The 62 Group fought fascists in Hackney – now in a BBC drama

At an early 62 Group encounter outside Hackney town hall, Maurice charged at a huge fascist bruiser and smashed him to the ground. He then grabbed his jacket with such force that the lapels came away in his hands. “Next time you buy a suit,” he advised, “go to a proper Jewish tailor.”

Maurice Podro obituary, Daniel Sonabend – The Guardian

“The British National Party has a meeting on John Campbell Road. We formed up a flying wedge and charged at them. There were only about twenty or thirty of them and we kicked the shit out of them. They took their walking wounded to the Metropolitan Hospital in Kingsland Road, where there was a black doctor in charge in casualty, so they all came limping out again. We were waiting outside and helped them on their way again.”
62 Group member Tony Hall in “Physical Resistance: A Hundred Years of Anti-Fascism” by Dave Hann

 

This week the BBC announced a new TV drama had gone into production:

Introducing Aggi O’Casey and Tom Varey who lead in gripping new thriller “Ridley Road” for BBC One…

Ridley Road tells the story of a young Jewish woman, Vivien Epstein, played by Aggi O’Casey, in her first television role.

After falling in love with a member of the 62 Group, she rejects her comfortable middle-class life in Manchester and joins the fight against fascism in London, risking everything for her beliefs and for the man she loves.

Inspired by the struggle of the 62 Group, a coalition of Jewish men who stood up against rising neo-Nazism in post-war Britain, Vivien is working with them when she realises that Jack, her missing boyfriend (played by Varey) has been badly injured. Vivien infiltrates the NSM, a neo-Nazi movement which is becoming increasingly prominent in London. As Vivien descends further into the fascist organisation her courage and loyalties are challenged.

The series is based on the 2014 novel of the same name by Jo Bloom, who explained the idea behind her book to the Hackney Gazette:

“I attended a funeral of one of my mum’s oldest friends,” Bloom says. “My father and I were about to leave when we were asked to give a lift to an elderly man who had a problem with his hip.”

The man in question turned out to be Monty Goldman, a notable communist activist, who stood for election for Mayor of Hackney in 2002 and 2010 and for Parliament for Hackney South and Shoreditch in 1997 and 2005.

“In the car on the way to the nearest station, he and my father started talking about post-war east London where they both grew up,” she says.

The two men discussed the 43 Group, the anti-fascist group set up by Jewish ex-servicemen after World War II, as well as the 62 Group which was founded to fight the resurgence of fascism in Britain in the sixties. Whilst her father had not been a member of either group, he knew lots of people who had. And Monty had fought alongside both groups.

Mony Goldman (image courtesy of Hackney Museum)

Mony Goldman is a Hackney fixture who has stood as the Communist candidate in more local elections than most people have voted in. He’s got his hands dirty with street poltiics too:

“I always tried to keep out of getting hurt. I was sensible. If I missed our crowd of people, I wasn’t going to be a hero and fight ten blackshirts on my own. I didn’t mind one to one, there was nothing barred. You kick ‘em where it hurts!”

Monty Goldman interviewed for Foyles blog

 

The 62 Group were the successor organisation to the more well known 43 Group, who fought Oswald Mosley’s fascists after the 2nd World War. The 43 Group are reasonably well known with two excellent books and several documentaries available. The 62 Group are less well known but hopefully that can change now.

The 43 Group wound down in 1950, having smashed Mosley’s fascist Union Movement off the streets and given them a good hiding on several occasions at Ridley Road market in Dalston.

But as recent history shows, fascism rarely disappears for long:

Flyer for ill-fated neo-Nazi rally in 1962

“…within a few years, Mosley had already chosen London’s black community as a new prime target, while in 1962, the neo-Nazi activist Colin Jordan felt comfortable enough to hold a rally in Trafalgar Square beneath an eighty-five-foot-long, eight-foot-high banner reading ‘FREE BRITAIN FROM JEWISH CONTROL.’ This prompted the creation of the 62 Group, which intended to carry on the job of their predecessors.”

