British Blackshirts

Commemorate the 75th anniversary of East Enders blocking Mosley's fascists at Cable Street.

During the Battle of Cable Street on 4 October 1936, a group of people including Jewish families, Irish dockers, Communists and trade unionists united to stop Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists from marching through London's East End. The BUF's plan was clearly provocative given the area's high Jewish population. The BUF were widely seen as un-British; their black uniforms looked sinister, particularly as Mussolini's paramilitary organisations wore the same attire. And they also used the fascist salute on marches and at rallies.

The resistance to their presence in the East End was a remarkable instance of a community rallying in defence of tolerance. Tomorrow is the event's 75th anniversary.

Here is a selection of some of the best walks, talks, film and theatre events held to commemorate this significant in British history. Also, check out some books which deal with the battle on the streets of Whitechapel.

Walks

East End Walks, London, Anti-Fascist footprints Check website for dates

An East End walk from Gardiners Corner to Cable Street organised by teacher, educationalist and writer David Rosenberg. Born in London, Rosenberg's parents were Jewish immigrants from the Tsarist Russian Empire. Rosenberg will take you to the site where East Enders blocked Mosley's BUF and important sites on the route of the BUF's march on 4 October 1936. Rosenberg evokes the unfolding of events, including the role of individuals such as Phil Piratin and Joe Jacobs, who helped to mobilise the anti-fascist response. See below for the publication of Rosenberg's upcoming book on Cable Street.

Talks

Jewish Museum London, London NW1, Fighting Together for a Better Past: The Story of Cable Street 10 October

Cable Street has been interpreted as both a victory for the Jews or as a working class triumph. Professor Tony Kushner, Dr Nadia Valman and David Rosenberg will debate the significance of Cable Street in the contemporary mindset, and how it has a mythical status in public memory. Kushner and Valman are the co-editors of the book Remembering Cable Street. Professor David Feldman will chair the event.

Jewish Museum London, London NW1, Bernard Kops' Battle of Cable Street 16 October

Kops grew up in the East End and witnessed the Battle of Cable Street aged ten. He will talk about his experience of the fascinating battle with publisher Ross Bardshaw from Five Leaves Publications. Kops will read extracts of his short play, his memoir and other work on Cable Street.

Film

Wilton's Music Hall, London E1, From Cable Street to Brick Lane 4 October

Catch the preview of a new independent feature-length documentary about Cable Street by Phil Maxwell and Hazuan Hashim. Ken Loach and Ken Livingstone, among others, support the project. The film focuses mainly on the way that different communities united against racism and intolerance in the 1930s, 1970s and 1990s. The film uses interviews with veterans of the Battle of Cable Street, as well as with people involved with more recent struggles around Brick Lane.

Theatre

Jewish Museum London, London NW1, Goodbye Barcelona - A Musical 27 October

Directed by Karen Rabinowitz, this musical is set during the Spanish Civil War. Inspired by the true stories of the Brigaders, Goodbye Barcelona is about Sam, a young Jewish man, who leaves London to join the men fighting against General Franco's Fascists. Sam's mother follows her son to Spain to try to find him. Alongside this, the show is about Sam's war experience and his love for Pilar, a young Catalan woman whose life has been severely disrupted by the conflict.

Books

Alexander Baron

Well-worth a read is the novelist Alexander Baron, who was a a bohemian communist living in the East End. Many of his novels have recently come back into print, and give fascinating insights into postwar Jewish and working-class life in Britain. Find out more about Baron's works in Ken Worpole's piece, here.

October Day by Frank Griffin

October Day is a lively eye-witness account of the Battle of Cable Street. Although it has been out of print for seventy years, the novel became very popular after being published in 1939. Frank Griffin was a participant in the events, and later became a journalist and author. This highly readable book tells the story of 4 October 1936 through the eyes of seven people, including a young woman just of prison, a policeman and two young Communists.

Everything Happens in Cable Street by Roger Mills

Roger Mills has written extensively about London history, and has participated in activities around Cable Street since the 1970s. This book sheds light on a range of other things Cable Street is known for, such as when Maltese gangsters tried to run the streets and the filming of To Sir, With Love. Mills is an engaging excavator of the area's neglected stories.

