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.

Ben Whishaw as Hamlet by Derry Moore, 2004 © Derry Moore
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The art of coming out: how the National Portrait Gallery depicts the big reveal

Portraits of gay celebrities, politicians and sports stars line the walls in a new exhibition called Speak Its Name!, marking 50 years of advances in gay rights.

I have a million questions for the doctor friend I’ve brought with me to the National Portrait Gallery. A million questions that, if I really think about it, boil down to: “Why were the Tudors so godforsakenly ugly?”

Inbreeding? Lead makeup? An all-peacock diet?

I don’t know why I assume she’ll know. She’s a neonatologist, not a historian. But I’m desperate for some of the science behind why these 500-year-old royals look, if these imposing paintings of them are anything to go by, like the sorts of creatures that – having spent millennia in pitch black caves – have evolved into off-white, scrotal blobs.

My friend talks about the importance of clean drinking water and the invention of hygiene. We move onto an extremely highbrow game I’ve invented, where – in rooms lined with paintings of bug-eyed, raw sausage-skinned men – we have to choose which one we’d bang. The fact we’re both gay women lends us a certain amount of objectivity, I think.


Alexander McQueen and Isabella Blow by David LaChapelle, 1996 © David LaChapelle Courtesy Fred Torres Collaborations

Our gayness, weirdly, is also the reason we’re at the gallery in the first place. We’re here to see the NPG’s Speak its Name! display; photographic portraits of a selection of out-and-proud celebrities, accompanied by inspirational quotes about coming out as gay or bi. The kind of thing irritating people share on Facebook as a substitute for having an opinion.

Managing to tear ourselves away from walls and walls of TILFs (Tudors I’d… you know the rest), we arrive at the recently more Angela Eagle-ish part of the gallery. Eagle, the second ever British MP to come out as lesbian, occupies a wall in the NPG, along with Will Young, Tom Daley, Jackie Kay, Ben Whishaw, Saffron Burrows and Alexander McQueen.

Speak its Name!, referring to what was described by Oscar Wilde’s lover Lord Alfred Douglas as “the love that dare not speak its name”, commemorates 50 years (in 2017) since the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales.

“Exhibition” is maybe a grandiose term for a little queer wall in an old building full, for the most part, of paintings of probably bigoted straight white guys who are turning like skeletal rotisserie chickens in their graves at the thought of their portraits inhabiting the same space as known homosexual diver Tom Daley.


Tom Daley By Bettina von Zwehl, 2010 © Bettina von Zwehl

When you’re gay, or LBTQ, you make little pilgrimages to “exhibitions” like this. You probably don’t expect anything mind-blowing or world-changing, but you appreciate the effort. Unless you’re one of those “fuck The Establishment and literally everything to do with it” queers. In which case, fair. Don’t come to this exhibition. You’ll hate it. But you probably know that already.

But I think I like having Tudors and known homosexuals in the same hallowed space. Of course, Angela Eagle et al aren’t the NPG’s first queer inhabitants. Being non-hetero, you see, isn’t a modern invention. From David Hockney to Radclyffe Hall, the NPG’s collection is not entirely devoid of Gay. But sometimes context is important. Albeit one rather tiny wall dedicated to the bravery of coming out is – I hate to say it – sort of heart-warming.


Angela Eagle by Victoria Carew Hunt, 1998 © Victoria Carew Hunt / National Portrait Gallery, London

Plus, look at Eagle up there on the “yay for gay” wall. All smiley like that whole “running for Labour leader and getting called a treacherous dyke by zealots” thing never happened.

I can’t say I feel particularly inspired. The quotes are mostly the usual “coming out was scary”-type fare, which people like me have read, lived and continue to live almost every day. This is all quite mundane to queers, but you can pretty much guarantee that some straight visitors to the NPG will be scandalised by Speak its Name! And I guess that’s the whole point.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.