Marcus Barnett reviewing Daniel Sonabend’s 43 Group book for Jacobin

 

As Past Tense point out, the rally was disrupted by anti-fascists, some of whom had been members of the 43 Group. This would lead to the formation of the 1962 Committee, more commonly known as the 62 Group. In another post Past Tense also note the differences between the 43 Group’s membership and the new organisation:

While similar to the 43 Group in some ways, there were some marked differences. Britain in the 1960s was a different place to Britain at the end of the Second World War, and so the composition of the new group was different. As with the earlier organisation, the left and the Jewish community remained leading players in the wider anti-fascist movement; but the left’s influence in the Jewish community was beginning to wane. International events and demographic shifts were changing the nature of London’s Jewish community in particular. Thus the 62 Group was not dominated by the left in the same way that the 43 Group had been. Although some of those who set up the 62 Group had been involved in the 43 Group, a new generation was also becoming involved.

This is mildly disputed by at least one former 62 Group member:

“Don’t let anyone kid you that the 62 Group was an exclusively Jewish organisation, because it wasn’t. There were all sorts in it. The backbone of our part of it was the Stoke Newington branch of the Communist Party. They weren’t all members of the CP, but people associated with it, sympathisers, friends, villians, all sorts of people”

Tony Hall, quoted in “Physical Resistance: A Hundred Years of Anti-Fascism” by Dave Hann

 

Having said that, the group’s composition certainly created some problems for Hackney anti-fascist Gerry Gable:

“In Hackney, which had been a focal point of fascist and anti-fascism activity in the 1930s and postwar, people were getting together to prepare to resist the gathering storm. And it became my job to bring people from all sorts of backgrounds to cleanse the streets of the enemy.”

“I was chief steward of the North and East London Anti-Fascist Committee, a multi-racial group that included members from most of the political parties, including even some Young Tories from Stepney… Lots of us were workmates – I was a sparks [electrician] in the building trade as were some of my black mates. We would police building sites where racists were at work and clear them off the sites. Fascists had even been allowed to attend trade union meetings wearing their badges; we went along and tossed them out.”

“A new activist anti-fascist group, The 62 Group, was formed after Jordan’s National Socialist Movement rally in Trafalgar Square in 1962, but some of us could not, or would not, join as it was solely a Jewish organisation […] Although I qualified as Jewish because my mother was Jewish, my dad was a non-practising Anglican and I decided not to join. Nevertheless, the Leadership of the Group invited me to become one of its two Intelligence Officers, although I insisted on selecting my own team of people to engage in ‘special operations’.”

Gerry Gable, quoted by Past Tense


Gable would later be one of the founders, and longest serving editor, of the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight.

The 62 Group was even more clandestine than the 43 Group and did not publish a newspaper or make public statements unlike its predecessor. By 1963 the police estimated that the group had 200 members, with 70 in London (Nigel Copsey, Fascism in Britain).

Fascist rallies recommenced in Hackney in the early sixties along with racist graffitti, violent assaults on black and Jewish people and even an arson attack on a synagogue. Hackney police provided protection for fascist rallies and were unenthusiastic about investigting racist crimes.

I have so far discovered the following examples of 62 Group (and related militant anti-fascist) activity in Hackney from this era:

Hackney’s finest attack the Blackshirts on Ridley Road, 1962

31st July 1962: Former fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley has been assaulted at a rally in London’s east end. He and members of his anti-Semitic Blackshirt group were punched to the ground as soon as his meeting opened at Ridley Road, Dalston. Police were forced to close the meeting within three minutes and made 54 arrests – including Sir Oswald’s son Max.

