Sunday 23 July 2023

Britain says "Farewell" to our old and revered, Prince of Film Critics, Derek Malcolm

Page views : 557

Derek, who has died at the age of ninety-one was sixty-four and approaching his retirement as the Guardian Film Critic when interviewed in 1996 by the 'British Entertainment Project' (link). His definition of what makes a good film critic reveals insight into what made him not just a great critic, but arguably one of Britain's greatest.

Derek said : 

"The first thing to be a good film critic is that you have to write well and entertainingly and fast, because of deadlines. Otherwise its just not going to be printed. So you have to be a journalist first and know what you're doing on paper".

"Secondly you have to know something about your subject and believe in your subject. You have to believe that some of the greatest artists of the twentieth century have been film makers and have to believe some of the greatest geniuses have been film directors. You have believe the cinema is important and capable of doing some good for society as well as just entertaining it". 

"Thirdly, you have to know something about the other arts because the cinema is an amalgam of all the other art forms".

"Fourthly, you have to be a decent human being because films are about human beings and their stories, fundamentally, and if you are someone who is not sympathetic to other human beings and their stories, how can you be a very good film critic when you are dealing with those".

"So it's a hard job being a good critic in the cinema but those are four things you need and now of course is the time when its very difficult to do all those things because, 'A' : you haven't got the space or 'B' : your editor wants something jazzy at all costs and 'C' :  they don't believe the cinema is important in that way and 'D' : they don't give a damn whether you're a shit or a decent human being as long as you can write the kind of stuff which they think is trendy".

* * * * * * * * 

Derek Elliston Michael Malcolm was born the only child of middle-aged parents, Dorothy and Douglas Malcolm in Marylebone in the City of Westminster, West London in the spring of 1932. His father belonged to a wealthy Scottish family with the family wealth based on the jute business and earlier his grandfather's connection to the East India Company. Eighteen years before Derek was born his father had been a lieutenant with the Royal Artillery during the First World War. Derek only partially got the facts right about himself when he said : "I was born in 1932 in a castle in Scotland, to a very rich Scottish family". But it is certainly true that he was : "Sent for education in England. I think I was educated in a boarding school from the age of four to twenty one when I came out of Oxford University. I had a very privileged kind of upbringing except that my family gradually lost all their money. It was a privileged upbringing which got poorer and poorer and poorer and poorer".

By the time Derek was conceived, his parents were scarcely living together. Douglas went off hunting in Northamptonshire while Dorothy, a fine singer and occasional performer, entertained admirers in London. When once asked "Is it possible that they continued any kind of physical relationship?" Derek replied : "God knows. I've no bloody idea. My mother had admirers, but she wasn't sexually predatory. She just wanted adoration. She had me when she was 42. She used to say : "Derek, you've ruined my breasts" ".

When he was seven, in 1939, the Second World War had broken out and the following year the family were bombed out in the London Blitz and moved to Bexhill on the Sussex coast which Derek described as : "A ghastly little seaside town with nothing happening. As a child I used to go to all three of all three cinemas three times a week during the War". At this point the family were not impoverished and lived in their house with a family called Manners, with father as butler and his wife and daughter as cook and maid.

In 1943 he was packed off to Eton to join other sons of the upper middle classes and said : "I didn't enjoy public school at all. I was always a sort of Labour supporter and I was bad at sport and very bad at my work, asthmatic, small, miserable and had a dreadful time most of the time till a master at Eton said : "There's something about this guy. He can write". It was that one master that gave me the confidence to get me afloat. I suppose having a fairly unhappy home. life going to school wasn't so awful. I hated boarding school but I also hated life at home because my parents were very unhappy with each other. I went to university and broke free from most of it". 

