Stewart Home lived in Hackney in the 1980s and his fiction has often included London’s finest borough as a setting. His earliest novels took a sly dig at the anarchist and arty scenes here, mashing up techniques from the avant garde with pulp fiction from the 1970s.
The 9 Lives of Ray “The Cat” Jones is his fifteenth novel, originally published by Test Centre in 2014. (Around this time the publisher was operating a pop up space at the old Sea Scouts building on Stoke Newington Church Street – now a children’s nursery). I missed the original edition, but fortunately Cripplegate Books have republished the book.
“The Nine Lives of…” is a fictionalised autobiography, based on extensive research and conversations with people who knew boxer and cat burglar Raymond Jones. So… perhaps not something you would expect to read about on a website about the radical history of Hackney? Well, dear reader, I am pleased to say that your expectations are about to be confounded.
Ray grew up in the Welsh valleys and worked as a miner before becoming an infamous boxer and burglar in London. He lived at various locations in Hackney including Brougham Road (later to be an epicentre for squat punks and radicals), Colvestone Crescent and Cranwich Road, Stamford Hill (previously inhabited by anarchist Emanuel Michaels).
The author is not someone who thinks that all criminality is radical by nature and there are a number of amusing sideswipes at anti-social scumbags throughout the book. But by all accounts Ray Jones sustained a successful career as a cat burglar over several decades – and robbed purely from upper class poshos. In Home’s hands our hero becomes an entirely plausible class warrior – hellbent on revenge against a system that persecuted him and the working class as a whole. Ray even makes anonymous donations of wads of filthy lucre to causes like a miners’ benevolent fund back in South Wales.
There are a number of vivid accounts of daring raids on country mansions and even a couple of nail-biting prison escapes. This – along with some wry observations on London’s criminal subculture in the 1950s-1970s – is the heart of the book. It’s a proper page turner.
Jones went straight in 1972 at the age of 52 and set himself up as a market trader on Ridley Road. Throughout the story we are treated to a number of passing thoughts on world and political affairs and I found the juxtaposition of a reflective Ray and the unfolding political turmoil of 1980s London to be a ripping read. He even joins Hackney Anti-Poll Tax Union…
Home’s treatment of the subject matter is done sensitively and affectionately but without the cloying nostalgia that bogs down many a gangster memoir. He doesn’t shy away from some of Jones’ mistakes and regrets. At the other end of the spectrum there are some excellent demolition jobs on the scumbags of the aristocracy and judiciary who find themselves light of some jewelry or other luxury items after a daring visit from “the cat”.
Raymond Jones died in Homerton Hospital in February 2001 at the age of 84. One of his last wishes was for his life story to be published as a book and a film. The 9 Lives of Ray “The Cat” Jones is certainly a fitting tribute to the man.
“Daughters of Amazon” attack Hackney porn shop (1983):
Anti-Apartheid activists attack Barclays Bank on Green Lanes (1986).
Damage to property as direct action was reasonably common in the 1970s and 1980s. It had a dual function of “propaganda by deed”, where the business owner (and the community) were left in little doubt about the strength of feeling against them – and of course there was economic damage to the business too.
Furthermore, activists were able to claim responsibility anonymously through the underground and anarchist press via their political statements. The Angry Brigade excelled at this in the 1970s, with some very powerful manifestos – and one of their early targets was Barclays Bank on Stoke Newington High Street (now Stoke Newington Books) which was firebombed on October 26th 1970.
But most damage to property was far less spectacular than that meted out by the Angry Brigade. Indeed, the attraction of low level vandalism was precisely its accessibility – it was cheap and could be done by one or two people at night, etc.
In the 1980s Animal Liberation Front activists must have damaged thousands (if not tens of thousands) of butchers shops and other properties involved with animal exploitation in the UK. Common actions would be anything from graffiti, to glueing up the locks so that the building could not be accessed the next day.
Hackney based anarchopunk band The Apostles (who lived at Brougham Road E8, off Broadway Market) captured the spirit of this particular direct action subculture in their 1983 song “Pigs For Slaughter”:
“Glue the locks of all the banks and butchers – or kick them in, Spray a message of hate across a Bentley – or smash it up, Sabotage the meat in supermarkets – poison them all, Go to Kensington and mug a rich bastard of all his cash.
We’re knocking on your door, We’re taking no more, For this is Class War.
Put sugar in the petrol tank, Deflate the tyres with six inch nails, That’s the way to wreck a Rolls, So get stuck in it never fails. We’ll smash it up and we’ll bum it all down.”
The Apostles – pigs for slaughter
This kind of politically motivated damage to property seems far less common now, mainly because of the increased prevalence of CCTV, but also the laws around incitement are much harsher, so I think people that published manifestos or seemed to be encouraging this sort of thing might find themselves in far greater trouble with the law…
There’s probably a lot more to be written about this area, so any pointers about direct action generally in Hackney or Animal Liberation / animal rights activity in the borough would be welcome.
The obituary above appeared in Direct Action vol 7 #3, in March 1966. Direct Action was the newspaper of the Syndicalist Workers Federation, an anarcho-syndicalist organisation which operated from 1950 until the late 1970s. The SWF then became the Direct Action Movement before changing into the Solidarity Federation in 1994 – an organisation which is still active today.
Who was he? Everything starts with an “E.”
It’s easy to understand that a Jewish immigrant revolutionary might want to keep their personal details secret. Googling “E. Michaels” produces some good results in the anarchist archives, but that is only half of the story…
Fortunately there is only one “E. Michaels” listed in the death records for Hackney for 1966:
Was born in Plock, central Poland on 25 Sep 1890 (near enough to 1891 listed above?)
Emigrated to England at the age of ten in 1900.
Married Rosie Kitman (3 Apr 1892 – 14 Jan 1963) at Mile End in 1914.
