Who Hijacked Our Country

Sunday, August 18, 2013

London, 1958: the “Forgotten” Race Riot

Betcha never heard of the Notting Hill race riot of August, 1958.  I just learned about it from our NetFlix movie last night, Absolute Beginners.  It’s a very surreal portrait of London’s burgeoning rock scene in the late 1950s.  The movie was filmed in 1986.  The cast included David Bowie, Sade and Ray Davies.  Gil Evans composed the soundtrack.

I thought Absolute Beginners would be just a fun fluffy piece about London in the late ‘50s.  And that’s how it started out.  But little by little, it shifted from London hipsters imitating American rock and roll, to the underlying current of racial hatred.  By the end of the movie, it was pretty much just one beatdown and rock-throwing and torching frenzy after another.

After the movie I Googled it, and sure enough, the movie was referring to the Notting Hill race riots of 1958.

The racial instigators were always dressed immaculately in three-piece suits while they went around throwing rocks through windows, setting fires and stomping any lone black person they could find.

I knew vaguely about the Mods and Rockers from mid 1960s England — the two teenage subcultures who were always fighting each other.  The Mods, like the racists several years earlier, were also wearing three-piece suits while they brawled in the streets.  (They were brought to life in Brighton Rock — our NetFlix movie from a few weeks ago about mid ‘60s England.)

I don’t think Absolute Beginners used the term “Teddy Boys,” but that’s what the rightwing Nazi-wannabes were called.  They dressed like dandies from the Edwardian period, and somebody coined their name by shortening “Edwardian” to “Teddy.”

At the end of World War II, Caribbean migrants started pouring into London, and this begat the Teddy Boys and other zoot-suited racists who wanted to “Keep Britain White.”

Funny how you think you’re just gonna watch an hour and a half of mind candy, and you end up learning something.

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Blogger JUDI M. said...

Does Clockwork Orange ing a bell???

August 18, 2013 at 4:49 PM  
Anonymous Screamin' Mimi said...

Yes, I saw Clockwork Orange, too, but also thought is was fiction, rather than being based on the same thing as "Absolute Beginners."

Pretty weird stuff, and too many parallels with our modern age.

August 18, 2013 at 5:26 PM  
Blogger jim marquis said...

Wow, I need to watch that. I had always thought about it like you did.

Have you ever seen "Quadrophenia"? Good movie about that same era over there. Based on one of my favorite albums of all time.

August 19, 2013 at 11:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

JUDI M.: Yup, another good example. I saw that movie about 20 years ago, long after it came out. I thought it would have that quaint campy 1960s feel to it. Nope.

SM: I don't think Clockwork Orange was based on a specific real-life event. (I had to google it; it's been so long since I saw it.) Plus it was supposed to be a "futuristic" London.

Jim: I never did see Quadrophenia. I'll have to add it to our NetFlix queue.

August 19, 2013 at 1:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was noted that while those events were going on in England, the English Press was wagging their fingers at the United States over their handling of the Civil Rights Movement.

Britain has never been prepared for the influx of all their Citizens of Color from former colonies that immigrated from Africa, India, South East Asia, Caribbean, and the Middle East.

In many ways they still aren't


August 19, 2013 at 5:04 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Erik: That figures. England and the U.S. always seem to be projecting their own faults onto each other. In a (sort of) related story, the CIA has officially acknowledged that yes, they really did overthrow the democratically elected premiere of Iran 60 years ago. (Like we didn't know this already.) The British government tried to keep this information from being released, since they're still not ready to admit their role in the coup.

August 19, 2013 at 8:40 PM  

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