(from Peach’s entry in the Dictionary of National Biography)
As regular readers will recall, I’ve recently started a writing project about Blair Peach, which I hope will culminate in a pamphlet to be published for the 35th anniversary of his death on 23 April 1979. I’m looking for photographs, diary entries, anything which will give a sense of Peach as a human being, and not merely as the victim of an unprovoked police assault which killed him, towards the end of the protests in Southall.
One of the best short sources for Peach’s life is the introduction by Chris Searle to “One for Blair”, which was a commemorative anthology of poems for young people published by Searle on the tenth anniversary of Peach’s death. The book includes poems in Peach’s memory by Edward Bond and Searle himself, as well as a much large number of poems themed around anti-racism, justice, etc.
Searle, who taught with Peach in the East End, describes how NUT meetings traditionally ended with a drink at the nearby Railway Tavern in Grove Road. One evening in 1974, the teachers were told by a fellow customer that the publican refused to serve black customers. Challenged, he accepted that this was indeed his policy, saying that as far as he was concerned all black people were “pimps, queers and prostitutes”
The teachers left the pub and went round others in the local area, even locating some of the black drinkers who had been banned from the Railway Tavern. Returning to the pub, they first attempted to picket it, but since hardly anyone was actually going in or out, decided to go back in and speak to the landlord a second time. The landlord called the police, who arrested Peach. He was charged with threatening behaviour but acquitted.
As Peach was leaving the court, two of his friends and overheard a policeman saying, “sooner or later we’ll get you!” “I remember we laughed about it at the time”, Searle continues, “but those words were to come pounding back to some of us five years later in April 1979.”
In Searle’s telling of the story, the threat came to foreshadow Peach’s death: not directly, after all, no-one could really believe that five years later the same officer had carried out his threat personally, but as a note of foreboding that hung over him and his friends afterwards.
I’ve tracked down two fliers from the time (above), which give the story a slightly different flavour. The image on the left is a leaflet handed out by anti-racists, presumably some time after Peach’s arrest, complaining about the landlord of the Railway Tavern. It refers not to the spontaneous, one-of protests at which he was arrested, but to something planned some time in advance.
As for the image on the right, this is a newsletter of the Tower Hamlets Campaign against Racism and Fascism, from February 1975. It refers back to the picketing of the Railway Tavern, from which we can infer the date of the picket – October 1974. It gives the landlord a name, Gerald Byrne, and lets us know that Byrne had given his story to the East London Express, whose journalist he had told that he had been intimidated, and his wife was in fear for her life. The protesters were not impressed by this supposed victimhood: as far as they were concerned, Mrs Byrne and her friends had spat at and assaulted them and poured water over them. The landlord and his family were not victims.
The leaflet also tells us “what happened next”. The protesters had not been alone; the Race Relations Board had also made enquiries. After the protests, the brewery Charrington had assigned the license to a new landlord, and had in fact said that Byrne could not continue as its landlord anywhere else.
So rather than the protests ending in defeat and threat, it seems that the campaign had a rather different outcome. Peach and his comrades succeeded in displacing a hostile, racist landlord. Their campaign ended in a modest, but definite victory.