I called on Bernard and Erica Kops the other day. It was prompted by my recent post about the peace poems leaflet of 1962 - I dropped Bernard a line, and was invited round for tea (and chocolate cake).
Bernard, now 94, is working on a play - 63 years after his renowned 'The Hamlet of Stepney Green' was first performed at the Oxford Playhouse. But Kops believes that his poetry is what he will be most remembered for. He said that his own poetry sometimes moves him to tears - not for the beauty of the words but for the beauty of human life that the verse represents.
Then he read me a poem - I wasn't expecting that! It was 'After the Car Crash' from his recent collection Love Death and Other Joys - about a walk with his grandson around the communal garden on to which his flat opens.
Benard, Erica (she's 87 and the couple have been together for 67 years) and I went for a short walk round that communal garden - and fittingly it was alive in the afternoon with children playing and running around, a scene which brought the couple great pleasure.
Two of the Kops' four children live looking on to this wonderful green area. Never mind Stepney Green - this is Kopses' Green:
Here's a wonderful broadsheet of poems for peace dating from 1962 and the peak of the first incarnation of CND. It's a single sheet which folds to six pages, and was published by New Departures run by Michael Horovitz.
He's one of four activist-poets whose work is featured - the others are Adrian Mitchell, Bernard Kops and Pete Brown.
This may be the first appearance of one of Bernard Kops' most celebrated poems, 'Shalom Bomb'. And what makes this copy special is an inscription by Kops -
To Douglas, As bombs go - this is the only one that must explode. Love Bernard. July 1962
I'm not sure who Douglas may have been [LATER: Bernard's wife, Erica, tell me she believes it was Douglas Hill, the science fiction writer] - but I bought this from Ripping Yarns, the (now online) book store run by Celia Hewitt, Adrian Mitchell's widow, and there is a good chance that this copy ended up in Adrian's possession.
And Adrian Mitchell's own contribution to this broadsheet shows him at his biting best - Lord Home, by the way, was a Tory peer who in 1962 was foreign secretary (and in the following year, as Alec Douglas-Home, succeeded Harold Macmillan as prime minister).
What a cover design! The work of Peter de Francia, a left-wing artist who was professor of painting at the Royal College of Art. He died in 2012 a few days short of his 91st birthday.
The Jazz Scene was published by MacGibbon and Kee in 1959. And Francis Newton was the nom de plume of the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm., who also died in 2012 aged 95. 1959 was the year that Hobsbawm published his first substantial book-length work of history, Primitive Rebels.
Hobsbawm wrote about jazz for the New Statesman and his pen name was derived from Frankie Newton, Billie Holiday's communist trumpet player.
The Jazz Scene begins: 'This book is about one of the most remarkable phenomena of our century ...'. Hobsbawm describes jazz as 'a music of protest and rebellion'.
Several of the accompanying photos are by Roger Mayne, who was such an important part of the new forms of cultural expression on the left at this time. Among other things, Mayne took the cover photo for the first edition of Colin MacInnes's Absolute Beginners. But that's another story ...
Live music for the first time in eighteen months or so! Down to Cecil Sharp House to see the folk legend Peggy Seeger, who is 86 next month. She was performing with her (and Ewan MacColl's) son, Neill MacColl. Ewan MacColl famously wrote 'The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face' for Peggy.
Her selection tonight was pleasant, and fairly untaxing. Peggy's voice is doing fine. She has great good humour. And she still picks a mean banjo!
Never mind Bob Dylan's eightieth next week. It's Martin Carthy's 80th today. Happy Birthday Martin!
He is the grand old man of English folk song. I've seen him perform three times - at an Oxford college in probably November 1974, at Ann Arbor in late 2003, and at a folk club in Islington perhaps ten years ago. And I was also at the Topic Records anniversary concert at the Barbican a couple of years back at which he made a brief guest appearance.
