22 March 2022
7 Days, Culture and the Arts
In 2020 the British Library acquired the papers of Anthony Barnett, best known as the founder of the campaigning organisation Charter 88 and the website openDemocracy. This series of six posts highlights a discrete part of the archive, consisting of documents and ephemera from Barnett’s time as a member of the collective behind the revolutionary weekly newspaper '7 Days'.
Fifty years ago, on 22 March 1972, '7 Days' published an emergency issue that saw it go into ‘suspended animation’. Funds were sought for a relaunch but, apart from a special issue in May 1972 to commemorate the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam, the paper disappeared. In this sixth and final post in our series, Maxine Molyneux recalls her time as Arts and Culture Editor and reflects on a unique experiment in cultural politics.
(The second post in the series was written by Anthony Barnett, the third post was by Graham Burchell, the fourth post by Bill Mayblin and the fifth by John Mathews.)
Cover of the emergency issue of 7 Days, March 22, 1972. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
Not long before the launch of the first issue I was invited by the 7 Days collective to take on the job of Arts and Culture Editor. At the time, I was stitching together a living as a freelance journalist, writing articles here and there, doing part-time editing and translation jobs and writing PR leaflets on art shows for the amusingly titled Tomorrow’s News. I was lucky to have a regular commission for the International Herald Tribune to cover exhibitions and fine art auctions, and write the odd feature and book review, for which I was paid $12 a piece, almost covering my weekly rent.
In 1971, London’s cultural scene was alive with radical groups of artists, film makers and playwrights who were part of the broader political ferment, not only of the student movement but of a generation. At various times in that transitory world I had found myself sharing houses and flats with activists and artists, one time with the founders of the Red Ladder agitprop theatre group, another with one of the leaders of the radical film activist group, Cinema Action. There was a feeling of excitement, of innovation about, but there was also an intellectual appetite for the radical cultural moments and thinkers of the past, whether in drama, art or film.
Young activists debated the work of Brecht and Eisenstein, read Freud and Lacan as well as Marx, Mao and Lenin. I recall attending a very serious weekly (or was it fortnightly?) - Theoretical Practice group  run by Kasim Kahn from his flat in Finsbury Park. We travelled up by car, me, the feminist artist Mary Kelly, and Clive Goodwin (our driver), literary agent and founder of the Black Dwarf. There, in our group of seven, we pored over passages of Althusser, Balibar, Pierre Phillipe Rey and learned that The Grundrisse marked a distinct break in Marx’s thinking.
My life then was lived in contrasting spaces – private views in the old art world’s Bond Street galleries – and the fringe world of art activism, politics and theory groups, and they would often collide. I remember being at some private view held at the Royal Academy when a group calling themselves ‘the Black Hand Gang’ let off a small smoke bomb leading to a dramatic evacuation of the assembled guests. Agitprop cinema and theatre, fringe performance and avante garde music, and some madness too – all were part of the wave of creative energy and radical politics of that time.
What was compelling about 7 Days was that it was a project of the independent Marxist left, and was fully committed to serious and critical coverage of culture. I was ready for a change, and without hesitation I accepted their offer and took the post of Arts Editor for the brief life of the paper.
7 Days’ arts coverage attempted to bridge high and popular culture. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
I knew some members of the collective if not personally then by name. I had met Peter Fuller in his art critic days at an ICA exhibition of Picasso’s Minotaur prints which we were both covering, and got to know him as a friend. I had also met Fred Halliday earlier at the offices of Black Dwarf, on my return from a work trip to Argentina, and was serving as interpreter for some Latin American revolutionaries who were on a European fundraising tour. When Fred and I met again in 7 Days we ended up sharing a tiny office with grimy red lino, and freezing, but for a bar heater which my co-occupant would stand in front of to warm up while the backs of his trousers slowly burned ever larger holes. No one cared much about their threads on the 7 Days collective.
Reviewing the 21 issues of the paper half a century later I am struck by the breadth and depth of its cultural coverage. 7 Days aimed to transform what it saw as the regressive tropes contained in ‘British values’, racism, sexism, philistinism, homophobia and elitism among them.
The first year of the gay liberation movement’s existence celebrated in 7 Days with a discussion of the London GLF group’s manifesto. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
More ‘Gramsci than Guevara” it was a platform for feminist ideas, and it was committed to anti-racist struggles and cultural interventions. In its arts coverage in particular it sought to create a bridge between high culture and popular culture. Short articles were accompanied by longer think pieces, underground and radical manifestos, analyses of advertisements, reviews of books like One Day in the life of Ivan Denisovitch. Thanks to being able to draw on a pool of talented writers sympathetic to 7 Days, there was no difficulty in finding a diversity of cultural content. Peter Wollen (aka Lucien Rey) on Realism, John Berger and Anya Bostock on a biography of Mayakovsky, but also a ‘Rock Special’ which included an interview with Jack Bruce ‘Life with Cream” and an appreciation of Miles Davis.
Issue 4 ran a photo-feature on the 1971 Miss World protests by womens’ and gay liberation activists. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
By today’s standard 7 Days was neither egalitarian nor inclusive in its internal relations.
As Rosie Van de Beek observes, the collective was made up of ‘insiders and outsiders’. Nor was it as inclusive in its coverage – notably of Black artists and writers - as it would be today. A piece on Mustafa Matura’s play As Time Goes By was perhaps the exception.
Yet feminist content there was aplenty, thanks largely to the women in and around the collective. Articles included ‘A bash at Women’s Hour’; a review by Sally Beauman of Cosmopolitan, flagged up as ‘an odious new magazine for women’, a critical discussion of the Playboy exhibition, a special feature on Miss World and Mecca, a photo feature on what was described in somewhat patronising language as a ‘ large and satisfactory demonstration’ that ‘took place outside the Albert Hall’. This, along with critical coverage of vaginal deodorants - symptomatic of capitalism - a report on a revolt by members of the BFI against the governors, pieces on Surrealism, a Hogarth show, and Kathleen Tynan interviewing Germaine Greer on the publication of The Female Eunuch. Positive appraisals of Alexandra Kollontai and an extended interview with Simone de Beauvoir by Rosalind Delmar, and pieces by Laura Mulvey and Mary Kelly, brought feminist analysis and politics into art theory, film and popular music.
Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive
It is sad to note how many of the active members of the collective and its supporters are no longer with us, friends Peter Wollen, Clive Goodwin, Peter Fuller, and dear Fred Halliday  among them. Also sad to recall others whose brilliant work in the cultural field has fallen out of favour - I think here of Trevor Griffiths whose play Occupations, on the Turin strikes of 1922, was a subtle exploration of Gramsci and left political strategy.
Playwright Trevor Griffiths respond to Tom Nairn’s review of his play ‘Occupations’. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
Since those times the work of the margins has mostly moved into the mainstream, and the members of the collective went into the academy, publishing, or into other professions. 7 Days was a short, intense, highly rewarding and formative experience for those associated with it. It was a space where politics, culture and radical ideas found expression. It forged some important and enduring friendships. When it folded I decided not to continue in journalism but to head for university, where I remained.
The times of 7 Days were so very different, shaped as they were by a young generation that believed that political progress and social change was possible. Important and positive things were achieved in and after the 1970s before reaction set in. Today we live in more threatening, darker times, but a new generation of radical activists has come into politics, incensed by growing inequality, corrupt elites, and the failures of governments to tackle the climate crisis. There is a revival of interest in Marxism and radical thought among students, and more urgent talk of the need for change. The work of cultural transformation continues, but proceeds by other means - the print media is joined by podcasts, social networking, blogs and much else besides. I suspect that if 7 Days were alive today it would be in one of those formats, or perhaps something entirely new, and, who knows, it might well have been able to survive and to flourish.