His housemaster's report from 1946 when he was fourteen stated : 

When he was sixteen years old he found a book about famous legal cases in his father’s study with a chapter ripped out and deeply embarrassed, his father felt he had to confess. Derek said : “He told me he had something to tell me, and he dreaded it. I just said I knew, quite understood, would have done the same myself”. That something was that his father had shot dead his mother’s lover on returning from active service in the First World War. Derek would later say : “No film I ever saw was any more dramatic than the story of my parents, whose marriage was overtaken so soon by a tragedy that received huge publicity and effectively destroyed the happiness of both”. This was all fifteen years before Derek was born and the case had caused a sensation in London in 1917 with the Old Bailey trial billed as the first example of a 'crime passionel' in an English court. 

His father, Lt Douglas Malcolm, styled in the papers as 'A man of antique honour', had traced his wife’s lover, Anton Baumberg, a bogus nobleman, to a boarding house in West London and killed him with four shots from his service pistol. A jury at the Old Bailey brought in a 'justifiable homicide' verdict against him, finding that when he confronted Baumberg with the pistol and a horsewhip, he had 'acted in self-defence' to preserve his wife’s honour.

A year earlier in 1947, when he was fifteen his mother took him to see Laurel and Hardy performing on stage at the London Coliseum and took tea and buns with his heroes having asked to meet them in the interval of the show and he recalled, although he didn't know why, they said : “Yes, but don’t bring your mother”. Derek later wrote : “Hardy took a bun from the tray, placed it on his chair and sat on it. It was, of course, squashed flat. I’m pretty sure he did it to amuse me. But you never knew with Hardy, who preferred playing golf to working. Laurel looked horrified, especially when Hardy offered the flat bun to me. He was the master of most situations and the pair’s directors invariably deferred to him on set”.

Fifty-six years later, in 2003, Derek would write and publish 'Family Secrets' as an attempt to overcome the lurid prejudice of the original reporting, as he said : “Portraying my mother as an idiot, with this dastardly Jewish brute [her lover] pursuing her, whereas my father was a hero, a gentleman, for protecting her honour”. Derek said : "The real tragedy was that my mother was more talented and beautiful than anyone in the family. Even Toscanini admired her, for God's sake, but all that scandal did for her career". He said he knew his parents would not have wanted their story told and said : "But the truth is I was very fond of them, my mother especially until she was gaga, and my father - if he was my father, and I don't much care; he brought me up - had a sensitive side that came out in later years. I wanted to tell their story but not destroy their memory".

Derek said that, in 1950, when he was eighteen : "I think I only got into Oxford because my mother had known the Warden of Merton College very well and he had more or less taken me on. I don't think I deserved to get in. I didn't do much work there". Down to do English, History and Philosophy, he said he came out with bad degree which wasn't  surprising because he didn't do any work. He also said that he did a lot of acting and Oxford introduced him to the rest of the world, whereas Eton was privileged and closed. In fact he had joined the Film Society, acted in the Oxford University Dramatic Society, where he was produced by Neville Coghill and was rusticated for two terms after being caught smuggling a girl into College late at night. In relation to his parents and his support for the Labour Party as a student in the 1950s he said : "It was just a reaction to every thing they held dear and I did the opposite". 

Derek said that he : "Vaguely thought of writing to get into publishing after university, but couldn't and became an amateur rider because I'd gone hunting with my father a lot. For two years I rode as a staple chase jockey and was a good one, winning 13 steeplechases over two seasons in the mid-1950s". He said he didn't like falling off horses very much and : "I thought, 'Bugger this. This is too hard. I'll be an actor instead'".

He then acted professionally for three years and was in three London shows, including the third version of 'Look Back in Anger', but mostly in repertory on the South Coast doing plays by Agatha Christie, TS Eliot and Christopher Fry. He said : "Awful stuff, bored me shitless. I was always the juvenile lead, walking in through the French windows and saying, "Anyone for tennis?". I was quite pretty in those days. Most of the other actors were gay. They all used to say : "Go on, you know you are too". That's one reason I gave up. I thought : 'Bugger this for a laugh'. Another reason was that he : "Got out because of the nervous energy. I thought I'm not going to stand this for the rest of my life and got out of that and became a journalist".

Meanwhile, back in his 'home' his parents remained married, after a fashion and played out a dreary charade of respectability, living off boiled eggs in their increasingly squalid house in Bexhill-on-Sea, worlds away from the glamour and wealth of their youth.