The three earlier gigs were all small, intimate almost, with an audience of under fifty. That's the sort of venue best suited to Carthy's fine guitar work and soulful vocal style. I hope I'll get to see Martin play again.
I mentioned Dylan - Martin Carthy came across Bob on the latter's first visit to England in December 1962 and pointed him towards some key English folk songs which Dylan adapted and transformed in his own inimitable way.
Martin Carthy's TV appearance below, with fiddler Dave Swarbrick, dates from 1967:
Carthy is probably best known for his adaptation of 'Scarborough Fair' - yes, it was his adaptation not Paul Simon's! - and here it is:
One from the archives! A chance finding and topical because a particular person celebrates his 80th birthday this month.
That person is not, alas, Charlie Gillett - the broadcaster and authority on rock music who died in 2010. The photos above date from his Radio London days in the 1970s. I knew him much later when he had a weekly programme on the BBC World Service. A good guy!
No, it's Bob Dylan's 80th. And going through Colin Ward's monthly Anarchy - as you do - in the issue for May 1968 (what a month!), I came across this article Charlie wrote about Bob:
Oh, and Charlie's 80th would have been next February.
I never thought I'd write in praise of Socialist Worker - but here goes! It was, in its heyday - yes, that's rather a long time ago - the most effective and successful political paper the British far left has ever produced.
I've just bought as assortment of early copies of the paper - from San Francisco! (and full disclosure as to why on request) - which reminds me what a punchy, accessible paper it once was.
For several years in the early and mid Sixties, the International Socialists - they became the Socialist Workers Party in 1977 - published a paper called Labour Worker. It usually came out monthly and reflected the group's focus on working within the Labour Party and the Young Socialists.
And at the inception of the remarkable year of 1968, it sold just a few hundred copies an issue. But then, the IS only had a few hundred members, many of them students!
In March 1968, reflecting a change of approach, Labour Worker became Socialist Worker - and in September it turned weekly with a print run of 8,000.
Its editor was Roger Protz - who later edited CAMRA's even more successful Good Beer Guide - and he steered the paper towards a more demotic, vivid style of journalism aimed at the workers the movement hoped to recruit.
At first the weekly had just four pages and was priced at two pence - that's two old pre-decimal pence ... you could buy 120 copies for a pound. Even then, that was cheap!
The paper was sold in shopping centres and at factory gates. By 1974, following an upsurge of industrial militancy, it reached a peak print run of 46,000.
Just as the paper was achieving real success, it fell victim to a faction fight. Tony Cliff, the IS guru, wanted the paper to develop worker correspondents who wrote about their own lives and struggles, based in part of Lenin's pre-1917 Pravda. Roger Protz was forced out - Paul Foot, an accomplished campaigning journalist with the Daily Mirror, took his place.
But as the political temper subsided, so did sales. The paper survives - and there are not many left-wing titles which keep going for more than half-a-century - but its sales are probably no more than a few thousand.
This is a glimpse of Fortess Grove, a wonderful, hidden-away cul-de-sac just a couple of minutes walk from Kentish Town station. Who knew! It's tiny - but a real treasure.
This post is about Fortess Grove and another nearby hidden wonder of NW5, Railey Mews, and the former commercial building that unites them.
So first let's get our bearings -
So we're on the east side of Fortess Road. This map is from the Camden planning site - because the building outlined in green is being redeveloped.
As you can see, this buiding stretches from Fortess Grove to Railey Mews - though there's otherwise no direct pedestrian access between the two streets. It was a large but undistinguished vehicle repair shop - the home of M. & A. Coachworks until towards the end of 2015.
The building is difficult to date and an estate agent has declared it - with a sense of the past that would merit a place in 1066 and All That - to be a 'Victorian coachworks building from the 1920s'. It's address curiously was 36-52 Fortess Grove, which suggests a fairly dense residential development before the building went up, whenever that was.
As of 2017, planning permission was given to redevelop the building - hollowed out and with a new roof - with a business floor, and with a total of ten 2-bed or 3-bed dwellings. And that work is now well underway.