‘Seven days to save 7 Days’. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
 Theoretical Practice started in 1970 as a reading group and set up other groups dedicated to thinking critically about Marx’s work and that of the French structuralists. It went on to produce seven issues of a journal also called Theoretical Practice, that published translations of leading theorists in the Althusserian school.
 Fred and Maxine married and had their son Alex in 1985.
24 February 2022
7 Days - Back then and now: a personal recollection by John Mathews
In 2020 the British Library acquired the papers of Anthony Barnett, best known as the founder of the campaigning organisation Charter 88 and the website openDemocracy. This series of six posts highlights a discrete part of the archive, consisting of documents and ephemera from Barnett’s time as a member of the collective behind the revolutionary weekly newspaper '7 Days', 50 years on from its publication.
In this fifth guest post, John Mathews recalls how he came to be part of the collective and considers the impact 7 Days had, for himself and others involved. (The second post in the series was written by Anthony Barnett, the third post was by Graham Burchell, and the fourth post by Bill Mayblin.)
In October 1971, when the first issue of 7 Days appeared, I was 25 years old, a young Australian who had been recruited to the newspaper’s collective by Anthony Barnett, then the editor of Black Dwarf. I had been travelling the world (Indonesia, Thailand, India) and had arrived in London a couple of years earlier, at the end of 1969, full of plans to make my mark in the great metropolis.
The way I did this (it is scarcely credible today) was to use my last hundred pounds to launch a film magazine, which in the irreverent style of the day I called Cinemantics – focused on the work of ‘New Cinema’ directors like Glauber Rocha and Jean-Marie Straub as well as emerging semiotic/semantic theories of cinema like Pasolini’s ‘grammar of film’. I had a background in cinema – having been President of the Melbourne University Film Society in my undergrad days – and simply wrote a couple of paragraphs as a manifesto and then went around asking people already writing on the new language of the cinema if they wanted to contribute. Enough of them – including Peter Wollen then working at the BFI – said yes, and the magazine was off. Favourable reviews by Dilys Powell in the Sunday Times helped, and my film reviews also attracted the attention of Anthony at Black Dwarf, and so I found myself drawn into a circle of New Left personalities.
When Anthony asked me in early 1971 whether I would like to join the group planning the launch of a new radical weekly, I jumped at the chance. I had no competing commitments (typical of the time) and saw the issuing of a regular revolutionary masthead as a blow against capitalism. I threw myself into the debates that then dominated our horizons, including how to raise the capital that we estimated would be needed to launch the paper. I participated in some of the fund raising and so earned my stripes as a full member of the collective.
As it turned out, our capital only lasted for the production of 21 issues of the paper, of 24 pages each (from 27 October 1971 to 22 March 1972) – the full set of issues is now available at the 7 Days online archive. We had the choice of stretching our meagre capital out by reducing our page numbers or print run but we never entertained such a possibility – we were too wedded to our own inimitable style of photo journalism, and for publishing ideas and exposes at length.
Those few months producing the paper stand out as a highlight of my youthful years to that point. Our collective boasted such stars as Alex Cockburn as the innovative and indefatigable editor; Anthony as roving ‘special reports’ editor, and Rosalind Delmar as production editor, holding it all together. Judith Ferguson and I fulfilled a floating ‘research/reports’ function. As such we would deal with the guardians of ‘desks’ like home affairs, foreign affairs, arts, life and special sections like ‘capitalism’ and ‘ideas’.
‘Electro Convulsive Therapy’, No. 10, 5 January 1972, pp. 16-17. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
Some of the memorable features I was involved in on 7 Days were the expose of the cruel practice of ECT (electro convulsive therapy) in mental health treatment; (#10, Jan 1972), the narrative of the trial and sentencing of Jake Prescott and Ian Purdie (co-authored with Judith Ferguson #7, 8 Dec 1971) accused in connection with a bombing campaign carried out by the Angry Brigade; and an expose of the phoney psychology that claimed to support cosmetics manufacturers – a story headlined ‘Making Up Psychology’ that I thought was one of our better efforts.
‘Conspiracy and Corruption’, No. 7, 8 December 1971, pp. 6-7. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
My own favourite contributions were my columns on the Advertisement of the Week, where I provided mock reviews of advertisements like the White Horse whisky ads (‘You can take a White Horse anywhere’) or Parkinson Cowan cookers running on North Sea gas (‘The cooker that rises from the sea’) treating them as examples of high bourgeois art with a capitalist twist. I was quite pleased with these efforts at cultural critique – and even had the dubious honour of finding my work sometimes memorialized in the ‘Pseuds’ Corner’ section of Private Eye.
It came as a huge disappointment when we published our final issue #21, on 22 March – followed by a further ‘final’ effort to revive the paper with a special issue on Vietnam in May, ‘Who’s for the chopper?’. The expectation we all shared was that the launch of the paper would generate such excitement and growth in readership that it would start to cover its costs and eventually become a profitable and radical, uncompromising journal of ideas and reportage (with its own slant on photo journalism, ably expounded by Bill Mayblin in an earlier contribution to this series of blogs). This was not pie in the sky – after all, it was how media barons like Rupert Murdoch operated, creating media titles that would pay for themselves as their market reach grew. But there wasn’t time for that to happen in the case of 7 Days.
After the paper folded, Anthony had to pick up the pieces and we all went our separate ways. Some of us pursued illustrious careers, like Alex Cockburn who ended up as a leading columnist in the US writing each week for the Village Voice (and blazing a trail that would later be followed by Christopher Hitchens). Our home affairs editor Peter Fuller dived deep into art criticism; our ‘ideas’ correspondent Peter Wollen took up academic film studies and wrote several film scripts; our foreign affairs editor Fred Halliday eventually took a chair in international relations at the LSE.
After the collapse of 7 Days, I dabbled in freelance journalism, securing a commission from the Sunday Times Insight team to adapt a story we had carried in 7 Days on illegal cash-in-hand contract work known as “The Lump”. I also engaged in some serious translation work, taking key texts from French and Italian and presenting them to the English-speaking world. And actually I was pretty good. My translation of some of the political writings of Jean-Paul Sartre (published as Between Existentialism and Marxism, NLB 1974) attracted a highly favourable review in the Times Literary Supplement. And I had the experience of translating the early political writings of the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci, published by Lawrence & Wishart as Selections from Political Writings, 1910-1920, edited by Quintin Hoare. This gave me a lifelong admiration for Gramsci and a sensitivity to his capacity to ride the political wave in the Turin of these years, then the birthplace of Italy’s automotive industry and FIAT (the acronym formed from Fabbrica Italiana di Automobili di Torino) as well as of the Italian Communist Party.
But I elected not to pursue these freelance possibilities and instead turned to full time degree-crunching, at the LSE and Imperial College, culminating in my securing a PhD from Imperial College in cybernetics. I pursued the PhD as a ticket of entry into the great debates raging at the time – energy, nuclear power, ecology. I have enjoyed a varied career using my doctoral qualifications ever since. But it was the collapse of 7 Days that lit a fire under me and drove me to get some serious qualifications and take serious career steps. I then worked for the white collar union ASTMS as (I believe) the first PhD to work full-time for a union in the UK, helping the white-collar membership develop policies on prevention of occupational diseases like cancer. It was stimulating and thrilling work – and perhaps the ‘we can do anything’ attitude that we all shared on the 7 Dayscollective was a material advantage for me in meeting these subsequent challenges. I returned to Australia in 1979, to take up a similar role at the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), helping to contribute to the ban on nuclear power that still holds in Australia. There followed a stint working in the state Labor government of Victoria, before shifting to the university sector and taking a chair in business strategy at Macquarie University in the year 2000. Thus is a career generated from unlikely beginnings.