Had four children (including Harry, as in the Freedom clipping above, which is reassuring)
Worked as a Tailors Presser.
Died 12 Feb 1966.
This seems to fit quite well with what we know from the obituaries above and the sort of lives that radical Jewish anarchists would be leading at this time. But I’m not an expert, so if any historians or genealogists out there have spotted any errors, let me know!
Update: a comrade has kindly supplied a passport photo of the handsome Michaels.
Anarchy in the East End!
Most of comrade Michaels’ political activity seems to have been in the East End of London in the first half of the 20th Century. He was involved with setting up a “free school” at 62 Fieldgate Street in Whitechapel, which also hosted The Worker’s Friend Club and the East London Anarchist Group. He was also the secretary of the prisoner support group the Anarchist Red Cross and is listed as a donor in a few issues of the London anarchist newspaper Freedom in the 1910s.
According to census data he lived at the following addresses too:
1911: 25 Hungerford Street, Commercial Road
1921: 73 Sutton Street
1939: 163 Jubilee Street E1
But what about Hackney, eh?
Michaels seems to have remained active up until his death. Sparrows Nest Archive has scans of some his letters from 1958 to 1964. Most of these are addressed to Ken Hawkes, the national secretary of the Syndicalist Workers Federation. Many of them mention meetings at Circle House, 13 Sylvester Path, E8. I’ve written about the Workers Circle and Jewish radicals in Hackneypreviously.
Michaels’ letters are largely administrative – donations, exchanges of publications, details of meetings etc. But the letterheads are invaluable:
Firstly, they tell us that Michaels was the Honorary Secretary of the Jewish radical organisations Freie Arbeiter Stimme (Free Voice of Labour) and Rudolf Rocker Publishing Committee. (Rocker was a German Gentile who became heavily involved with the Jewish anarchist movement).
Secondly, the letters show us where Michaels lived in Hackney. (This is my assumption, based on the nature of the addresses listed and that meetings etc seemed to take place at Circle House and not those on the letterheads). So it looks like Michaels lived at 12 Cranwich Road in Stamford Hill during the 1950s and then moved to “Morley House” N16 in 1961. Which no longer exists…
But! According to this useful blog, Morley House was one of the council blocks at the east end of Cazenove Road, Stoke Newington and was renamed Nelson Mandela House in 1984. There is a quote from Mandela on the side of it which can be seen here.
A diversion down Cazenove Road
According to Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner, Morley House was built in 1937-1938 “with a meanly detailed exterior, although the planning of the individual flats was generous at the time”.
Fourteen years after Emanuel Michaels’ death, the flats and exterior would see further anarchistic action.
Hackney Peoples Press reported that Morley House was due for renovation, which meant that:
“All the council tenants were moved out between 1978 and autumn 1979, and the estate was left almost completely empty.”
Perhaps inevitably some tenacious local people seized this opportunity:
“In November 1979 the first squatters started to move in, even though vandalism and thieving had reduced the building to a dilapidated eyesore.
By February 1980 approximately 80 flats were occupied and some residents approached Hackney Community Housing Resource Centre to ask about licensing the house. (A licence to occupy premises does not imply tenancy as such but makes the occupation authorised by the Council.)
They suggested a direct approach to the Council, and three Council Officers were invited to visit the estate and talk to same of the residents. These officers submitted a report to the Housing Management Committee on 31st March this year, and suggested the granting of a license through Hackney Community Housing (HCH). The Committee however, rejected the recommendations and decided to evict the residents – offering the property to HCH as short term housing instead.”
What followed was a bit of a standoff, with the Council refusing to back down and the squatters getting more organised:
“They held weekly meetings, formed themselves into an Association, cleared up rubbish, and met a number of councillors to discuss the matter. They also formally presented a deputation to the Housing Management Committee asking once again for a licence.”
That all probably seems pretty amazing to people who’ve tried squatting recently, but even in 1980, this was simply delaying the inevitable:
Six months later, the Council’s heavy squad made the 200 squatters homeless:
“Following two dramatic dawn raids by police the Morley House squat in Cazenove Road has had all its electricity and gas supplies cut off. At least 25 people were arrested, mainly on charges relating to the stealing of gas and electricity, but the police indiscriminately smashed through the doors of all the tenants on two of the blocks on the estate.
The first raid took place on 14 January and was made by a large number of police, accompanied by police dogs and gas board officials. The police carried no warrants and yet made extensive searches for drugs and stolen goods. Many doors were broken down in the raid, while others had 6-inch nails driven into their hinges to prevent tenants from re-entering their flats. Whilst searching the rooms the police took many photographs, presumably to be used later in evidence.
Using the excuse that many of the tenants were not paying for gas, the supplies to the estate were cut off, although electric cooking rings were brought in by the Gas Board for those who complained that they were in fact paying their gas bills. But in the early hours of the following morning, the police arrived again, this time with Electricity Board officials, and electricity supplies were cut off under the pretext that all the wiring on the estate was in a dangerous condition.
As a result of these raids about half of the 150 people who lived in the squat have been intimidated into leaving. Speaking to residents of Morley House HPP has discovered that these raids follow several months of police harassment. It is estimated that some 50% of the residents had been picked up by the police prior to the raids. Morley House has been a licensed squat for over one year. In that time Gas and Electricity officials have visited the estate several times, but have not ordered any repairs.”
I hope that Emanuel would have approved of the squatters, but you never know. It’s interesting that the block was subsequently renamed Mandela House – Hackney Council in the 1980s was eager to promote social struggles thousands of miles away, but renaming the block after Emanuel Michaels or celebrating the courageous battle of the squatters was off-limits…
If anyone reading this has more information about either Emanuel Michaels or the Morley House occupation, please do leave a comment or drop me an email.