This is what the site looks like from Fortess Grove -
And here's the view from Railey Mews - and just to help you get your bearings, we've included another of Kentish town's hidden delights, the Pineapple on Leverton Street -
Fortess Grove has the charm of a serpentine curving access from Fortess Road, which keeps the residential part of the street very much a secret -
I've been able to find out very little about the history of Fortess Grove except that a bomb fell here during the Second World War. But as you can see, it has real charm.
Railey Mews isn't a dead end, but it is if anything even more tucked away - a mews street with its cobbles in tact. Residential, though with a couple of former industrial buildings - but it seems that none of the initial mews properties survive in tact.
If you have a spare half-hour in Kentish Town, then come and take a look!
This wonderful photo of sixty years or more ago - posted here courtesy of Jean McCrindle - shows two of the key figures of the British New Left ... outside an iconic venue of the New Left.
The writing on the back says: 'Ralph [Raphael Samuel] + Edward Thompson + Ernest (the tall guy) + John, Two of the ULR coffee bar people, watching'.
E.P. Thompson (1924-1993) was a Marxist humanist, a peace campaigner and the most distinguished historian of his generation, the author notably of The Making of the English Working Class. He was a member of the Communist Party but in 1956, after the revelations of Khrushchev's 'secret speech' at the 20th Congress of the CPSU denouncing Stalin's 'cult of personality', he - along with another Yorkshire-based historian, John Saville - set up what was in effect a dissident journal, the Reasoner.
After the Soviet-led invasion of Hungary later in the year, both Thompson and Saville left the CP. They closed the Reasoner after three issues but the following year they started the New Reasoner. It was the birth of the British New Left.
Raphael Samuel (1934-1996) was also a historian and the founding figure in the History Workshop movement. He was also a member of the Communist Party, again leaving in 1956. And early in 1957 he - along with Stuart Hall, Chuck Taylor and Gabriel Pearson - set up Universities & Left Review, similar in scope to the New Reasoner, but brighter in design, more concerned about culture and aiming for a slightly younger and less party-oriented readership.
The two journals coalesced at the beginning of 1960 to form the New Left Review. It wasn't an easy alliance and Edward Thompson was at times lacerating in his criticism of Raph and of Stuart Hall, the initial editor of NLR. But those early issues of the Review are a world apart from the theory-heavy (indeed, all round heavy) NLR which emerged out of a 'palace coup' a couple of years later.
And the iconic venue?
Well, one of Raph Samuel's more quixotic ventures was to establish a ULR coffee bar, the Partisan, in Soho. It lost money - quite a lot of money - but kept going from October 1958 to early 1963 (though it was in some decline after 1961). It was a remarkable venture, a 'socialist coffee house', an 'anti-espresso bar', a meeting place with linked offices above which became the heart of a national New Left Club movement.
And all this in Soho - where Marx once lived, where generations of political emigres published and agitated, and which was seen as on the cutting-edge of cool. The coffee house was in Carlisle Street - and that fits with the photo ... it's Soho Square that looms in the background on the right.
The historian Mike Berlin made a radio programme about the Partisan - it's below - and his illustrated account of the club published to accompany an exhibition of Roger Mayne's commissioned photos of the Partisan (held at Four Corners in 2017) is worth seeking out.
The date of the photo - well probably 1958-60.
And Jean McCrindle (born 1937)? Well, she - like Raph - was brought up in a Communist household and joined the CP herself (and also left over Hungary). She was active in the New Left Clubs in Scotland where she was a student.
According to Raph (he says he changed his name to Ralph for a while because fellow-YCLers in North London found his real name impossible to pronounce), he and Jean first met at the CP headquarters on King Street in Covent Garden in the underground room where student 'aggregates' were held. He also recalled proposing to Jean when aged 21 at the summit of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh - though Jean's memory is more that they talked about getting married.
There's a celebrated photo of the couple taken at Trafalgar Square in 1956 ...