‘Long live nature’, No. 19, 8 March 1972, p.20. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
Going back to the issues of 7 Days I am delighted to rediscover that we ran one of the first and most credible debates over capitalism and ecology. Historian Gareth Stedman-Jones threw an intellectual grenade with a critique of the ecological left (‘Down with Nature’ – by which he meant an end to the romanticism of nature worship). This attracted a robust response from David Fernbach and Aubrey Walter in the next issue: ‘Long live nature’ which is still more or less the position of the Greens and the ecological left (7 Days #19, 8 March 1972) as of any sane commentator on prospects for curbing global warming. It is a delight to see how these debates foretold my own more recent work on The Greening of Capitalism (2015) and Global Green Shift (2017). So our efforts on 7 Days continue to resonate.
27 January 2022
Designing 7 Days
In 2020 the British Library acquired the papers of Anthony Barnett, best known as the founder of the campaigning organisation Charter 88 and the website openDemocracy. This series of six posts highlights a discrete part of the archive, consisting of published and unpublished material, editorial documents and ephemera from Barnett’s time as a member of the editorial collective of the revolutionary weekly newspaper '7 Days', 50 years on from its publication.
In this fourth guest post, Bill Mayblin recalls his role in the production and design of the paper and the shifting media and cultural landscape for newspaper publishing in the early 1970s. (The second post in the series, written by Anthony Barnett, is here, and the third post by Graham Burchell is here.)
In 1971 I was twenty three years old, which would have made me one of the younger and certainly one of the less noticeable members of the 7 Days editorial collective. I would be surprised if many surviving members even remember me. But together with Alan Turkie, who was even younger (but perhaps more noticeable) we were the production team responsible for designing, pasting up and delivering the weekly edition of 7 Days for print. For my part I was thrilled to be part of something as exciting and worthwhile as this brave venture, but also slightly in awe of the fierce intellects and articulate egos that made up the rest of the collective.
Cover of the 9th February 1972 issue which dealt with the events and the aftermath of the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry, using photographs to powerful effect. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
Design is perhaps too grand a word to describe my role on the paper. All basic design decisions – grid, fonts, masthead – had already been taken before I joined. Layout and paste-up would be more accurate to describe my job and this involved cutting up photoset galleys of type, laying out the page and pasting copy onto grid sheets with Cow Gum – the standard technology of the day for offset litho printing.
Photographs we would mark up separately for the printer to size, screen and drop in. Every Tuesday would see a marathon all-night session to put the issue together in the cramped offices in Shaver’s Place, SW1. And on Wednesday morning one of us, tired and bleary-eyed, would take the train to Colchester to deliver the artwork to the printer.
My overriding memory of those all-night sessions is of fighting for space – space on the page, that is – in order to use photographs large and to have sufficient ‘air’ around the typography. It was often a losing battle. There was always too much copy. ‘Alex, we need to lose thirty lines here.’ would be a recurring refrain. Alex Cockburn, our calm and indefatigable editor would pore over the galleys and cut what he could, but inevitably pages would often look as if text and photos had been squeezed in with a shoehorn.
The truth is that 7 Days was never a design-led publication, members of the collective were far too politically focused for that. I don’t remember a single meeting at which the paper’s design was specifically or seriously discussed. Whatever design ethos it did have was already embedded at the very genesis of the project. 7 Days was to be a tabloid format, 24 page paper that embraced the documentary power of photography.
When talking of the paper with people at the time I would habitually describe it as a ‘leftwing photo-journalistic weekly’. Only now as I write that down, fifty years on, does it occur to me how strangely old-fashioned this description feels today. Three words that still have perfect currency on their own, but together seem to belong to a distinctive period of 20th century history that was perhaps already coming to an end when 7 Days was launched.
It’s the photo-journalism bit that dates it. With the sheer saturation of photographic and video images in today’s mainstream and social media we can forget just how novel and powerful documentary photography was for much of the last century. From the 1920s onwards modernist graphic design had championed photography, with its promise of objectivity and truth, as the prime if not the only ‘modern’ way of making images. The photo-journalist was born and it was the black-and-white photograph, often radical, dramatic and shocking that gave us our memorable images of the world through peace and war.
Growing up in the nineteen fifties and sixties I can remember the impact of publications like Life, Paris Match and Britain’s own Picture Post (a conscious model for 7 Days), and in the late sixties the Sunday broadsheet supplements, particularly the Sunday Times under the influence of art editor David King, brought us powerful photo essays such as Don McCullin’s images of the Vietnam war. It was this tradition that 7 Days was proudly stepping into.
But times were changing, and art and graphic design are perhaps where it could be seen first, and most clearly. The sixties had also given us psychedelia, pop art and the counter culture. If we talk of modernism we must also acknowledge the beginnings of postmodernism, a rejection of ‘Truth’ and of the photograph as its embodiment, and an embrace of complexity, playfulness and irreverence.
A memory stands out for me here. Alan and I were working to lay out pages for the week’s issue and someone brought in the latest issue of OZ magazine. We flicked through it, slightly sniffy but also fascinated at its chaotic energy full of radical free-standing artwork, vaguely pornographic cartoons, whole articles printed in yellow type reversed out of a pink background (totally illegible – tut-tut). And yet exciting and in tune with a particular zeitgeist.
It was not our target readership of course and although it was clearly anti-establishment and loosely in our camp we could chuckle dismissively at its outlandish graphics. And yet there was always the nagging feeling that at some cultural level this was what our paper was now competing with for readers. In 1971 even before computers and the internet our media and cultural landscape was shifting and 7 Days was perhaps stranded on one particular shore.
Inside page from the 9th February 1972 issue focusing on the events and the aftermath of the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
Looking back on 7 Days’ brief existence I am amazed and proud at the breadth and depth of its coverage through a tumultuous time of home and global politics. The sweep and standard of its journalism, in words and images, was high. But as one of its design team I feel entitled to admit that its ‘look’ was not always so good. There were many pages, with cramped type and wonky sub heads, that make me wince when I see them now. But there were also occasions when we won the battle for space, and designed memorable spreads, pages that sit more proudly in that modernist tradition of photo-journalism.
Sadly in the spring of 1972 7 Days produced its final issue and a talented group of people went their separate ways. As for me, I went on to design numerous other publications many of which I am more proud of from a simple design point of view. But I have to admit they tend now to merge together in my memory. But 7 Days, that six months in 1971-2, working through the night in Soho with Alex Cockburn, Alan Turkie, (my close friend to this day) and assorted members of the collective who would drop by to discuss, argue and generally get in the way – that was something special.
Bill Mayblin, 2021.
02 December 2021
Reflecting on activism and protest around the Disability Discrimination Act
This Disability History Month, staff from across the British Library have collaborated on a series of blog posts to highlight stories of disability and disabled people in the Library’s collections. Each week a curator will showcase an item from the collections and present it alongside commentary from a member of the British Library’s Disability Support Network. These selections are a snapshot insight into the Library’s holdings of disability stories, and we invite readers to use these as a starting point to explore the collections further and share your findings with us.
This selection has been made by Eleanor Dickens, Curator, Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts.
In November 1995 the Disability Discrimination Act was passed into law in Britain, after years of campaigning. Now repealed and replaced by the Equality Act 2010, the act was the first piece of legislation to attempt to address the needs of people with disabilities in the UK since the end of the Second World War.
The focus of the act was on anti-discrimination and, for the first time, placed responsibility on service providers and employers to make reasonable adjustments for people with impairments and disabilities.
The Act was not perfect. It was even described by Rachel Hurst, the activist and former director of Disability Awareness in Action (DAA), as ‘The Train spotters Charter’ because ‘[…] you could now stand on the platform but you couldn’t get on the train.’ However, the implementation of this legislation, and the campaigns around it, were a turning point in the history of disability activism and did reflect the beginning of changing attitudes in terms of where the responsibility lies for social change.