A crowd of several thousand had gathered in the area, where Sir Oswald, leader of the Union Movement formerly known as the British Union of Fascists, planned to speak from the back of a lorry. As soon as he appeared from between two police buses the crowd surged forward and knocked Sir Oswald to the ground. […] He was met by a hail of missiles including rotten fruit, pennies and stones and people tried to storm the platform.

His speech was drowned out by continuous boos and a chorus of “down with the fascists”. Scuffles continued as Sir Oswald was shepherded to his car and his vehicle was punched and kicked as it drove off though a gangway cleared by mounted police. (BBC “On This Day”)

3rd August 1962: Despite a TV appeal by the Mayor for Hackney residents to keep away from Ridley road, by 7.30 about 1500 people had gathered at the corner of Ridley Road. Immediately he appeared, the crowd pressed in on Sir Oswald. He was pulled to the ground, punched and kicked. Fierce fighting then broke out, combined with shouts of “Down with Mosley, Down with Germany.” Mosley disappeared under a group of struggling, punching men and women, only to reappear and start hitting, fighting his way to a loudspeaker lorry. His words were drowned by the shouts of the crowd and the sudden cry of “Sieg Heil”– the victory cry of Hitler. Coins and tomatoes were thrown at the lorry, and Sir Oswald fought his way to a green car, just as the police stopped the meeting. Abuse was hurled at Mosley, but he forced his way into the back seat with a bodyguard on each side. The lorry of his supporters, surrounded by mounted police, made its way into Kingsland High Street. People on board were shouting “Two-Four-Six-Eight, who do we appreciate?” The ensuing cry of “MOSLEY” incensed the crowd, which chased the lorry. Shop windows in the High Street were broken as men and youths, chasing the lorry, clashed with police. (Hackney Gazette 3/8/1962 – quoted in Heroes Or Villains? by Anti-Fascist Action).

2nd September 1962: Hundreds of angry East Enders gave a stormy reception to Fascist meetings at Hertford Road, Hackney and Victoria Park Square, Bethnal Green. Both meetings were broken up the police, before they got out of hand. Sir Oswald Mosley’s Union Movement meeting at Victoria Park Square collapsed under a hail of stones, eggs and fruit, and resulted in over 40 arrests. Mr Jeffrey Hamm started the meeting with a few supportes. When Sir Oswald arrived about an hour later, the crowd had increased and eggs were being thrown. He climbed onto the speaker’s ‘platform’ – a lorry – and spoke for two minutes, but his speech was drowned by shouts of “Six million Jews! Belsen, down with Mosleyl” Then the police ordered the meeting to close. As Mosley moved away the crowed advanced towards his car and hammered on the windows with their fists. He was followed by his suporters, mainly teenagers, in the speakers lorry. Later, Mosley was reported to have said that he intended to hold more meetings. At Hertford Rd, the British National Party meeting, led by Mr John Bean the party’s acting secretary, was met with strong opposition by a large crowd of mostly Jewish people, and the twelve supporters were told to stop the meeting. In an address, Mr Bean, who was guarded by mounted policemen, said his speaker system had been ‘smashed’ and a Land Rover had been wrecked. Most of what he said was inaudible because of the heckling. Two of his supporters stood in front of him with bandaged heads. They had earlier been in a scuffle with anti-fascists in Kingsland Rd. Yellow Star held a marathon fillibuster meeting at Ridley Rd., Dalson, which 26 lasted all day, forcing the British National Party to hold it’s meeting a quarter of a mile away at Hertford Rd. (Hackney Gazette, 4/9/62 – quoted in Heroes Or Villains? by Anti-Fascist Action)

12th September 1962. 400 young people marched from Ridley Road to Whitehall to demand that incitement to racial hatred be made a crime. They walked in silence, some wearing the yellow Star of David, some carrying barriers urging “Black and White Unite”. (Layers of London)