Derek said he : "Joined the Daily Sketch because his mother knew the proprietor. They thought it was wonderful they had an old Etonian who could go round the London clubs and know the clientele. I didn't want to flit about these nightclubs finding out about what the lower echelons of the aristocracy were doing. The Daily Sketch sent me to Cheltenham, where I got on the local 'Gloucestershire Echo'. I became drama critic there and in the end became News Editor of the paper and stayed there for nearly ten years, getting married and getting divorced". Derek said that his wife, Barbara Ibbott, was an alcoholic and died at a young age, but they had a daughter together, his only child, Jackie.

Derek said : "Because I was an embryo Kenneth Tynan, or so they thought, I used to make my reviews, which were sort of waited for by amateurs and professionals and I was a big reputation in a small pool". He said he : "Rang up Brian Redhead, who was the the Guardian Features Editor and said would he like a piece about the 'Cheltenham Literary Festival'". Derek said he "Tore up the first piece and thought there only one thing I can do : Write a funny piece and wrote a funny piece about all the pompous nonsense that goes on in a  literary festival. I opened the 'Guardian' the next day and there it was, complete at the top of the 'Arts Page' by Michael Elliston". Derek didn't want anybody to know he was in Cheltenham and had used his middle names. He said he was : "Taken on as a sub-editor in the Features Department. Then the News Editor said : "We'll take you on as a reporter". 

In 1962 at the age of age of thirty he said he was : "Up to Manchester as a Feature, Sub film, plus Books and Ballets" He said the Guardian started a feature on racing and he became the 'Feature Editor for Racing ', He said he was : "At one point 'Late night sub racing correspondent' and 'film critic', at the same time for very little money". He said he was  named for the International Publishing Company award for 'Critic of the Year' and said :  "God knows how I won. All I know is that Michael Foot was the Chairman Rab Butler was also on the panel" . It was at this point he dropped other jobs and became film critic. He said with his usual self-deprecation : "I wasn't rally an expert when I became deputy film critic or even critic." In fact he became the Guardian's longest-serving film critic, between 1971 and 1997.(link) 

Derek said : "Its very gratifying to meet famous people, but I can't say film stars interest me very much. Film makers interest me more and meeting Scorsese, Buñuel”.

Howard Hawkes (who he spent a whole day with once) and John Ford remain in my memory far longer than meeting these awful people who are so called stars in the cinema". 

When it came to British directors Derek said : "I don't always agree politically with Ken Loach, but he does tell the truth and tries to tell the truth about  ordinary peoples lives and he does so entertainingly. They're not difficult films that he produces for people, but they are relevant films and they could go and be entertained and actually think : 'Well what he says may be true or not be true, but it's interesting'. Derek said : "As a critic I've met lots and lots of directors. The tragedy is that some of the nicest directors make the most dreadful films and some of the nastiest directors make marvelous films".

Director Mike Leigh said of Derek : “He was not only unique among film critics in his insight and taste, but he was serious in his commitment to serious independent filmmakers, not least young unknowns. His knowledge of World Cinema was immense, and he was an extremely nice guy, with a charming dry sense of humour”.

In particular, Derek was keen to promote the showing of films by directors from India and said : "I get really annoyed when westerners have never heard of any other film maker but Satyajit Ray. I love Satyajit Ray and he deserves to be number one, but very close behind him is Ritwik Ghatak and many other Indian film makers who really should be better known than they are".(link) 

Derek, in his prime at the age of forty-eight in 1980 reviewed forty-one year old Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate. (link) (link)

Derek said in 1996 : "I can’t remember a star I've actually really liked, but Robert Mitchum I liked because he was a man who was totally uneducated, but a very bright person, despite all the funny things that have happened in his life and I got on well with him". His biography of Mitchum was published in 1984 and he chaired a Q and A with Mitchum at the British Film Institute. 

But apart from that one exception, he was adamant : "I can't think of a single Hollywood star I could actually warm to, even though they were being especially nice to me because I was a critic. I can't honestly say they're worth anything except when they're up there on the screen. Off screen they may be very nice or very nasty, but they're not interesting people. Most directors, of course, are".