“Join Our Protest” Call to protest for the implementation of the Disability Discrimination Act, March 1994. The rest of this flyer discusses the initial bill being talked out of the House of Commons and lists MPs to write to, demanding their support of the bill. (Add MS 89385)
The act made discrimination a societal issue and not just the responsibility of people with impairments or disabilities.
But, more than anything else, one of the momentous parts of the act was the story behind it. The act was fiercely campaigned and fought for by civil rights campaigners and disability rights activists. And it was these protests and these people that made the passing of the act such a remarkable moment in disability history.
More than 100,000 thousand people took to the streets to protest for the bill and it was a highly publicised campaign.
For a lot of people it felt shocking to see people with disabilities protesting and being arrested and for many it therefore challenged false preconceptions they held about the independence and vulnerability of people living with impairments.
This is reflected in some of the popular slogans of the campaign:
“KEEP FIGHTING FOR RIGHTS NOT CHARITY”
“PISS ON PITY”
(– Popular slogans from the 1994 protests.)
“Keep fighting for rights not charity!” Call to protest for the implementation of the Disability Discrimination Act, March 1994. (Add MS 89385)
The story of these protests is recorded, in part, in the archive of the Association of Disabled Professionals held at the British Library.
The ADP is a charitable organisation, founded in 1971, to support and advocate for disabled people in employment and education. It was one of the first organisations managed entirely by disabled people and sought to challenge and change age-old perceptions of disability. The organisation and its members were part of the campaign and protest around the bill.
The founding of the ADP is written about in more detail in our blog by a founding member, Diana Twitchin, here.
“Surely progress can be made, I simply cannot believe that in an age where men are sent to outer space it can’t be possible to let disabled youngsters make their way to better chances. So much talent is allowed to wilt.” Letter to the Association of Disabled Professionals, April 1994. (Add MS 89385)
Reflection from staff Disability Support Network member:
Despite the Disability Discrimination Act, and latterly the Equality Act, 2010, the disability community are still fighting for equality and equity in day to day life. Having reasonable / workplace adjustments enshrined in law is a start, but it isn’t enough.
Elements of society still view the disability community through the medical model of disability where it is seen that the individual is disabled by their impairment or difference, and that these impairments or differences should be ‘fixed’ or changed by medical and other treatments.
The Social Model of Disability, however, explains that there are multiple barriers including physical, intellectual, attitudinal, social, and policy which society puts in the way of people with disabilities. The Social Model of Disability sees that people with impairments and differences are disabled by the world around them, not by their impairment or difference. The more of these barriers are removed, or not created in the first place, the less need there will be for adjustments to be made.
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the ongoing inequalities faced by people with disabilities. “Worldwide, disasters and emergencies often disproportionately impact the disability community, and this pandemic is no exception”. 
In response to this, this year’s theme for International Day of People with Disabilities (3rd December) is “Fighting for rights in the post-COVID era”. “People with disabilities have been differentially affected by COVID-19 because of three factors: the increased risk of poor outcomes from the disease itself, reduced access to routine health care and rehabilitation, and the adverse social impacts of efforts to mitigate the pandemic.” 
The Association of Disabled Professionals Archive: http://searcharchives.bl.uk/IAMS_VU2:LSCOP_BL:IAMS032-003453637
Practical and Reasonable – A history of the Association of Disabled Professionals - Untold lives blog
The Disability Discrimination Act 1995: The campaign for civil rights - YouTube 2:02 – 2:10
https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)00625-5/fulltext Accessed 01/12/2021
https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)00625-5/fulltext Accessed 01/12/2021
25 November 2021
Six months that launched the Seventies
In the second part of this series, Anthony Barnett's guest post recalls his time as a member of the editorial collective of a little-known revolutionary weekly newspaper entitled '7 Days'. In 2020 the British Library acquired the papers of Anthony Barnett, best known as the founder of the campaigning organisation Charter 88 and the website openDemocracy.
Looking back half a century to 7 Days makes me realise the pain of its failure which is still buried within me - it was such a glorious achievement and had such promise. I’ve been asked to say something about how I became involved, what I saw as being at stake, the experience of producing it, and how it influenced me. To start to answer them I want to signal why it was so good and why something so good failed.
What 7 Days expressed in its range, radicalism, intense seriousness and dramatic layouts was the radical spirit and global intelligence of the young English left of ‘the Sixties’. It was the anti-Vietnam war movement turned into stunning photojournalism. It was the best revolutionary radicalism, shorn of its Trotskyism. It was a pioneering engagement with feminism and anti-racism. It was fresh and fearless.
The attack on Miss World. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
One person orchestrated the outcome across the pages of 7 Days, edited the layouts and presentation: Alexander Cockburn. I dislike the term ‘flair’, as I associate it with superficiality. But Alex’s flair was breath-taking in its audacity. Thanks to him, 7 Days focussed a tabloid energy on the British class system and its snobbery as well as world capitalism and its proto-fascism.
I’ll take a closer look at the first issue to show its range which was crucial to the paper’s qualities, building on Madeleine Davis’s analysis in her opening post. Page 2 reports the trial of the Mangrove 9 (recently brought back to life by Steve McQueen). The portraits of all nine were to fill a page when the historic 55 day trial ended. Rage against racism, in the UK and around the world, was a 7 Days theme from the start.
The Mangrove Nine. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
Page 3 has reports on the European “Common Market”, the role of the City of London and a financial scandal in Italy. They initiated coverage of capitalism rather than ‘the economy (at the back, launching a weekly essay on concepts, Gareth Stedman Jones asks ‘What is Capitalism?’).
Two photo-stories give the paper its hard-hitting edge. One exposed a reunion of ex-SS Nazis in Bavaria and got the cover splash. The second is a dramatic account of how a British army unit provoked a riot in Northern Ireland. It is by the photographer, Tom Picton, who became a regular. It proved a harbinger of Bloody Sunday, which 7 Days covered like no other mainland paper.
Bloody Sunday. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
A striking report on a ‘Day at the Dogs’ by Peter Fuller, who was the indefatigable home affairs editor, launched coverage of sport with a strong working-class angle.
7 Days pioneered discussion of mental illness as a form of control and repression. In her cool, invaluable overview in the digitised archive, Rosalind Delmar, the paper’s production manager, captures the radical imperative to break the silence about this issue. A story on ‘Madness in Two Minds’ and one on ‘Inside Britain’s Psychiatric Prisons’ launched the coverage along with a provocation (by one of the editorial collective, John Hoyland under a pseudonym) about whether parents should make love in the presence of young children (answer, not if they sit on top of you).
The Labour Party features in a short article by Tom Nairn, ‘Has the Labour Party any new ideas?’ Tony Benn had published a Fabian Pamphlet that called on Labour to adopt workers control of production, referendums (there had yet to be one in the UK), direct action against the media and democratic education to replace elite rule. Nairn says it is absurd to think Labour could just adopt such a “staggering” vision. He points out that in a subsequent Fabian Tract, Tony Crosland’s responded to Benn with a call for what Nairn saw as right wing-populism - a warning of what was to come. Nairn’s conclusion: “totally new” thinking would have to come from outside Labour. No one thought its source would be a Conservative of whom we had barely heard, Margaret Thatcher.
Turn the page and the nature of pop music and the role of musical charts is looked at by Dave Laing, while Stuart Hood (once the BBC Director of Programmes) writes on TV as an industry. Next there is Peter Wollen on the “Real, Surreal and Mundane”. In part he discusses how we mostly see paintings reproduced in a small format in books and this changes their nature. Opposite, a review of the ‘Advertisement of the Week’ is by John Mathews. Across all such coverage the new weekly focussed on the production of what is experienced and refused to take the output of capitalist society at face value.