As moral panics go, Acid House was pretty enjoyable all round. On one side, the press, politicians and police were able to whip themselves up into a frenzy about thousands of young people taking drugs and losing all respect for the laws of private property. On the other side, thousands of young people took drugs and lost all respect for the laws of private property…
Here is not the place to get into a comprehensive history of Acid House, so let me just say it was invented by Afro-American DJs in Chicago in the late 1980s. It was popularised in London from 1987 onwards by clubs like Shoom in Bankside, Southwark and Trip in the West End.
The appeal of the music, and the culture of its parties, smiley face t-shirts and use of drugs like 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA aka Ecstasy) was such that the summer of 1988 was dubbed “the second summer of love”.
By September 1988, the anxiety about Acid House had reached Hackney, with the cops going into conniptions about “a wave of warehouse parties” they claimed were “dangerous drug dens”:
This first press cutting mentions a party in Commercial Road, Shoreditch – and an attempt by ravers to resist the police spoiling their fun. This sets the tone for the next few years, when rave organisers played cat and mouse with the cops – so clubbers were never certain if advertised events would actually take place or not, which some would say added to the underground illicit vibe…
It’s interesting that the event above was shut down before it started “thanks to a tip-off from a neighbour”. The tensions between illegal raves (and to a lesser extent, pirate radio stations) and the working class communities where they took place, is under-explored in the literature about the heroic history of the music.
“…the area around Old Street and Hoxton was effectively “a desert” at the time, making it the best spot in London for warehouse parties, with plenty of suitable venues and barely any neighbours to upset.”
“Barely any” suggests that perhaps there were some – and I’m aware of several people living on estates in Hoxton and Shoreditch more recently who have been upset by clubbers making nuisances of themselves in the early hours. But that is London, really. Which of has hasn’t been woken up by a police helicopter, road rage, the neighbours having a wild one, or whatever…
By October, the police had used the Acid House hysteria to get funding for a task force “to break a suspected ring of drug pushers they believe are organising the illegal parties in Hackney” after “a surge” of events in the borough. Sounds fun!
The first victory for the task force would follow in November, when a curiously unspecified amount of drugs was seized in a car park in Wheler Street E1. 18 people were arrested, but it’s unclear what – if anything – they were charged with:
Once again, the piece above demonstrates the tenacity of the ravers in fighting for their right to party. Venue shut down? Screw it, let’s have a rave in this car park…
In a bizarre twist, by November the drugs squad were trying to play down the “hype” about Acid House in Hackney pointing out that there had been “no large scale seizures” of Ecstasy. It appeared that local residents were more bothered by smackheads in Haggerston than ravers.
This November clipping is also interesting because of the downplaying by the cops of the crack cocaine menace, which was also being hyped up in the press at the time. This is deeply ironic because Hackney police would soon become very familiar with crack:
In 1990, Hugh Prince was in a Dalston shebeen when it was raided by police. An officer ordered Prince into an empty, unlit room to be searched. When he refused, PCs Christopher Hart and James Havercroft threatened Prince with a sledgehammer and planted eight rocks of crack cocaine in his cigarette packet.
Danny Bailey is serving three-and-a-half years for intent to supply crack. He was planted with one rock by DC Peter Popham in Sandringham Road in 1991.
In 1992 Pearl Cameron would be sentenced to 5 years for conspiracy to supply crack cocaine. She revealed in court that she was supplied by a serving Stoke Newington police officer, later to be identified as DC Roy Lewandowski.
Maxine Edwards, who claims she was planted with crack by DC Beinard Gillan and PC Gerrard Carroll.
Cecil Forbes, who claims he was planted with crack by PC Chitty.
Val Howell, who claims she was planted with crack by DC Peter McCulloch.
Mohamadou Njie, who claims he was fitted up by PC Chitty and DC McCulloch for intent to supply crack.
By December, the cops were at pains to say that parties they had raided were not Acid House raves:
But little did the police know that this was only the beginning. The year would end with a bang…
Hackney wide-boy Wayne Anthony had taken Ecstasy while on holiday in Ibiza in 1987. He and his mates had then got the Acid House bug during a night at central London’s Heaven nightclub and set about organising their own parties in underused warehouses under the “Genesis” banner. These would be audacious occasions – some of the first large scale Acid House events. Their key dates were held in Hackney towards the end of 1988.
Anthony’s autobiography Class of 88: The True Acid House Experience is a wild ride that juxtaposes loved up ravers with a terrifying array of gangsters and ex-military security firms trying to muscle in on the action.
Discovering an empty warehouse with a capacity of 5,000 by the canal on Leaside Road E5, the crew set about preparing for a series of festive events. But things did not go smoothly:
The printer did us 500 flyers and we spent the whole weekend promoting the Christmas Eve gig. Then one morning, just as we were back in the warehouse slogging our guts out to get it finished in time, we were having a spliff break when the entrance door was booted in. It was the big skinhead bloke we’d met on our first visit there.
He had a sawn-off shotgun in his hand and was going berserk. ‘You nicked my venue, you cunts,’ he said. ‘Hold on a minute, mate. You either use that shooter or listen to what we have to say,’ I answered. ‘No, you fucking listen: this place is mine, do you understand?’ He walked up to me, pointing the gun at my head. ‘Look, calm down. You were meant to pay the deposit last week but never showed. What did you expect us to do?’ asked ANDY. ‘Where’s the owner?’ the skinhead said, lowering the gun. NUTT! I head-butted him square on the nose and grabbed the arm which held the shooter. Andy took a run and whacked him over the head with a lump of wood. He fell to the floor, dropping the shooter in the process.
Andy quickly picked it up and shoved it in his face. ‘Now you listen and you listen good. We don’t want any trouble. It’s your own fuckin’ fault you lost the gaff, not ours. If you want to see anyone about it see the guvnor.’ He nodded, and we slowly let him up. ‘You’re right, I’m sorry, mate. It’s just when I heard you were in here I thought you were taking the piss’ he said. ‘OK,’ I answered. ‘Look, you better go and not come back unless you want to start a war.’
