazingly nobody in the station seems to have witnessed the incident. The coroner declared it death by suicide, despite the police surgeon putting forward a number of serious anomalies that contradicted this view.

The Roach Family Support Committee organised its own enquiry, the outcomes of which were published as a book in 1988. They also organised a number of protests outside Stoke Newington Police station. The police response was typical of the times – Colin’s own father was arrested at one of the protests as were a number of other participants.

Isaac Julien is probably best known for directing the superb “Young Soul Rebels” (1991) a film about London youth culture in 1977. It includes a pirate radio station in Dalston (as well as a bunch of footage from Hackney if I remember correctly). The film is also notable for tackling the issue of homosexuality in the black community. It’s great, check it out.

Julien’s first film was “Who Killed Colin Roach?” (1983). It was made while he was still a student at Saint Martin’s School of Art:

“I stumbled into the story of ‘Who Killed Colin Roach?’: I was coming out of an East End jumble sale one Saturday when a march passed by protesting a death in police custody. It turned out that Colin Roach, the young black man in question, had lived quite near my home. Which meant, of course, that Mrs. Roach could have been my mother, that his family could easily have been my own.

This took me back to the radical workshops of my teens and the whole idea of the camera as a street weapon. So I wanted to make work that would embody dual perspectives. One of these would be inside the black families’ reactions to this death. The other would show responses to black community organizers. I insisted that my camera be engaged in the politics, so it was positioned very deliberately opposite traditional media.

This was at a time when video was still finding its language, when video art was still somewhat undefined. Yet I was determined to appropriate those early video-art techniques to make my campaign tape. I wanted to utilize this camera taken out of an art school context and repurpose its technology for the street.

I wanted to redirect the gaze of the ruling media. My real aim was to turn that gaze on the police, because in Colin Roach, they are the people rioting. That piece, in one way, was very much a local response, but it was also meant to contest some things I was being taught. Specifically, it was in reply to a tutor who had told me, ‘Isaac, no-working-class person will understand these films.’ Of course my works back then were just experimental films, scratches on film, really – and they were indeed quite arty. So part of me had been forced to think, Well…maybe she is right.

Colin Roach, however, was my demonstration against her view. It was made to say, ‘I can do the same work as you and I can tell a tale. But I can also make quite experimental things.’”

(Isaac Julien, Riot, MOMA, 2013, pp27-29)

The London Community Video Archive has published a fascinating interview with Julien where he talks about the film as well as his East End childhood (including problems with the National Front in Hoxton – and meeting members of the libertarian socialist group Big Flame):

Further reading:

Bob Darke on how to fight racism in Hackney, 1979

Bob Darke is best known for the 1952 book The Communist Technique in Britain about his disaffection with the Hackney Branch of the Communist Party. That’s been previously covered here.

Darke criticised the CP for its subservience to Stalinist Russia at the expense of working class issues in Hackney. So it was hardly surprising that after he left the party he continued to work as a bus conductor and focus on trade union and tenants issues:

I live in Nisbet House, Homerton, a block of council flats in the Borough of Hackney, where washing is always hanging on the lines on the verandas, and there are bicycles and prams in the tiled hallways and sheds. Such a block of flats in the East End is a world of its own, closer-knit than the luxury flats in the West End where, I imagine, a man can lock his door on his neighbours. But if, in the East End, you can’t keep your own business from the neighbours that also means that your circle of friends is all the wider.

The Communist Technique in Britain, p7

In the clip above he makes the case for strong tenants organisations being bulwark against racism and the spread of organisations like the National Front.