In addition, Geoffrey Nowell-Smith contributed a superb review of Bertolucci’s The Conformist. He sets out how it resolved failures in his earlier films and shows how a bourgeois husband “is more fascist by his emptiness than anyone who is fascist by conviction”.
If this wasn’t enough, a four-page feature follows on gambling, its nature, scale and addictiveness and the role of the state by Jon Halliday, the brother of Fred Halliday, who was in charge of 7 Days' ‘Foreign News’, and Peter Fuller.
The British Army at work. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
Later, Fred Halliday was to write a multi-page spread on why Nixon was going to China - one of the world-turning events that coincided with the six-month life of 7 Days. These included Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland, when the paper ran the photographs others would not; the first miners’ strike that humiliated the Heath government; the trial of the Mangrove nine; the women’s liberation attack on the Miss World contest at the Albert Hall; the liberation of Bangladesh, and the huge, penultimate Vietnamese attack on the American regime in the South. It was the six months that launched the Seventies.
7 Days could have been an English language version of Libération, launched just over 18 months later in July 1973, or the Tageszeitung launched in 1978 - both also started with egalitarian editorial collectives – and survived, even if, like them, it would have undergone the traumas of a triumphant market fundamentalism. A print publication needs in some way to be a ‘home’ for a core readership. 7 Days never had the time to build one. But the potential readership was there, later expressed by Rock against Racism and, in the early Eighties, with Ken Livingston’s inventive and effective Greater London Council (1981-86).
7 Days closed because it had no serious start-up funding. It was without capital in a capitalist world and lacked any core backers. But this itself needs explanation. I was the prime mover and fund-raiser, using a dummy we’d created as well as a business case. At the heart of it, all of us were attempting to by-pass the sectarian divisions of the English far-left by seeking to demonstrate what could be done by looking outwards. But this also meant there was no initial network of organised support in a highly sectarian situation.
The Miners’ Strike. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
Specifically, it was an effort to recover from the wounding split in the Black Dwarf . 7 Days was what the Black Dwarf should have become. This sounds like an odd thing to say, I know! Black Dwarf was a revolutionary paper conjured into existence by the theatrical agent Clive Goodwin and the poet Christopher Logue and others, edited initially (after a false start) by Tariq Ali. I joined the Dwarf later. Among its other editors and contributors who were to work full-time on 7 Days were Fred Halliday (who delighted in the Dwarf’s memorable front page banner: “We shall fight, we shall win, Paris, London, Rome, Berlin”), Peter Fuller, who wrote pseudonymously the Dwarf’s ‘City’ column and John Hoyland.
Tariq Ali became a committed Trotskyist and decided to help create the International Marxist Group (IMG), as a British branch of the Fourth International. Backed by like-minded Black Dwarfers (none of whom were writers), he urged Goodwin to make it the paper of the IMG and Goodwin refused. Ali had recruited a wealthy supporter and they split off to launch the Red Mole. I took over editing the Black Dwarf but Goodwin had no funds and it died.
As it did so, some of us determined to start a new paper out of the ashes of the debacle, convinced that a committed non-sectarian paper of the left was needed. An example of the linkage: a key contributor to 7 Days was the great critic Peter Wollen, who wrote the Xmas cover story ‘Was Christ a Collaborator?’ I asked him why he wanted to become involved with us and not Red Mole. He said that it was when he saw one of the later Black Dwarf’s that I edited, where I’d put FOOTBALL FOOTBALL on the cover. Here is a characteristic picture from the time, with Margarita Jiménez.
Margarita Jiménez. Copyright © 1970 Howard Naish.
7 Days became a message in a bottle. One that recorded what the left’s culture and spirit should have been like. I’m very happy that Madeleine Davis’s eagle eye spotted the bottle and has opened it up half a century later.
Looking back I realise that for me personally it was a moment of uninhibited revolutionary expression. Much later I enjoyed bringing some radical energy into constitutional reform with Charter 88 – but it was consciously preconditional: a call to democratise the state sufficiently to make socialist strategy a credible option. Twelve years after that, the aim of openDemocracy was to create a space to prevent suffocation by Blairite globalisation. But 7 Days was an uninhibited ‘weapon’ of revolutionary advocacy, advance and learning, or so we thought!
How did it influence me? I felt vindicated as well as defeated. It meant my experience of that period was different from many of those who joined organisations like the IMG, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), or even became Bennites. It was defeated but it deserved to have survived. I was greatly helped overcome the loss by gaining the friendship and mentorship of John Berger, whom we’d asked to become a ‘Trustee’ of 7 Days. He was a wonderful example of how to retain voice and principle even when times are dire.
I’d like to add one codicil. We were not helped by the state of England. In his article, Nairn quotes Tony Crosland, once the most interesting of Labour intellectuals. Now he denounced ‘participation’ and ‘liberation’. The British people, Crosland claimed, “prefer to lead a full family life and cultivate their gardens. And a good thing too … we do not want a busy bustling society in which everyone is politically active and fussing around in an interfering or responsible manner”. This still shocks. It expressed the deep conservatism of the political class and the revulsion shared by the Labour leadership of democracy itself. Unfortunately, at the time, far too many voters agreed. They had still to vomit up the loathsome elixir of fatalism, deference and belief in British superiority and this effected everyone. This helps explain why 7 Days was also like an oasis in a desert.
The spirit of 7 Days in this stunning layout. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
27 October 2021
Introducing '7 Days': a revolutionary weekly newspaper in the Anthony Barnett archive
In 2020 the British Library acquired the papers of Anthony Barnett, best known as the founder of the campaigning organisation Charter 88 and the website openDemocracy. The openDemocracy archive and the Papers of Anthony Barnett were both acquired by the British Library on the 6th February 2020.
This series of six posts highlights a discrete part of the archive, consisting of published and unpublished material, editorial documents and ephemera from Barnett’s time as a member of the editorial collective of a little-known revolutionary weekly newspaper titled 7 Days. In this first post, historian of the British New Left Dr Madeleine Davis introduces the newspaper and the series.
Fifty years ago this month a very unusual newspaper appeared on UK newsstands. Titled ‘7 Days’ and with a bold red and black design, it might have caught the eye both for its deliberate revival of Picture Post-style ‘photo-journalism’ and for the selection of topics trailed above the title-piece. Gambling/Capitalism/Sex and Children/Arms Deal Exposure appeared above an image headlined SS Reunion in Bavaria, one of two ‘photo-features’. The other feature was a photo-record of an army action against ‘rioters’ in Derry, in a packed issue that evoked yet subverted standard newspaper fare.
A ‘Life’ section detailed conditions in psychiatric prison; ‘Ideas’ featured a primer on Marxism from Gareth Stedman Jones; ‘Sports’ delved into the economics of dog racing; ‘Arts’ featured Stuart Hood on the TV industry, as well as film and book reviews (Bertolucci; realism) and an ‘ad of the week’ dissected (in this issue) a pro-feminist critique of a gas cooker ad campaign. On top of this there were foreign and home news sections and a special feature on the gambling industry.
But if the paper’s radical socialist credentials were not in doubt, it differed from other left organs in having no party allegiance nor editorial sermonising, nor even an editor in chief.
7 Days, no.1 27 October 1971 Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive
The new venture’s launch was preceded by a publicity and funding drive, for the aim was to secure commercial distribution and a circulation of up to 40–50,000. Dummy issues had been sent to sympathetic contacts in the press, and funds, with an initial target of £25,000, were raised through donations and loans from a network of left-leaning contacts. Ex-Communist Party names figured prominently in lists of potential donors, as did artists David Hockney and Sylvia Guirey, as well as Sonia Orwell and playwright John McGrath.