Wayne anthony – class of 88
The parties were by all accounts an amazing experience for clubbers. Genesis used thousands of old car tyres that littered the building to build a UV lit entrance tunnel and bar area. Other decor included a huge Christmas tree, parachutes, netting, inflatables & some new white canopies stolen from a nearby building site. Wayne Anthony admits in his book to playing fast and loose with fire regulations and some physical confrontations with local gangsters though.
You can’t stop the music: 1989 onwards
Above: Genesis flyers – NYE 1988, 7th Jan 1989 (both Leaside Road) and 14th Jan 1989 (Waterden Road, Hackney Wick).
Genesis continued to organise raves throughout 1989 and 1990, many of them in Hackney. Wayne’s book explains the increased hassle that the crew faced as they became more successful and well-known.
Other promoters also came to the fore, so here is a random selection of their flyers too:
And the cops continued to play their part in the unfolding drama…
Hackney played its part in the subsequent evolutions of Acid House music too.
Hackney’s reggae soudsystem artists combined with the rave and hip hop scenes through producers like Shut Up and Dance to form the new genre ‘Ardkore, which then mutated into Jungle. Dalston’s legendary reggae nightclub the Four Aces transformed into Labyrynth in 1990 – one of the most legendary rave venues.
Anarchist squat punks took an interest in the new electronic sounds and got on board with acid techno and the free party scene:
But these other stories need to be told at greater length at some other time. It all started in 1988…
All Hackney ravers are welcome to leave comments below if they have memories of those times.
Write Women Into History: Recollections by older Hackney Feminists was published last year as part of the HOWL (History of Women’s Liberation) project.
HOWL was established in 2019 to mark 50 years since the earliest UK Women’s Liberation Groups were formed and to:
“reveal and collect the wealth of stories by grassroots women from diverse backgrounds who were part of this important movement”
The fourteen contributors met online during the lockdown to discuss their lives, their writing and to draw each other for the cover artwork.
The resulting booklet is nicely produced with a great variation of styles from diverse contributors and numerous photographs and illustrations. I especially enjoyed Sue O’Sullivan’s recollections of the Sheba feminist publishing collective in 1980s Dalston, BJ & MJ’s dialogue about their mother/daughter relationship and Gilli Salvat on the first UK black lesbian support group – but there is something of interest on every page. (I was also excited to see a chapter by my next door neighbour – hello!)
The concise (and very readable) contributions tend to focus on the positive (and frankly we all need a bit of that). So this isn’t the place for extended accounts of fallings out and schisms. There are some simply stated differences though. For example Stephanie Henthorne’s “political lesbians (what was that all about?)” is perhaps affectionately at variance with Jan S’s “For me, heterosexuality seems incompatible with feminism”.
I think the most striking aspect of the book is the general impression it gives of the oppressions women faced in the late 20th Century in the UK, the courage it took to join a movement that was battling them – and the fun that could be had being part of that. Of course, some progress has been made since – not least because of the hard work done by the contributors and their allies in the feminist movement. But if you’re reading this, I’m sure you’d agree that there is still a long way to go – so it’s gratifying to see that many of the Hackney HOWLers are still active in a number of radical projects today.
Wolcott was a four-part TV drama produced by Black Lion Films. 13 million people watched when it was broadcast – on ITV, 13th-15th of January 1981. There were no repeats.
The show was shot in and around Hackney. Its locations and cast of up and coming Brit actors give it a certain cachet for middle aged nostalgics like myself. (Black Lion Films also produced the better known Bob Hoskins gentification-of-old-London feature film The Long Good Friday, released in the same year.)
Detective Constable Winston Churchill Wolcott is a recently decorated plain clothes copper who has been reassigned to a troubled, but unnamed, London borough. He’s played by George William Harris (now best known for his role as Kingsley Shacklebolt in the Harry Potter franchise). The police station is “played” by, er, Hackney Town Hall, disorientatingly:
The series was directed by Colin Bucksey (later to direct some episodes of Breaking Bad) and written by Patrick Carroll and Barry Wasserman (who would later be a huge figure in music videos – see the link for a 2014 obituary). All three were white, and both writers were American, which raised some eyebrows – but more of that later.
Plot & Locations
Wolcott is promoted to Detective Constable after single-handedly foiling an armed robbery. His reward is also to be transferred to an all-white police station in inner London. On the way to the station, he walks past Caribbean House and is admired by some young women:
Wolcott’s reception by his new colleagues varies from cold, to out and out hostility. He finds a toy monkey bearing a racist slogan in his locker. Christopher Ellison (later The Bill’s DI Burnside) plays a sneaky bent cop. Rik Mayall plays a thick racist cop. In an early scene, an Asian man at the is interrogated by the station’s reception desk officers whilst bearing a head injury – in a chilling echo of the death of Michael Ferreira in 1978.
There is a brittle relationship in the district between established white gangsters and newer black criminals – who in turn have a complicated relationship with the local black community: “I don’t know if you want to be Malcolm X – or Fagin!”
The main Black baddie Reuben Warre is played expertly by Raul Newney, assisted by a flamboyant rollerskating character named “Headphones” played by Archie Pool, who was a fixture of classic Black British films like Pressure and Babylon.
There are also some not-so-great portrayals of Jewish nightclub owners and betting office managers. In Wolcott, young women are mainly decorative and old women mainly victims of violence, as was fairly typical of TV of the era. The female lead is a sassy American liberal journalist played by Christine Lahti, who operates as Wolcott’s fractious sidekick and local guide.