16th September 1962: Followers of Sir Oswald Mosley fought a series of running battles with Hackney Young Socialist supporters and others in the Ridley Rd., Dalston, area on Sunday. The scuffles spread along Ridley Rd.l into Kingsland Rd. and nearby side streets as 50-60 police moved in and arrested 14 people, amomg them two juveniles. Sir Oswald’s plans to hold a rally were thwarted by Hackney Young Socialists who staged a day long meeting in the weekday market place. Instead, the Union Movement leader addressed followers in Hertford Rd., Dalston, a few hundred yards away. He spoke for some 25 minutes to an audience of his own supporters hemmed in by a tight cordon of police. This meeting passed off without incident. Then about 20 of his audience moved off to Ridley Rd. Shortly afterwards fighting broke out at the previously peaceful Ridley Rd. meeting. Police who were disbanding after the Mosley meeting were quickly called to Ridley Rd., as anti-fascists began actively protesting against the heckling Union Movement men, among them Mosley’s 22 year old son, Max. One young man wearing the Union Movement badge was chased along Kingsland High Street by other men, then trapped in a doorway 27 and pulled to the ground and pummelled before being rescued by police. Other clashes broke out in sidestreets as the Fascist supportes left the area. As the main party of hecklers tried to drive off in their car, other cars attempted to hem them in. More scuffles followed all over the road.” (Hackney Gazette, 18/9/62 quoted in Heroes Or Villains? by Anti-Fascist Action)

1963: Oswald Mosley’s Union Movement withdraws from street activity. The British National Party adopt a “flash mob” mentality for rallies and paper sales, avoiding publicity to minimise physical attention from anti-fascists.

January 1965: The Greater Britain Movement attempts to hold an evening rally at Ridley Road. Both the police and the 62 Group are attacked with pick axe handles and knives. Later that night GBM members are attacked at their Norwood Headquarters. (Searchlight’s History of the 62 Group by Steve Silver, available on Libcom.)

It’s worth mentioning that the 62 Group and other organsations were the militant tip of the iceberg of resistance to fascism in Hackney in the 1960s:

“I remember seeing Mosley at Ridley Road on the back of a tipper truck and everyone was throwing stuff at him. Not just your normal anti-fascist protestors but old mums, shoppers, everybody. I saw one woman take off her shoes and throw them at Mosley because that’s all she could find to throw. Other people were throwing eggs, pennies, organges off the stalls, anything they could lay their hands on.” 

62 Group member Tony Hall in “Physical Resistance: A Hundred Years of Anti-Fascism” by Dave Hann


Tony also mentions some rather more clandestine operations including home visits for people found doing racist graffitti, plumbing alterations to pubs that wouldn’t serve black people and covert mechanics on a Union Movement van on Balls Pond Road the night before a rally. He is also suitably sanguine about the results of the group’s hard work:

“There was a period when every Sunday morning they would turn up, get a punch on the side of the ear, have their papers thrown all over the pavement. They stopped trying after a while. Nobody could sustain that. This was done on the basis that violence worked. They were not going to come back to Hackney if they got a good kicking every time they showed their faces”

62 Group operations decreased in the late 60s, mirroring the downturn in far right activty. The group attempted to disrupt the inaugural meeting of the National Front in 1966 and the relaunch of the National Socialist Movement as the British Movement in 1968. These two fascist organisations, and Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech in 1968, would lay the foundation for the British far right in the 1970s, which would be opposed by different militant anti-fascist organisations….

It’s hard to know how the Ridley Road TV series will treat the heroic legacy of the 62 Group – it is after all just one element in the plot alongside the more romantic or mundane aspects. Hard to know also how the portrayal of militant anti-fascism will play out in the tedious culture wars we are living through. People upset by “cancel culture” may raise an eyebrow at what the good people of Hackney were doing to drive fascists off our streets in the 1960s…

2 thoughts on “The 62 Group fought fascists in Hackney – now in a BBC drama

  1. Pingback: Women in the Hackney “rag trade” (1980s) | The Radical History of Hackney

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