As W.L. Webb noted in a perceptive pre-launch write up in The Guardian in September 1971, the names of the Trustees of the magazine – respected journalist Claud Cockburn, artist John Berger and former BBC Controller Stuart Hood, were designed to reassure: ‘if the kids must have revolutionism, then this might be the brand for the station bookstalls’.[i] Yet Webb was cautiously optimistic, noting with approval that 7 Days, ‘the new hope of the New Left’ appeared to be taking both its journalism and its Marxism seriously, seemed more ‘above board than underground’, and in its determination to ‘break out of the ghetto readership’ of the far left was certainly doing something new.
One of Webb’s chief sources must have been the fold out flyer distributed in advance, which set out the paper’s ambition and appeal to commercial distributors. ‘It will look good, it will read well, and it will explode onto a market that has never been touched before’.[ii] The market figured was professional and semi-professionals working in education, medicine, architecture, technology, media and the creative arts, as well as student radicals; even ‘housewives and mothers who have themselves been through further education’. As Webb noted, this was the ‘68 generation who’d ridden a revolutionary wave then been beached on the shores of Conservative election victory. Whether it was a big enough constituency to justify the planned print run of 50,000 copies would remain to be seen.
Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Madeleine Davis.
7 Days was launched just over a year after an earlier paper, Black Dwarf, folded. Black Dwarf had been founded in 1968 by a group including Tariq Ali, Sheila Rowbotham and well-connected literary agent Clive Goodwin. Goodwin, described by John McGrath as an ‘entrepreneur of the left’ [iii] conceived the paper, and it was named, by poet Christopher Logue, after a satirical paper published by radical reformer Thomas Wooler between 1817-24. Beginning as a self-styled non-sectarian paper of the radical left, and conceived, in the heady atmosphere of 1968 as a ‘political action’ not just a means of communication, it adopted a bold and confrontational style while also maintaining strong links with the more austerely intellectual radicalism of the New Left Review, with whom it shared offices and several personnel.
Amid the ferment after 1968, the Dwarf’s editorial board split between a group increasingly influenced by Fourth International (FI) Trotskyism and a group wanting to maintain an independent stance. [iv] There were also tensions over the paper’s stance on feminism, vividly recalled by Sheila Rowbotham in her memoir Promise of a Dream. When in early 1970 Clive Goodwin, who owned the title, refused to allow Black Dwarf to become the official paper of the Trotskyist International Marxist Group (IMG), the FI contingent around Tariq Ali left, founding Red Mole and then Red Weekly, which was formally affiliated with the IMG.
From March 1970, Black Dwarf was edited from Clive Goodwin’s flat on Cromwell Road, and then from new premises in Soho, by Anthony Barnett, with a group including Rowbotham, John Hoyland and Fred Halliday. Eight issues were produced in this way between March and September, the style changing in a way that in some senses prefigured 7 Days. The paper’s final issue appeared on 5 September 1970, late. It contained no formal announcement of suspension, though a statement reflected a little on its record while also speaking of money problems. A ‘Black Dwarf benefit painting sale and exhibition’ was advertised with work by artists including David Hockney, Joe Tilson, Richard Hamilton and Ralph Steadman, but the paper did not reappear.
Some months later, however, some of those involved set up a new working group to discuss a new paper. This group included activists of the Women’s Liberation Movement, which held its first conference in the same year, and contacts from New Left Review, the student and independent left.[v]
Though there was some continuity from Black Dwarf in terms of personnel and in the insistence on political independence, the new publication was intended to be of a quality and seriousness sufficient to break out of the ‘underground’, with all the precariousness and minimalist production values this had implied. Pre-publicity made much of the seasoned journalistic talent involved, as Alex Cockburn, who had worked on the TLS and New Statesman, was a key figure and de-facto editor. It also claimed a gap left by the rightward shift of the New Statesman under Richard Crossman’s editorship.
As Rosalind Delmar has pointed out, 7 Days was emphatically not part of the counterculture – ‘Bauhaus rather than Aubrey Beardsley was being channelled’. Rather it was more representative of an independent and intellectually-oriented New Left tradition that developed from the late 1950s ‘between communism and social democracy’, and which underwent significant radicalisation, as well as some fragmentation, in the late 1960s. 7 Days was in part – at least for some of those involved - an attempt to broaden the reach and scope of this tradition, as well as to take seriously (as much of the rest of the radical left seemed unable to do) the emergent politics of women’s liberation.
The moment must also have seemed both urgent and propitious, for the cusp of the 70s was, as this series will remind us, an intensely eventful and conflictual period in British politics. Social and protest movements (industrial militancy, women’s and gay liberation, black power) asserted themselves against an establishment which itself was regrouping ideologically and politically in ways that would crystalise more clearly toward the end of the decade. In the six months of its existence 7 Days covered the wave of industrial action against the imposition of the 1971 Industrial Relations Act; the Mangrove trial, the IRA, UVF and Angry Brigade bombing campaigns and the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry.
Simply as a contemporaneous record of these events, 7 Days is fascinating and important. For historians of the left, it is the more so because its political perspectives had continually to be negotiated amongst a journalistic and production team which recognised no party discipline, avoided the simplistic revolutionary sloganeering characteristic of the far left, yet saw itself as supporting all those ‘who are making the foundations of revolutionary change’.
A pre-publication document set out the strategic perspective hammered out thus: ‘7 Days recognises that with the significant exception of Northern Ireland, British capitalism wields its power not through violence or terror (though these weapons are in the cupboard) but with the consent of the mass of the people. People tolerate the intolerable because of the inherited weight of ideology …. That’s why 7 Days takes its starting point from people’s daily lives’. That was also why 7 Days covered, sometimes in groundbreaking ways, issues of mental health, abortion, children, the mass media and ‘popular arts’. Taken together, this social and cultural coverage amounts to a unique record and a considerable achievement.
Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive
Independence fostered innovation, but also tension and frustration. While the published contents of the paper usually contained little direct editorial content, internal papers are replete with memos and counter-memos criticising its record and disagreeing over its direction, both political and editorial. ‘Left papers are real heartbreakers and money –burners’, remarked Rowbotham of her time at Black Dwarf.[vi] In the event, it was financial crisis that brought the career of 7 Days to an abrupt end. Optimistic projections for readership were not borne out in sales figures, and by February 1972 losses were reported to be running at £500 per week, while two thirds of the £16000 launch capital raised was spent.
In March 1972, after twenty one issues, 7 Days went into ‘suspended animation’ while funds were sought for a relaunch. The relaunch never happened, and apart from one final Vietnam-themed issue in May 1972, which commemorated the evacuation of American troops from Saigon with the doubly-apt headline ‘Who’s for the chopper?’ the paper disappeared.
Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive
Few people, even among historians of the radical left, have ever heard of 7 Days. It is far less well known than International Times (IT), usually regarded as the first paper of the London underground and alternative press, than Oz, made famous by the trial for obscenity of Richard Neville and others, or even than the Black Dwarf which it in some sense replaced. I first came across it when researching the history of the New Left Review, interest piqued by a reference in some unpublished editorial documents to a spin-off publication in which several NLR editors were involved.
Years later, acquiring material for an exhibition on the activist histories of the British New Left, its striking visuals and neglected history made me keen to include it, so I got in touch with Anthony to see if he would let me use some of his originals. Fascinated anew, I proposed its addition to the Amiel Melburn Trust’s online archive of radical periodicals. From Anthony’s collection, the whole run was digitised and made available in 2017, funded by the Trust, and with an introductory essay by Rosalind Delmar, the paper’s production editor.
This series of posts over the next few months, will give a space to some of those who produced it to tell the story of the paper and of their own involvement. In doing so we hope to recover not just the history of 7 Days, but the feel and significance of a moment.