Episode one features some local street politics:
Alexei Sayle did a wonderful turn as a Socialist Worker-type street orator being heckled by Keith Allen’s Hackney NF yob. This sequence was filmed on location in Dalston’s Ridley Road Market: a site we thought apposite, as it had been the scene of anti-fascist/Mosley-ite clashes in the 1930s.
(As far as I know, the NF never dared sell papers in Ridley Road in the 1980s, favouring Brick Lane and Islington’s Chapel Market instead).
Episode two includes cricket action on Hackney Marshes and crown green bowling action which might be in Clissold Park or Springfield Park? The Shiloh Pentecostal Church on Ashwin Street, Dalston also features with its distinctive red exterior.
Episode three has a scene at a posh garden party in Hampstead with some conspicuous anarchist squatter punks:
There’s also a large carnival procession which I assume was a real event that the TV crew tail-ended? You also get a scene in F Cooke Eels of Hoxton Street.
Episode four is set mainly at night, which make it quite difficult to discern the locations. There is some action by the canal though.
Throughout the series there are various estates (Haggerston West?), pubs, streets and lock ups that I’ve not been able to identify – if you can: please leave a comment below!
Wolcott: The Verdict
Producing groundbreaking TV in the midst of a culture war will win you few friends.
The critical reaction to Wolcott was, to put it mildly, mixed. Opinions ranged from that of a Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan police who had been asked to vet the scripts and who told us sourly that the entire enterprise was a straight forward party political broadcast for the Left, to the opinion expressed by the then television critic of the Observer that the production looked like it had been financed by the National Front.
Listings magazine the TV Times was characteristically uncritical and gushing:
“He’s big, he’s black. In his own unequivocal terms he’s a ‘classy dude’. The name is Winston Churchill Wolcott and he is Britain’s first black television detective to get a show of his own.”
Brenda Polan in The Guardian noted that “The storyline… is slightly slowed by the necessity to fill in the sociological details for a television audience mostly used to seeing black actors as shallow stereotypes.”
Hackney Peoples Press didn’t really agree, pointing out that in the show “the black population of Hackney was seen to be almost entirely composed of drug-dealers, muggers and criminals – and other racist stereotypes”. The same article reported that Hackney Council for Racial Equality would be taking the matter up with the production company, ATV.
A more in depth critique came from four black film makers – Imruh Caeser, Henry Martin, Colin Prescoed and Menelik Shabazz. Their initiial thoughts appeared in this review:
A longer piece by the four appeared in Grass Roots: Black Community News – this was then reprinted in two books dealing with black representation and racism in the British media:
“For years we’ve complained that we are grossly under-represented in TV drama, documentary and popular entertainment. And for years our actors have complained that they should be offered full character parts, rather than female servants, studs, and crowd fillers. But if Wolcott is a sign of the band-wagons being offered for exposure and stardom – we must refuse and so must our actors.
Wolcott was written and produced to a formula, and although it looked as though it was shot on location in London’s black community, it was really not about nor in the interests of any part of the black communities in Britain. Black viewers will have recognised the faces, but not the lines – black youth don’t sit in parks chanting ‘pig, pig, pig, pig…’ when police, black or white, walk past.”
Patrick Carroll’s addresses some of these concerns in his essay:
“The idea of presenting genuine (as opposed to cardboard cut-out) black villains and disaffected African-Caribbean youths was seen as provocative and, paradoxically, by some as a betrayal of the cause of racial equality. There were, of course, a few vociferous sections of the black community holding that we, as white writers – and Yanks to boot – had no right to even approach the subject and its characters. We thought at the time ‘the hell with that!’ and I still do.”
Carroll goes on to suggest that the black actors on the show had more agency than its critics might have believed:
“Perhaps the most inane comment on the show came from Trevor Phillips… when he complained that some of the black actors’ accents were inconsistent. It didn’t seem to have occurred to Phillips that this was intentional, the writers and actors being aware – as any reasonably wide-awake school teacher could have told him – that the intonations used by an African-Caribbean adolescent when speaking to his parents, peers, pastors, police, teachers or any other authority figures were so different as to constitute separate languages. What several of the black actors who had incorporated this knowledge into their portrayals had to say about Phillips after hearing his remarks is even now unprintable.”
The original plan for a 13 part series never came to fruition. Carroll suggests, plausiblly, that this was partly because of the wide-ranging negative responses to the pilot, with some secondary issues around the restructuring of ATV’s franchise.
Wolcott, since its first and only network broadcast, became a skeleton pushed into the furthest recesses of the British television closet. Halliwell’s Television Companion contains no entry for Wolcott while erroneously naming the BBC series The Chinese Detective as the first police drama to feature an ethnic minority hero.
A no-frills Wolcott DVD and Blu-Ray was released in 2015, with the publicity majoring on Rik Mayall’s involvement. Mayall had died the year before, but only had a minor role in the series. A Sight and Sound review by Robert Hanks noted:
“The American writers… bring an awareness of the interaction of policing and politics rarely found in British cop dramas, even if the detail is not always convincing. The sexual politics have dated worse than the racial; towards the end the plot feels rushed and illogical. But it is still a very welcome rediscovery.”
My own view is that Wolcott is an incredible curiousity. It has merit simply on the basis of being a visual document of Hackney in the early 1980s. Its problems – and there are many of them – are partly balanced out by the discussions it provoked. The criticisms of well-meaning white liberals by black radicals are essential reading and an indication of a generation finding its own voice and not taking any shit. I don’t wholeheartedly agree with all of Patrick Carroll’s reflections, but his sincerity and affection for a bold project he was involved with 40 years ago is compelling.
But you can make up your own mind, dear reader. At the time of writing all four episodes of Wolcott are available to watch for free on Youtube, or very cheap on the British Film Institute site.