Battle for the East End by David Rosenberg

The organiser of guided walks around the East End (see above), teacher and educationalist David Rosenberg records the changes in the BUF's attitude towards Jews. He also looks at the rifts which opened up in the Jewish community about how active resistance to the BUF should have been.

Marvel Studios
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In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, every other line reeks of a self-help manual

This lame sequel suggests the makers have largely forgotten why the original was so refreshing.

The 2014 romp Guardians of the Galaxy boasted the budget of a blockbuster and the soul of a B-movie. What that meant in practice was that audiences had to endure the same biff-pow battle scenes and retina-blistering effects as any space adventure, but they were rewarded with eccentric characters and tomfoolery for its own sake.

Despite the Marvel Studios imprimatur, the film showed the forces of intergalactic evil being fought not by superheroes, but by a ragtag band of bickering goofballs: Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), aka Star-Lord, a self-regarding rogue in the Han Solo mould; the green-faced alien Gamora (Zoe Saldana); Drax (Dave Bautista), a literal-minded hulk; Rocket, a racoon-like warrior (voiced by Bradley Cooper); and Groot, a piece of bark that says “I am Groot” over and over in the dulcet tones of Vin Diesel. Movies this odd don’t usually become $770m smash hits but this one did – deservedly.

Those characters return in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (the “Vol 2” reflects Peter’s love of mix-tapes) but the new film suggests the makers have largely forgotten why the original was so refreshing. Gags are rehashed; several sequences (including an interminable slow-motion section involving a laser-powered arrow) are dragged way beyond their desirable lifespan. Late in the day, Rocket tells his shipmates that they have too many issues, which rather pinpoints the problem with the screenplay by the director, James Gunn. Gunn has saddled his characters with unreasonable baggage, all of it relating to family and belonging. No matter how far into space they travel, all roads lead back to the therapist’s couch.

Peter, raised by his late mother, is delighted when Ego (Kurt Russell) materialises claiming to be the father he never knew. The old man makes grand pronouncements, only to undercut them within seconds (“’Scuse me, gotta take a whizz”) but, on the plus side, he has his own planet and pulls the whole “One day, son, all this will be yours” shtick. Gamora also has family business to contend with. Her blue-skinned sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), wants to kill her: Nebula has never quite got over Gamora being Daddy’s favourite. To be fair, though, he did force them to fight one another, replacing parts of Nebula’s body with metal whenever she lost, so it’s not like we’re talking about only one sister being allowed to watch Top of the Pops.

The more Peter gets to know Ego, the less admirable he seems as a father, and soon we are in the familiar territory of having parenting lessons administered by a Hollywood blockbuster. The reason for this became obvious decades ago: the film industry is populated by overworked executives who never get to see their children, or don’t want to, and so compensate by greenlighting movies about what it means to be a good parent. Every other line here reeks of the self-help manual. “Please give me the chance to be the father your mother wanted me to be,” Ego pleads. Even a minor character gets to pause the action to say: “I ain’t done nothing right my whole life.” It’s dispiriting to settle down for a Guardians of the Galaxy picture only to find you’re watching Field of Dreams with added asteroids.

Vol 2 gets by for an hour or so on some batty gags (Gamora misremembering the plot and star of Knight Rider is an especially juicy one) and on the energising power of Scott Chambliss’s glorious production design. The combination of the hi-tech and the trashy gives the film the appearance of a multimillion-dollar carnival taking place in a junkyard. Spectacular battles are shot through scuffed and scratched windscreens, and there are spacesuits cobbled together from tin pots and bubble-wrap. This is consistent with the kitschfests that inspired the Guardians aesthetic: 1980s science-fiction delights such as Flash Gordon, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.

If only Vol 2 had mimicked their levity and brevity. Gunn ends his overlong movie with a bomb being attached to a giant brain, but this is wishful thinking on his part. He hasn’t blown our minds at all. It’s just a mild case of concussion. 

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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