[i] The Seven Days left: W. L. Webb on a new radical magazine The Guardian (1959-2003); Jun 26, 1971;
[ii] Unpublished document ‘Add 7 Days to your week’, papers of Anthony Barnett, BL, not yet catalogued.
[iii] McGrath, J., ‘Clive Goodwin 1932-1977’ History Workshop, Spring 1978, No.5 p.236. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/4288183.pdf
[v] The working party consisted of Barnett, Hugh Brodie, Alex Cockburn, Rosalind Delmar, Judith Furguson, David Fernbach, Peter Fuller, Clive Goodwin, Fred Halliday, John Hoyland, Phil Kelly, Ros Linnell, John Mathews, Maxine Molyneux, Christine Moore, John McGrath, Jenny Moss, Gareth Stedman Jones, David Triesman, Peter Wollen , Alan Hayling, Stephen Ginsburg. (source, pre-publication leaflet, File 120, papers of F Halliday, BLPES, LSE)
[vi] Rowbotham, S., Promise of a Dream, Remembering the Sixties (Verso; 2001 p.250)
28 July 2021
Hundreds of definitions for a big word: The Refugee Dictionary comes to the British Library
The Refugee Dictionary, photo by Simon Jacobs, PA Wire
Today is the 70th anniversary of the United Nations Refugee Convention. The UN Refugee Convention, signed on 28 July 1951, defined who a refugee is in law and set out the human rights of women, men and children fleeing the horrors of war and persecution to seek safety in another country. It also set out the legal obligations of states to protect refugees.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (known as UN Refugee Agency or UNHCR) is the custodian of the Refugee Convention and works around the world to protect the rights and wellbeing of people forced to flee conflict and persecution. Their work includes responding to emergencies, providing access to essential services such as health care and education and also supporting the complex needs for refugees wanting to return to their homes. The charity UK for UNHCR helps raise funds and build awareness to support this work in the UK.
To mark the 70th anniversary, UK for UNHCR have created a very special dictionary to highlight the many personal experiences of refugees and their friends, families, colleagues and others. The Refugee Dictionary has been compiled from hundreds of definitions of just one word: ‘refugee’. The result is a powerful work, at times beautiful, recounting the experiences of fleeing persecution, hopes, building new homes and new relationships. Sometimes it’s as simple as sharing a joke or favourite food.
Examples of the definitions contained in The Refugee Dictionary include:
‘A refugee is the unexpected but joyful addition to my family. A surprise second son’ (Jane, Lewes)
‘the Asian family who fled Idi Armin’s Uganda. They arrived with just one small suitcase each, but in them they had gifts for us’ (Anne, Stourbridge)
‘Someone in search of what most of us take for granted’ (Andrew, Glasgow)
You can read all the definitions, including contributions from faith leaders across the UK, Lord Alf Dubs, Khaled Hosseini, and Emma Thompson, online at https://www.unrefugees.org.uk/refugeedictionary/
Emma Cherniavsky, UK for UNHCR CEO presents The Refugee Dictionary to Dr Xerxes Mazda, British Library Head of Collections and Curation. Photo by Simon Jacobs, PA Wire
Yesterday, a print copy – one of only two – was presented to us at the British Library, to add to our collections. We are honoured and delighted that UK for UNHCR chose us to hold a copy. The British Library is a place where we celebrate the written and spoken word, and the meanings that we give to them. Even more, The Refugee Dictionary and the Convention that has inspired its creation, speaks to our aim to ensure that our collections reflect the diversity of voices that make up published communication. That could be through fiction, poetry, song, blog posts, charity campaigns, the latest scientific papers or popular magazines.
Our collections have been influenced and enriched by the experiences of refugees and the work to protect the rights of refugees.
Our Oral History recordings include testimonies from people who fled persecution of Jewish people in Nazi Germany and during the Second World War. More information on these collections can be found at https://www.bl.uk/collection-guides/oral-histories-of-jewish-experience-and-holocaust-testimonies
The Vietnamese Oral History project includes interviews with refugees from Vietnam to the UK, alongside interviews with refugee support workers. This collection, and others documenting refugee experience, is described at https://www.bl.uk/collection-guides/oral-histories-of-ethnicity-and-post-colonialism
The British Library is a depository library for the United Nations, and provides access to the published documentary history of the UN and its agencies, including UNHCR. You can find out more about these collections, and find out how to access the many documents that are now freely available online, at https://www.bl.uk/collection-guides/publications-intergovernmental-organisations
Our Social Welfare Portal provides access to reports and other information from a range of UK charities and agencies working to support the rights of refugees in the UK.
Our Contemporary British Publications reflect the growing range of academic research, news, commentary and creative expression on the experience of being a refugee. We are very pleased to add The Refugee Dictionary to this collection, marking the 70th anniversary of the UN Refugee Convention.
01 March 2021
History in the Making: 40 years on from the Black People’s Day of Action
This post highlights a small selection of items in the Library’s collections of interest to anyone wanting to know more about the educators and activists behind the Black People’s Day of Action on 2nd March 1981.
On that day, around 20,000 people from across the UK marched from New Cross to Hyde Park, crossing Blackfriars bridge and bringing parts of central London to a standstill on a weekday. The demonstration took place six weeks after the devasting New Cross fire (also referred to as the Deptford Fire) that claimed the lives of 13 young black people at a house party celebrating Yvonne Ruddock’s 16th birthday and the 18th birthday of her friend Angela Jackson. In the face of official indifference, the march channelled the anger and grief of a community into a political action that marked a turning point for black people in Britain.
Poster held by the George Padmore Institute featured on the Library’s Windrush Stories website. The poster was not used once the death toll of 13 became clear. Another young person who experienced the trauma of the fire died two years later.
There are numerous accounts of the New Cross Fire and of the Black People’s Day of Action online, including Nadine White’s extended article, which is accompanied by a short film. The film gives voice to a survivor of the fire and three women who joined in organising the Day of Action. Commemoration leaves further traces online such as this event marking 30 years on the Black History Studies website. This year, UCL is marking the 40th anniversary with an event, podcast, and online exhibition of photographs.
Online events have given a wider reach to conversations and memorialisation, particularly where they have been recorded and made available for later listening. At a recent event made available through Westminster University’s ‘Black History Year’ site, Leila Hassan Howe, who was a member of the New Cross Massacre Action Committee, recalled the context to the Day of Action and spoke about her personal journey to activism.
What can resources in the Library add to the accounts available by searching online?
For anyone wanting to go further into this history, it’s no surprise that the Library holds books written by people involved in organising the Black People's Day of Action. The Library also holds some of the newsletters and journals produced at the time. A small number of oral history recordings held by the Library and some recordings of events are available online and can be accessed while the Library is still closed.
To pick out just two accounts in books, in Black British History: new perspectives, edited by Hakim Adi and published by Zed Press, Carol Pierre describes how the fire, along with the movement of solidarity afterwards left “an indelible imprint on a community”.
Black British History: New Perspectives from Roman times to the present day. ELD.DS.396110
A detailed account is also given in Robin Bunce and Paul Field’s Renegade: the life and times of Darcus Howe. Bunce and Field describe the way Darcus Howe spoke at meetings across the north of England, accompanied by Gus John who was based in Manchester at that time. Gus John has held professorial positions including Associate Professor of Education at the UCL Institute of Education in London. In December 2016, Professor Gus John delivered the British Library Lecture ‘Changing Britannia through the Arts and Activism’ to mark 50 Years since the founding of New Beacon Books. This post describes the background to the event.
Renegade: the life and times of Darcus Howe. ELD.DS.110104 and YC.2018.a.2504
Nadine White’s article mentioned above shows how the organisation of the march marked a first step into political action for some of those involved. But many of the core group within the New Cross Massacre Action Committee had worked together as part of the Alliance linking the Race Today collective with the Black Parents Movement, Black Youth Movement and Bradford Black Collective.