This week Kevin Blowe (formerly of Newham Monitoring Project and now of police monitoring group Netpol) posted a remarkable letter from Chief Superintendant Bernard Taffs from 1994:
The letter is well worth reading in full, so here it is:
According to CARF (Campaign Against Racism & Fascism #26 June/July 1995), the Police Complaints Authority described the letter as “ill-conceived, inappropriate… offensive… totally unacceptable”.
But this was not a one-off. Kevin also posted a letter from Taffs to The Indepedent slagging off Hackney Community Defence Association (HCDA):
I AM NOT, nor have I been, Chief Superintendent of Stoke Newington. PC Mark Moles was not and never has been in any way connected with the Burke case (‘Wrong side of the law’, Review, 21 November).
You purport to be a national newspaper, not an extremist group like the Hackney Community Defence Association (HCDA): H – they are not Hackney people, C – they are not community-based people, D – they attack not defend, A – they are a narrow, highly secretive group and are not open and fair.
When you rest your head tonight you may care to recall that my decent, courageous, hard-working police officers will be on Hackney’s streets trying to keep the peace against the background of your diatribe.
Hackney & City Road
police stations, London E5
(this is dated 2011 on the Independent website but I think it was probably originally published in the mid 1990s).
Defenders of the police usually start by denigrating their victims – and then proceed to claim that inarguable corruption is the work of a few lone rogue officers. And perhaps that is sometimes true, but sometimes it is also the symptom of a wider culture of corruption and negligence.
Indeed – Hackney Community Defence Association had called for Taffs’ resignation after a string of cases of police brutality had been revealed in 1991:
Following the verdict, the Hackney Community Defence Association, a police watchdog group, called for the resignation of Hackney’s commanding’ officer, Chief Superintendent Bernard Taffs. ‘The issue isn’t a few rogue, officers out of control; there’s something desperately wrong at City Road .station and there should be a. public inquiry,’ said spokesman Graham Smith. ‘Taffs has to take responsibility for his officers.’
Alas, Bernard Taffs was simply following in the footsteps of other senior Hackney policemen…
Commander David Mitchell, the NF and Tariq Ali
Mitchell was appointed as Hackney’s Police Commander in 1979, having previously worked as Chief Superintendent in neighbouring Islington. A puff piece in the Hackney Gazette at the time revealed that he considered the widely criticised “Sus laws” which allowed cops to stop and search black youths with impunity as “a very good law”.
Shortly after his appointment, veteran left winger Tariq Ali wrote about meeting Mitchell at the opening of a restaurant where the top cop was under the influence:
“The opening conversational gambit from Mitchell was characteristic of the man: ‘Why do your lot give us so much trouble?’ I asked whether he was talking of blacks in general or the Anti-Nazi League. The Chief Superintendent was not bothered about such fine distinctions.
‘The problem,’ I said, ‘is the phenomenal degree of racism in the police force. You know that a whole layer of police officers are sympathetic to the fascists.’ […]
David Mitchell once again responded in an open and frank fashion: ‘Yes you’re right. There is sympathy for the [National] Front.’ A silence enveloped the area where we were standing and talking. Everyone was now tense and alert.
Mitchell continued: ‘And why not. They’re the only party that speaks up for Britain.'”
Ali’s account could easily be dismissed as lefty rabble-rousing, were it not for the fact that the conversation had been overheard by a Hackney councillor and two journalists from the Evening Standard. Mitchell denied he had said any of this, but was dogged by calls for his resignation:
In the clippling above Mitchell distinguishes himself further by saying that he “should not be too concerned with what minority groups think”. His support for the widely criticised paramilitary Special Patrol Group also made him unpopular with the community:
Commander David Mitchell drafted 5 units of the SPG into Hackney, apparently to quell the rise in street crime. According to a special Campaign Against Racism and Fascism Report on Hackney: “There was no consultation with the community. Indeed as resentment against Mitchell’s aggressive tactics grew, the leaders of the community refused to consult with him. An outspoken black councillor called for ‘total non-co-operation’ with the police whilst West Indian youth at Dalston’s Cubies Club barred his entry when he came to address a meeting… (Mitchell’s) policies played no small part in the eruptions of July” (Searchlight, March 1982)
From ‘Policing In Hackney 1945-1984’ a report commissioned by The Roach Family Support Committee
Commander Bill Taylor and the death of Colin Roach
Bill was literally a poster boy for the Metropolitan Police, his face was put to use in their recruitment ads in newspapers. The wags at Hackney Peoples Press subverted the text for their own non-advert:
Taylor was in post in late 1982 and would soon be busy. On January 12th 1983, Colin Roach, a black youth, died of a gunshot inside the foyer of Stoke Newington police station. The Jury at the Inquest would later rule Roach’s death was suicide, despite there being no forensic evidence linking the gun to him – and apparently there being no witnesses to the shooting.
Commander Taylor was criticised by Hackney Council for Racial Equality for stating that whilst he recognised there were tensions between the community and the police “there was no racism in the force”.
The death of Colin Roach led to weekly demonstrations calling for a public inquiry outside Stoke Newington police station. Many of these demonstrations were attacked by the police. Colin’s grieving Father James Roach was arrested at one of them as was a Hackney Councillor. Mr Roach was charged with obstructing the arrest of another demonstrator but the case against him collapsed because of glaring inconsistencies in police testimony.
The existence of Spycops- undercover police officers who report on and infiltrate left-wing, radical and anti-racist organisations has been happening since at least the 1970s in north-east London. From time to time the role of particular individuals is exposed.
The latest round of hearings in the long running (& on its current timescales never ending) Spycops Inquiry in London which is covering the period of the 1970s and early 1980s has posted on it’s a website a mass of documentation.
One report relates to a meeting on 24th August 1983 between an unnamed officer and DCI David Short of the SDS (Special Demonstration Squad):
The meeting discussed a replacement for Spycop HCN108 who was to be Spycop HCN88 because of what it describes as ‘continuing problems’ in Hackney and Stoke Newington.