Derek said : "There are two kinds of critics. There are the interventionist kind, like myself, who gets to know a lot of people, does a festival, wants to deal on the political side of film a bit - political and cultural side. And there are those who just write the reviews. And it perfectly valid to be a critic who just writes the reviews and doesn't care what the movie costs or what happened to the director. They see it up on the screen and they write it. But I seem to be much more interventionist possibly because of the 'Guardian' and my own nature". 

"As a film critic I know thousands of acquaintances and not many friends all over the world. The things I've done like directing the London Film Festival, becoming a Governor of the 'British Film Institute' and being President of the 'World Critics Organisation', those things have given me lots of friends". He said that his motivation for these extra curricular activities was that he had : "Always been a kind of political animal more than most of them" and in the case of the 'World Film Critics' it was an : "Attempt in to see if we could move the goal posts a little". He put his experience as a critic to good use when he became director of the BFI's 'London Film Festival' for three decisive years in the mid-1980s, making it a livelier, more inclusive event, helped by such novelties as a 'surprise film', and screenings outside London. He also served on juries at many film festivals worldwide.

Derek was quick to expel any idea that there was anything exciting about being a film critic and said : "I hate bad movies. In the course of a year, aeons of rubbish - absolutely frightful. What a film critic has to see is unlike an art critic or music critic, because the music critic wouldn't go to something that's really bad. He wouldn't even be sent to it. But a film critic has to see everything put out by Hollywood and others in the name of entertainment. I don't know which is worse : seeing a bad and boring art movie or a bad and boring commercial movie. They're equally dreadful. What one has to sit in front of most of the time is rubbish. Theatre or opera critics, they wouldn't have the same amount of total crap to sit in front of. I don't like sitting in front of rubbish. It's awful. It's bad for the brain, as well as the arse and I hate it". Having sad that he was quick to add : "I do believe in the cinema and I do love the cinema when it's good. But I love the theatre when it's good and I love music when it's good".

The decades of Derek’s tenure at the Guardian saw major shifts in the film business, of which the most important was probably the arrival of home video in the early 80s. In Britain, this was accompanied by an outbreak of moral outrage directed against low-budget horror films with provocative titles, collectively dubbed 'video nasties'. When the idea that these could irrevocably damage children gained traction, especially among Conservative MPs and campaigners such as Mary Whitehouse, Derek found himself testifying in court on behalf of the movie titled 'Nightmares in a Damaged Brain'.

In the court case which followed, when he described it as : "Not a classic, but well-executed" he could scarcely believe the judge’s response : “So was the German invasion of Poland”. Such was the hysteria that accompanied the arrival of video, which would lead to a tightening of Britain’s draconian film censorship. However, Derek had many opportunities to defend challenging films of vastly greater integrity, including Ken Russell’s 'The Devils' during its protracted struggle to be seen as originally intended.

On television in the mid-1980s, he was host of the 'Film Club' on BBC Two, dedicated to art house films (link). In 1996 Derek said : "One of the problems in Britain today is that newspapers don't give a damn about critics they want star profiles, they want gossip about Bruce Willis and a critic's job gets less and less easy to do properly, They want the obvious thing : review of the new releases and glitzy, silly films most of the time, because they think that's what their young readers want to know - obsessed with youth like all the other papers. So I'm afraid being a critic is anything like a good job it was before, because its a general feeling that popular is being trivia. What everybody wants to read about and please don't go to a dreary Russian film. So it's very difficult to do the job as well as one could do, even in the Guardian, let alone the other news papers".

Derek followed his retirement form the Guardian with a stint at the London Evening Standard from 2003 until 2015 when he was eighty-three. In fact, having succeeded Alexander Walker as Film Critic of the Evening Standard in 2003, he eventually left regular reviewing and concentrated on film festivals. He also became a principal contributor to two series on the Sky Arts Channel, 'Discovering Film', highlighting Hollywood stars and, no doubt, more to his liking, 'The Directors', explaining the technicalities of camera angles and tracking shots, but mostly talking about the flair and foibles of the great movie makers he had known, among them Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick.