... there's no doubt about the location - you can see the National Gallery in the background. And the occasion? Uncertain - but the big political gathering in Trafalgar Square that year was the anti-Suez demonstration on 4th November.
By the end of that month the engagement was over.
Jean McCrindle - who I met this week - has herself been a lifelong activist, pioneering feminist and teacher and twice stood for Parliament.
I have a bronze bust of Charles Bradlaugh - one of my proudest possessions. And now I have two. Here's the story.
First of all, if you are wondering who Bradlaugh is - well, one of the most prominent and remarkable of Victorian radicals: a Parliamentarian, atheist, Republican, birth control advocate, Irish and Indian nationalist, and determined campaigner, journalist, pamphleteer, orator and propagandist.
A bit like Tony Benn in more recent years, Bradlaugh was both loved and hated. (Though unlike Benn, he was an opponent of socialism ... and a freemason!)
Returned to Parliament by the electors of Northampton in 1880, Bradlaugh then fought a bitter and protracted struggle to be allowed to take his seat in the House of Commons - to affirm, or even to be allowed to take the oath on the Bible when he was an avowed unbeliever.
He spent a night in detention in the Houses of Parliament (supposedly in the clock tower) as part of that turbulent, and eventually successful, campaign.
I bought the bust of Charles Bradlaugh at auction many years ago. It's about ten inches high and the work of Francis Verheyden, a Belgian sculptor who moved to London where he lived for several decades prior to his death in 1919. There is an artist's signature mark, 'F. VerHeyden', at the side of the bust.
The rear of the bust also bears a small casting tag: 'CIE DES BRONZES / BRUXELLES' - suggesting that the bust was cast at the prestigious Compagnie des Bronzes in the Belgian capital.
Charles Bradlaugh died in January 1891 at the age of 57. He was buried, amid much fanfare, at Brookwood cemetery on the outskirts of London. A monument at his grave erected two years after his death 'consists of a bronze bust of Mr. Bradlaugh, by Mr F. Verheyden, on a red granite pedestal', according to a tribute volume, Champion of Liberty. 'It was erected at a cost of £225, and the money was subscribed absolutely spontaneously, without a single appeal or one word of request.'
There's also an imposing statue of Bradlaugh - unveiled in 1894 - in his former constituency of Northampton, and a hall which takes his name in the Pakistani city of Lahore.
As you can see, the bust at the grave is very similar - though not quite identical - to my much smaller bust.
The Brookwood bust was stolen many years ago, as was the bronze wreath on the pedestal. Whether this act of desecration was simply criminal or also in part political or ecclesiastical is not at all clear.
Happily the National Secular Society - the freethought organisation which Charles Bradlaugh founded in 1866 and which still thrives - is now restoring the monument at Brookwood. I was asked to loan my bust to a specialist company, Ryman & Leader, so they could make a fresh cast. This they will now scale up - by a factor of three or four, by my reckoning - to make a replacement for the missing Brookwood bust, though it will be made of a special resin rather than bronze.
Here's Andrew from Ryman & Leader when he came round the other day to return my bust - and to give me a resin copy of the original. Thank you - that's really kind and much appreciated. Which is the original? Well, if you can't tell it hardly matters!
The resin copy is splendid and wonderfully convincing. The colour tone is almost identical. The weight is more or less the same. The only difference - it doesn't quite have the feel of metal, and it doesn't ping when you hit it (delicately!) with a spoon.
I am still puzzled about the purpose of the bust that I bought all those years back. It may have been a prototype made by the sculptor to seek the approval of whoever commissioned him before embarking on the bigger, and more expensive, bust. Or perhaps some small busts were made as a means of raising funds for the memorial - though I am not aware of any other Bradlaugh busts around (if you are, do please let me know).
But I am very happy that my Bradlaugh has now been twinned!
Andrew Whitehead's blog
Welcome - read - comment - throw stones - pick up threads - and tell me how to do this better!