Interest was expressed in 50 Rectory Rd N16 the HQ of…
Hackney Broadcasting Authority was an illegal community radio station that hit the airwaves on Saturday 4th October 1986. Its programmes included the Battle of Cable Street, arranged marriages, women’s safety on housing estates and Latin American music and history. HBA then ran weekly shows on Saturdays from 12pm-5pm.
Unfortunately no audio recordings of the project seem to exist, but if you know of any (or can add any more info to this post) please do get in touch.
In the era of “on demand” video and podcasts, it’s difficult to visualise a time when media was so finite. But in the olden days radio was broadcast on particular frequencies and the state controlled which organisations could legally operate. Obviously the authorities had their own ideas about what sort of people and material should be on the radio, which led to campaigns from marginalised groups for acceptance – both in terms of coverage by the existing broadcasters such as the BBC and also for new radio stations.
The 4th of October date was the result of a call to action by the Community Radio Association, a pressure group who wanted more diversity on the airwaves. This press cutting from AM/FM (the London eighties London pirate radio site) gives a bit more info on the October 4th day of action and HBA:
HBA’s press release from the time made their stance clear:
“There’s no option. It’s either sit around for another three years and hope for community radio, or start to do something about it”
Quoted in Grant Goddard’s book on Kiss FM
Unfortunately HBA’s chosen frequency of 94FM was adjacent to the much more powerful Kiss FM (then still a pirate, but gained a license in 1989 after jumping through many hoops).
Hackney Broadcasting Authority’s eventual application for a legal license to broadcast seems to have been supported by Hackney Council and the anarchist pamphlet Radio Is My Bomb mentions that the station had two paid workers. It would appear that unlike Kiss FM, they were not successful in gaining legal permission to continue with their shows.
The AM/FM site quotes an amateur radio magazine from the 1980s:
After a promising start. looking as if they were going to succeed where many others have failed before, HBA have been off the air recently. This is due mainly to technical problems as none of the staff have had any previous experience of unlicensed broadcasting. It’s also been reported that there have been a few disputes between individual members of the team, which has been the downfall of many similarly minded groups.
Police violence against Hackney’s afro-Caribbean community in the 1980s and 1990s is a matter of historical fact, but of course the cops’ racism and criminality didn’t end there…
In 1989 over 4,500 refugees had come to Hackney fleeing the war in Kurdistan. They joined another twenty to thirty thousand Turkish-speaking workers in east London. Almost none of these workers were unionised and no major union had thought to change this. For example, none had ever appointed a Turkish speaking official. But some of these refugees had brought revolutionary traditions from the cities and villages of Turkey and Kurdistan – and they arrived in Hackney at a point where a lot of people were open to political struggle and solidarity.
The 1991 census figures showed that 10,500 people in Hackney worked in manufacturing (as opposed to 12,000 manufacturing jobs solely in the clothing industry in 1981 – and just 3,000 in manufacturing in total in 2019). Many of these jobs were in the textile sweatshops which were dotted around the borough. (See our previous post on working conditions in these for women in the early 1980s)
1989: Protests Against Deportations
On Monday, February 27 1989, the police raided a number of factories in Hackney and arrested 38 Kurdish and Turkish workers. By the next day, seven had been deported and a further fourteen were under threat. This action came in the wake of a wave of raids across North and East London.
The Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) clothing branch alongside community and political groups organised immediate protest action: a mass picket of Dalston police station on March 4th. This was followed by a 3,000 strong march the next day and an International Women’s Day march through Hackney under the slogans ‘No Worker is Illegal’, ‘Right to Settle, Right to Work’, ‘No More Deportations’ and ‘No to Police Raids’.
Hackney Union News reported at the time:
Factory bosses have used this background [of anti-immigrant sentiment and police harassment] to intensify exploitation. They have been met by increasing struggles over the right to organise in trade unions, and over wages and conditions.
These struggles have led to the formation of the North and East London TGWU textile branch no. 1/1312. The branch will require committed support from the TGWU against the attacks it will face, including trade unionists being shopped to immigration authorities by employers, and in the battles that lie ahead over recognition.
Hackney Union News May/June 1989
1/1312 branch was formed at the initiative of the political organisation, the Union of Turkish Workers, with the assistance of Hackney Trade Union Support Unit and Service Workers Advisory Project (SWAAP). One year later, it had recruited almost 600 workers locally…
1990: Bacton Fashions strike
Bacton Fashions in Someford Grove, Dalston, was a relatively large clothing sweatshop employing up to 90 workers. It was located in an industrial unit along with other clothing sweatshops. Workers from the different firms used the same entrance to go to work.
Most of Bactons workers were Turkish or Kurdish, had been living in Britain for less than a couple of years and were waiting for a Home Office decision on their rights to remain in the UK. Within the factory there were some members of TGWU’s new 1/1312 textile workers branch.
A series of small-scale strikes had led to a union recognition agreement being signed at Dizzi Limited in nearby Well Street. There were regular leafleting sessions of factories and meetings on workers’ rights at community centres.
The workers at Bacton Fashions had many complaints about low pay, long hours, terrible health and safety conditions, no holiday or sick pay, victimisation, continuous lay-offs without pay and a management prepared to act dictatorially.
When eight workers at Bacton Fashions refused to accept being ‘laid off’ they began picketing. Appeals to other workers to respect their picket line were met sympathetically, but little else. The employer, Mustafa Dill, was sufficiently embarrassed to re-employ the workers and to agree to lay off pay during slack periods. However, he kept breaking his word and there were almost daily walkouts over the next few weeks, as agreements were reached then broken once again.