When it came to shifts in cinema audience behaviour Derek said in 1996 : "Every time I go to a multiplex now I'm surrounded by people talking, sucking that ghastly pop corn, slurping coca cola, belching and walking in and out and I wonder whether it us a very valuable experience ? If its a decent film it's wonderful. If it's an entertaining film and everyone's laughing, that's a nice experience. But to me I think its just as valuable to sit in front of a video and be able to turn it back to see how something works a little better. I don't mind the fact that people see a lot of films on telly which they wouldn't see otherwise. Television is their national film theatre. They'll see a lot of old films and like a lot of old films they would not think about".

He also said : "I don't mind the fact that most people love Hollywood movies. I would be a fool not the love good Hollywood movies, though I don't think there are many of them about now. They realise they can make money everywhere not just in America . They're now more towards violence, sex and basic special effects, because that's what knocks the whole world between the eyes".

In 1996 Derek said : "Morally I get very worried about what is being poured over people now. The carelessness  of the Tarantino violence - entertaining and sharp and wonderful, as a lot of his work is, there isn't any real moral thought behind it and that worries me because young people go and cheer and clap and think 'how wonderful' bu
t it doesn't do much good to their psyches".(link)

On Derek's passing Peter Bradshaw, his successor as Film Critic at the Guardian simply said :

"Derek was a wonderful man and a great example to every other critic, in that he took cinema and criticism seriously, but he never took himself too seriously. I shall miss him very much".

Saturday 1 July 2023

Britain says "Goodbye" to the redoubtable Beatty Orwell, protestor against the British Union of Fascists at the Battle of Cable Street in 1936

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Beatty, who has died at the age of one hundred and five and the oldest member of the Labour Party, was born Beatrice Inderstein, during the First World War in the mid summer of 1917 in Brunswick Buildings in Petticoat Lane in Whitechapel, East London in 1917, as bombs were dropping from a Zeppelin airship during a German air raid. She was the youngest of the three daughters of Julia and Israel and said “I am Jewish and both my parents were East Enders, born here. My father’s parents came over from Russia. On my mother’s side, her parents were born here but her grandfather was born in Holland. So I am a bit of a mixture". (link)

Her father worked as a porter at the Spitalfields Market and her mother was a cigar maker at Godfrey & Phillips in Commercial Street and she grew in Goulston Street which she remembered with no fond memories and said : "It was horrible, we had a little scullery, too small to swing a cat. My mother had one bedroom and, the three children, we slept in a put-you-up. I had two sisters Rebecca and Esther". Tragedy struck the family when her father died at the age of forty-four when she was thirteen years old . She recalled : "He used to take me everywhere, he was marvelous. He took to me to the West End to visit my aunt, she was an old lady with a parrot and lived on Berwick St. We used to have a laugh with the parrot".

When she was twelve in 1929, her school, Gravel Lane School, which she loved, closed down. She recalled : "It was lovely school, they taught us housewifery. We had a little flat in the school and we used to clean it out, then go shopping in Petticoat Lane to buy ingredients to make a dinner, imagining we were married. The boys used to do woodwork and learnt to make stools and things like that". Her next school, the Jewish Free School in Bell Lane, where she stayed until she was fourteen  in 1932, was a  different proposition and she said : "It  was very strict and religious. When the teacher wanted us to be quiet, she’d say, ‘I’m waiting!" Nevertheless, she said : "It was good, I enjoyed my school life".

When she left school she got her first job in dressmaking, to which she was not best suited : "I used to lay out material. I do not know why but I must have heavy fingers, I could not manage the silk. It used to fall out of my hands. I only lasted a week before I left, I could not stand it". She then went to work with her sister Rebecca in Whitechapel and concentrated on : "Tailoring, men’s trousers, putting the buttons on with a machine. We worked long hours and it was hard work".

