Short talk with a Fascist beast

The Notting Hill race riots, which took place 50 years ago, were the first significant outburst in L

The New Statesman

4 October 1958

It is a normal evening at the coffee-bar where I'm in the habit of dropping by. The kids are jiving around in the juke-box room, an amateur rock-and-roll session is in violent practice upstairs somewhere, and some of us are gathered at the counter sucking Pepsi-Cola through straws.

Len buys Ginger and Dave and me Pepsis. He's on casual work now, he says, after quitting a warehouse where he moved fridges. "Keep on casual till they nick me," he says. I've heard he was up at Notting Hill during the troubles. "Yeah," Len replies, "three nights all in a row." "What were you doing up there?" I ask. "Hittin' the nigs," he says.

Dave offers that he spent only a single night "huntin' nigs". Ginger, who resembles Jimmy Dean and likes being told about it, says, "Nah, that wasn't the way - all in a mob. Coppers see you. Thing to do, three, four of us, down a side street at night, in a fast car, jump out, do a nig, jump in. That way you can do a dozen blackies a night." I ask Len if he enjoyed himself during the riots. "Sure." I ask him what he did. "Hit nigs," he says, and shrugs.

Dave and Ginger listen while Len speaks of the Fascists. He says that, contrary to public belief, the Fascists still wear the black shirt with the silver lightning insignia. Is he a member of the Union Movement himself? With a quick dart of the long blond head he says no, not a member, only a follower. "Fascists was active before all the troubles," he says, "and now they're gettin' lots of members. Brownshirts started that way, didn't they?" Dave and Ginger remain neutral in the face of ideology. What Len was doing at Notting Hill was fine with them, but not in uniform.

I ask Len if it is the uniform that attracts him. He says no, not particularly, it is what the Fascists stand for. "Riddin' Britain of the nigs," he says. When I ask him what he has against the "nigs", Dave and Ginger chime in eagerly. It isn't so much the Indians and Africans they mind. It's Jamaicans, their word for all West Indians.

Dave says, "Y'know, when I went in for my national assistance, all they'd give me was two quid after an argument. Crazy Jamaican after me comes out with seven." How did the Jamaican manage this? Dave says the Jamaican claimed a family back in the islands. Ginger says, "They come here and they use all our money, lower our standards, that's what they do." "Darkies live on two quid a week," says Ginger, "eatin' cat food. It's the truth. I seen 'em." "Live like pigs," says Dave.

Ginger says, "What are you gonna do with people who take your jobs?" Len, Dave and Ginger all left school at 15. They are 18 now. Len is a casual labourer, Dave a public service worker. Ginger is an assistant to a skilled craftsman.

Dave and Ginger swear the West Indians are lazy, and that the "guv'nors" prefer them to native-born Englishmen; that they live on nothing a week, and spend all their money on offensive hedonisms, and are worse than savages. Dave says, "What right they got comin' to this country anyway? We get the worst types." "Four years," Len muses, "four years is a long time. Nah, I ain't goin' to go in the nick for any nigger.

"That's why I'm with the Fascists," he says. "They're against the blacks. The Labour Party is Communist. Like the unions." Is he against the Labour Party? "Nah, I'm for them. They're for y'know - us. I'm for the unions too." Even though they were dominated by Communists? "Sure," he says. "I like the Communist Party. It's powerful, like." How can he be for the Communists when the Fascists hate them? Len says, "Well, y'know, I'm for the Fascists when they're against the nigs. But the Fascists is really for the rich people y'know, like the Tories. But the Communists are very powerful." I told him the Communist Party of Britain was quite small."But," he says, "they got Russia behind them." His voice is full of marvel. "I admire Russia. Y'know, the people. They're peaceful. They're strong. When they say they'll do a thing, they do it. Not like us."

I ask Len if it will be quiet now at Notting Hill. "Yeah," he says, "it's all over." A moment later he says, "As long as the nigs stay, there'll be trouble." Will he be one of the ones to make it? "No," he says. "Well, maybe, you never can tell. Why can't they be just like the Paddies? Good workers, those Paddies."

It's warm in the cafe, and Len and I stand outside in the doorway. I tell Len I hear he writes plays. He smiles shyly. "Just two," he says. "Second one ain't finished. I . . ." he shrugs, "trouble is, I can't write. It's hard, like." He is embarrassed. I say that I would like to see one of his plays. He goes into the cafe and comes out bearing a manuscript. It is crudely typed and enclosed in professional folder-covers. "I paid to have that done," he says.

In the glow of the street lamp, I read the play. It is about an English pilot who crash-lands his plane in the jungle. Aboard are a judge, a movie star, a headmaster, a company director and a policeman. It becomes necessary for them to eat one another for survival. Only the pilot survives, a young, almost teen-age pilot. When he gets back to England he must stand trial for manslaughter, a martyr. Most of the play concerns the pilot conducting his own defence and explaining why he found it necessary to eat parts of the judge, the movie star, the headmaster, the company director and the policeman.

Selected by Robert Taylor

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