During a longer strike, it became traditional at the end of the working day for workers from all the firms in the industrial unit to join with the strikers and jeer and handclap the boss and his managerial team as they left work. There was no violence, although tensions were clearly running high and up to 400 people were involved in this daily humiliation of the boss and managers.
The TGWU itself was unhelpful.
On February 26th 1990 the evening picket of about 100 people was attacked by the paramilitary Territorial Support Group of the Metropolitan Police. There was a fierce fight, during which the police were initially chased from the scene, before re-grouping and attacking the pickets and their supporters.
Four pickets (all Kurdish refugees) were arrested and charged with riotous behaviour and actual bodily harm. They faced possible deportation if convicted.
Around 150 people picketed Dalston police station until 5am in the morning.
Only ten people crossed the picket line the next day, forcing Bactons to close.
A campaign to defend “The Bacton 4” was launched at a demo of 400 on April 7th. The campaign helped to secure ‘not guilty’ court verdicts for all four arrestees when their case came to trial in October 1990. It emerged that Special Branch had visited Bactons and showed the security guard photographs of recent demonstrations in London against a visit of Turkish leader General Evren – these photos apparently originated at the Turkish Embassy.
One striker later received a five figure sum in damages for what had happened to him during the police assault.
Bactons was eventually forced to close permanently, only to re-open under a different name and at a different location later. Picketing and a refusal by workers to work there led to its closure again.
As Mark Metcalf of the Colin Roach Centre put it:
While the workers lost their poorly paid jobs they achieved a degree of success showing the employers that they could not do everything they wanted and needed to take the workers needs into account when making decisions. The workers established a pride in fighting back; they closed down the factory and demonstrated they had the power to not only damage the employers’ profits but get rid of it!
1991: Solidarity Strike
On January 3rd 1991 over 2,500 London textile workers took solidarity action with their fellow workers on general strike in Turkey on the same day.
As Socialist Organiser reported:
“Factories in Shacklewell Lane, Somerford Grove, Victorian Grove, Tyssen Street, Tudor Grove and Arcola Street were virtually empty as workers refused to cross picket lines.
At 1.15pm, four vans were driven at speeds of over 70mph to the Halkevi community centre on Stoke Newington High St, and officers jumped from the vehicles to race into a crowd of around 120. Five people were grabbed and when friends tried to stop their arrests, around 20 police officers drew their truncheons and batoned people to the ground, arresting them as they fell. One woman meanwhile went to St Barts hospital with a broken leg.
At 2pm a crowd of 150 went to protest outside Stoke Newington police station and when in protest 30 sat down, on the other side of the road to the station, the police paramilitaries of the Bow TSG rushed across the road and violently arrested dozens of people. Others fled, but were pursued by the police in all directions.
Many people were arrested with the police paying special attention to those with cameras, and one young Kurdish man was rugby tackled to the ground, beaten, and his camera taken away.
62 people were arrested with four being taken by the police to Homerton hospital. Access to the casualty department was denied by police at the entrance.
At 6.30pm over 300 people, mainly Turkish and Kurdish, returned to Stoke Newington police station and remained outside singing and dancing until their friends were released. 29 people have been charged with a serious public order offence.
Many were beaten whilst in police custody. The arrestees were helped by Hackney Community Defence Association, which noted several incidents of TSG violence in Hackney the Summer 1991 issue of its newsletter Community Defence. HCDA characterised the January 3rd arrests as revenge for the confrontations at Bactons – and a raid on a gig at Chats Palace as revenge for the Hackney poll tax riot in March 1990:
The facts speak for themselves. TSG officers have an image of themselves as an elite force, and they behave as if answerable to nobody but themselves. There is a certain inevitability that wherever they go, trouble is sure to follow.
Two of the arrestees, Haci Bozkurt and Baki Ates, both 34 and from Stoke Newington, received a great deal of press coverage when their cases eventually came to trial five years later. Both had been granted political asylum after fleeing Turkey to escape police violence and persecution:
“The court was told that in January 1991 the men had been part of a group outside a community centre in Stoke Newington. They had gone to the centre to get news of the general strike then taking place in Turkey. Police were dispersing the crowd when disorder broke out.
Mr Bozkurt asked why a young man was being violently arrested, the court heard. He was then kicked and punched and dragged into a police van. Mr Ates complained about Mr Bozkurt’s treatment and he was grabbed and punched in the eye by PC Michael Fitzpatrick, the jury was told. “It felt like my eye exploded,” he said. He too was put in the van, where he was assaulted again. Both were handcuffed. Mr Bozkurt was also punched by PC Fitzpatrick, tlie court heard, and his nose was fractured. He received multiple injuries, Police said that he had fallen flat on the pavement during the fracas.
Both men were taken to Stoke Newington police station and were eventually seen by doctors. They were sent to hospital, where Mr Ates was found to have suffered a lacerated eyebrow and severe bruising to his eye, which was described by the doctor as a classic boxing injury.
The two men were charged with violent disorder. At Highbury Corner magistrates court in May 1991 no evidence was offered against Mr Bozkurt. Mr Ates was acquitted.”
Guardian Weekly June 23rd 1996
The jury found that the men had suffered false imprisonment, wrongful arrest and assault. Both were awarded £55,000 exemplary damages. Mr Ates received an additional £22,000 compensation and Mr Bozkurt £18,250. A total payout of just over £150,000.
Their counsel, Ben Emmerson, remarked:
“This country should have been a safe haven, but they were arbitrarily arrested, beaten and injured and then prosecuted on trumped-up charges”. Predictably, no disciplinary action has been taken against any of the officers involved and they remain on duty.”
Guardian 14.6.96. Quoted in Statewatch
With thanks to Neil Transpontine and Mark Metcalf.
The wider pattern of police criminality and corruption at Stoke Newington Police Station in the 1990s – and the campaign against it – is covered in our pages about Hackney Community Defence Association.