Beatty was in work, but in the 1930s Britain was hit by the worldwide economic slump caused by the Great Depression and thousands were out of work, particularly in already deprived urban areas such as the East End of London where there was much poverty and deprivation. This made the easily identifiable ‘Jewish community’ scapegoats for the worsening economic situation. Jews were blamed for ‘taking all our jobs’, driving down labour costs and being unscrupulous landlords, amongst a host of other accusations. Whitechapel in the East End became a volatile and dangerous place for young Jewish women like Beatty. Frustrated by the lack of opportunities around her, ground down by poverty and antisemitic abuse, she was desperate for change and, unusually for a working class woman, became fiercely political. 

In 1932, when she was just fifteen, the former Labour and Conservative politician Oswald Mosley formed a far-right nationalist party, the British Union of Fascists (BUF), which openly encouraged its uniformed supporters to attack Jews. They distributed antisemitic leaflets and their ‘mob orators’, such as Mick Clarke and Owen Burke, night after night, sought to whip up violence on the street corners. Beatty said : "It was frightening to be walking around as a Jew in those days. People were getting beaten up. The Blackshirts used to rampage around the area and break the windows of Jewish shops and synagogues, it was very threatening". 

When she was seventeen in 1934, she joined over 20,000 others on a protest march to Hyde Park against the Nazi persecution of Jews in Germany. (link)
In the same year, Beatty protested outside the extremely violent fascist rally held at Olympia, which resulted in much bad publicity for the BUF, who were widely criticised for their thuggery. She and her friend Ginny had seen Mosley arrive in a cavalcade of “fancy cars,” a reminder that, despite his “man of the people” act and willingness to harness working-class muscle, his real life was one of wealth and privilege and lived at a safe remove. 

Beatty later saw BUF fans running out of the arena, anxious not to be associated with the violence. One was Unity Mitford, sister of Mosley’s second-wife-to-be, Diana. Beatty recalled, with some amusement : “She really did run!” Hundreds of protestors were seriously injured by gangs of Blackshirts armed with knuckledusters and other weapons. Beatty recalled :
"It was bloody murder there. The Blackshirts were really spiteful. I knew it was dangerous, I was clever, I did not get hurt, no way".

The anti-fascist groups regularly met at No. 38 Osborn Street in Morris Curley and Rosie Kersch’s 'Curley’s Café' in Whitechapel from 1937, where the walls were hung with photographs of well-known local Jewish boxers and posters to raise funds for Communist causes in Russia. It was a small noisy, crowded café with a highly political clientele and many café regulars, including friends of Beatty, joined the International Brigades and went to Spain to fight in the Civil War which erupted in the summer of 1936 between the left-wing Republican government and General Franco’s fascist Nationalists. Beatty said : "The Civil War in Spain had a profound effect on British Jews. We were so moved by what was going on there –it was rousing, we were so involved, Many young Jewish men from Whitechapel joined up and went to fight; many did not come back".

War was on the horizon and terrible things were happening to the relatives of the East End Jewish community in Europe. Civil War was raging in Spain and internationally fascism was on the rise. It was against this background, during a night at Curley’s in 1936, that Beatty first heard about the planned march of Mosley and his uniformed Blackshirts through the heart of the Jewish East End. Beatty's immediate, furious response was : "We are not having that here!" She was one of over a hundred thousand people who signed a petition to prevent the march from taking place which was delivered to the Home Secretary, but to no avail. As a result, in the following weeks, trade unions, Socialist and Communist groups, along with the anti-fascists, distributed thousands of leaflets to workshops, cafés and meeting halls, synagogues and tenement blocks and to people on the street about the planned counter protest.

Early in the morning of 4 October 1936, the Communist Party vans were out with loudhailers driving around the streets. As, twenty years later, a twenty-five year old Arnold Wesker dramatised in his play 'Chicken Soup with Barley' 
(link), people were called out to join the protest : 

"Man your posts! Men and women of the East End come out of your houses! The Blackshirts are marching! Come out! Come out!" 