An issue of Race Today featuring the Black Parents Movement. P.523/84
The Action Committee emerged from a meeting on 25 January 1981 in Lewisham. Led by John La Rose and Darcus Howe, it also included Leila Hassan and other members of the Race Today collective. Linton Kwesi Johnson and Farrukh Dhondy were part of the collective. Each of them feature extensively in the Library’s collections. As a group their actions were informed by an exchange of ideas and experience. They were engaged in teaching (mainly through supplementary schools), discussion groups, research, reading and publishing. The work of Trinidadian intellectual CLR James was an important influence.
The British Library holds much of this publishing output and also fosters research on these collections, particularly those that are harder to find elsewhere. In 2019 Emma Abotsi worked in the Library as British Sociological Association Fellow exploring independent community publications relating to education. This blog post describes one aspect of the work she did.
Currently, UCL doctoral student Naomi Oppenheim is working with the Library on a collaborative doctoral partnership focused on Caribbean diaspora publishing and activism. Naomi is leading on a project supported by the Eccles Centre to collect oral histories through conversations about Caribbean food shedding light on wider aspects of life, history and politics. She has recently written about the ‘Caribbean Foodways at the British Library’ project.
Selected publications and recordings by John La Rose, Darcus Howe, Leila Hassan Howe and Linton Kwesi Johnson
John La Rose
John La Rose (1927-2006), who founded New Beacon books (pictured in this Wasafiri article ) with Sarah White in 1966, was an educator, mentor and friend to the members of the organising committee. As a poet, writer, activist and publisher, John La Rose was at the heart of key movements advancing the cause of black people in Britain, in education, the arts and culture, for four decades. His works in the Library range from poetry, to interviews and newsletters.
The New Cross Massacre Story: interviews with John La Rose YK.2013.a.19831. This book is still available from the George Padmore Institute, along with The Black Peoples Day of Action 02.03.1981 (Café Press, 2020) by Vron Ware which contains contains black and white photographs taken by Vron Ware on the day.
New Beacon Reviews, first collection 1968-, P.901/409.
The Library holds a recording (C1172/14 and C1172/15) of John La Rose interviewed by Ron Ramdin (author of The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain, 1987, reissued by Verso in 2017). He can also be heard giving the welcome address, introductions and thanks on recordings from the International Book Fairs of Black Radical and Third World Books. These were ground-breaking events that John La Rose organised jointly with Jessica Huntley of Bogle L’Ouverture Publications between 1982 and 1995. (The Library also holds an oral history interview with Jessica Huntley and Eric Huntley, who jointly founded Bogle L’Ouverture publishing.)
On 2 March 2021, the George Padmore Institute launched its new website with a film about the Institute’s New Cross Massacre Action Committee archive collection.
The film Dream to Change the World: A Tribute to John La Rose, directed by Horace Ové can be viewed online.
Dream to change the world: the life and legacy of John La Rose. YK.2019.b.783
Born in Trinidad, Darcus Howe was a broadcaster, writer and racial justice campaigner. He edited Race Today and was chairman of the Notting Hill Carnival. Steve McQueen’s film Mangrove, part of the Small Axe series available on BBC iPlayer, dramatises Howe’s experiences as one of the 'Mangrove Nine', charged with “inciting a riot” following a demonstration in defence of the Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill which had been targeted by police raids.
Darcus Howe: a political biography. Held by the Library at ELD.DS.79837 and YC.2014.a.8855. Bloomsbury have made this book available free online.
Many of Darcus Howe’s publications are held by the Library along with sound recordings from conferences and events. Although the Library tries to collect UK and Irish publications as fully as possible under Legal Deposit, some books are missed, as are many small-circulation magazines and newsletters. In writing this post, I have come across a small number of titles from the prolific output of people around Race Today, the Institute for Race Relations and the George Padmore Institute that the Library still needs to add to its collections.
From Bobby to Babylon was originally published in 1988, but is not held by the Library. It has recently been reissued and will be added to the collections when we return from lockdown.
Outside the Library, on British Library Sounds, you can listen to Darcus Howe discussing the work of CLR James with Farrukh Dhondy, recorded in 1992.
Leila Hassan Howe
Leila Hassan Howe can be found in the British Library catalogue under the name Leila Hassan. Her writing for Race Today is featured in the magazine and in an anthology published in 2019 by Pluto Press, and a booklet authored by Farrukh Dhondy to which she and British Black Panther member Barbara Beese contributed. The Library also holds poetry recordings introduced by Leila Hassan on behalf of Creation for Liberation Society and the Poetry Society. Recorded in London in 1985, they feature the poetry of Amryl Johnson, Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, Maya Angelou and Alice Walker. Sadly, these fascinating recordings are only available in the Library.
Here to stay, here to fight: a Race Today anthology. ELD.DS.456429 and X.529/70862
The Black explosion in British schools, by Farrukh Dhondy with Leila Hassan and Barbara Beese. X.529/70862 63 pages.
Linton Kwesi Johnson
Linton Kwesi Johnson was awarded the PEN Pinter Prize in 2020 in recognition of his work. In making the award, the judges said:
‘Linton Kwesi Johnson is a poet, reggae icon, academic and campaigner, whose impact on the cultural landscape over the last half century has been colossal and multi-generational. His political ferocity and his tireless scrutiny of history are truly Pinteresque, as is the humour with which he pursues them.’
The presentation event, including an introduction by Paul Gilroy, was hosted by the British Library and can be viewed on the British Library player.
Voices of the Living and the Dead YD.2009.a.903
In 1974 Race Today / Towards Racial Justice published Linton Kwesi Johnson’s first poetry collection, Voices of the Living and the Dead. Between then and now his poetry has been published in print and recorded, performed over dub-reggae. These recordings (also held by the Library) were mostly in collaboration with producer and artist Dennis Bovell.
This exceptionally rich blog post by Sarah O'Reilly includes selections from her oral history interview with Linton Kwesi Johnson, held by the Library.
Dread poetry & freedom. ELD.DS.333758
I have flagged up just a few of the many publications held by the Library that shed light on the events of 1981, but for now the Library is closed and many of these books cannot be accessed. A number of independent bookshops feature an impressive range of titles available to buy or to access through public libraries.
Screengrab showing small selection of the non-fiction books available from New Beacon books.
The Londonist published a list of black owned bookshops in London, some of which sell online, and across the country members of the Alliance of Radical Booksellers may also stock these items. Presses such as Pluto and Verso sell online.
Open access books : Knowledge Unlatched
I noted above the biography of Darcus Howe made freely available by Bloomsbury. The Library is committed to open access publishing and is one of 630 libraries working with Knowledge Unlatched to make books freely available online to read and download. The books that are 'unlatched' cover a very wide range of disciplines and languages. The Knowledge Unlatched collection features some titles that are relevant to anyone interested in Britain’s black history, for example:
Heidi Safia Mirza: Young, Female and Black. (Routledge, 1992)
Colin Chambers: Black and Asian Theatre In Britain. (Routledge, 2020)
Gerald Horne: Paul Robeson: the artist as revolutionary. (Pluto, 2016).
Charles Forsdick and Christian Høgsbjerg: Toussaint L’Ouverture: A Black Jacobin in the age of revolutions (Pluto Press, 2017)
Britain, France and the decolonization of Empire – future imperfect? (UCL, 2017)
The Black People's Day of Action marked a turning point in the challenge to racism in Britain. For those of us who remember these events, the sources of information above reveal far more than was reported by a hostile press. For those born later who approach these events as history, these sources may be a starting point to find out more and draw parallels with more recent experiences.
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