That morning, Beatty remembered leaving home with her best friend Ginny and said : "When we got to the top of Goulston Street, my God, there was millions of people there and they were all shouting. There was Irish and Jews, they come from everywhere to join us in the fight, along with women, men, children, just loads of people. You know when the Royal Family come down the streets, there was more people than that. Lots more. I was not frightened because there were hundreds of people there". In fact, nearly 300,000 joined the protest and many others were afraid and stayed indoors and put the shutters down. 

As the Beatty and Ginny made their way to the meeting point near Aldgate pump, they saw a forest of red flags and banners rising from the crowd with the words : 'REMEMBER OLYMPIA' and ‘THEY SHALL NOT PASS'. More and more people poured into the area singing and shouting with a roar of noise and emotion.

Irish dockers, repaying Jewish support for their strike in 1912, joined the throng in their thousands, swarming into the streets armed with pick axes and were joined by Jewish workers from across the borough. Together they formed an impenetrable blockade at Gardiner’s Corner and the demonstrators shouted, "No Pasaran!" (They shall not pass), the battle cry used by anti-fascists in the Spanish Civil War, along with the slogan "Madrid today… London tomorrow".

Beatty described the atmosphere as "tense" but "absolutely electric". At first, she was not afraid, then suddenly the mood shifted. They heard screaming, the shrill sound of police whistles and loud cries somewhere near the front. The crowd was thrown into a state of fright and panic. As pandemonium took hold as the bulk of those assembled fled in one great streaming mass towards where the girls were standing. Mounted police had charged into the throng, indiscriminately hitting protestors with batons and under the great push of people Beatty and Ginny were squeezed ever closer against a shop window. They soon became tightly wedged, unable to move backwards or forwards. Under the tremendous pressure the large window shattered. Ginny fell through and cut her hand badly on a shard of glass. 

Beatty said : "It was terrifying. We had to go to hospital and get her stitched up" and hundreds of other injured protestors were at the London Hospital when they arrived. Others went to Curley’s Café or the Whitechapel Library, which had both temporarily become emergency first aid centres for the day. When the two of them left the hospital, the crowd at Gardiner’s Corner had largely dispersed, so they walked down to Cable Street together, where the protest had been re-routed. Beatty recalled : "There was a lorry overturned there and hundreds of people and little bits of fighting breaking out here and there, but not with the fascists - that happened in Aldgate. The fighting was with the police".

From Cable Street they walked to Royal Mint Street near the Tower of London, where the fascists had congregated in preparation for their march through the East End. There they saw an army of uniformed Blackshirts, banging drums and raising their arms in the Nazi salute. Beattie recalled : "They were all lined up in a row, thousands of them, with their black suits and jackboots on, waiting for Oswald Mosley to come". With fights and violent skirmishes breaking out everywhere Beattie said : "I was scared of them; they were lashing out at the crowd. They were dangerous, but thank God, I never got hurt. It was frightening, so I said to Ginny : "We’d better get away from here"".

They now made their way back through the crowds to Cable Street. By then a fierce street battle was raging between thousands of protestors and over 6,000 police officers, including the entire London mounted division. Barricades had been strengthened with corrugated iron, old mattresses and wooden planks. Protestors were hurling broken bottles, fireworks, paving stones, anything they could at the wall of mounted police. Irish and Jewish women living in the dilapidated houses lining the street were throwing buckets of water and emptying chamber pots, pelting the police from above. Repeated baton charges were made directly into the crowd, there were violent fights everywhere and nearly a hundred arrests made. Beatty said : "People were shouting and screaming, so many people, they were throwing marbles on the floor for the horses. I didn’t like that. My great friend, Charlie Goodman got arrested, he climbed up a lamppost. He was a communist, he went to prison for that for about a week". 

Max Levitas, who died on November 2018 aged 103 was the last survivor of the Battle of Cable Street and said : "The police force came with their horses to Cable Street, but they didn't get away with it. We stayed there even though people were knocked down with the batons and with the horses. All of a sudden we got a notice that the Government had met and decided that the Fascists would not march because if they did march, there would be deaths because the people around here had enough of them".(link)

Beatty recalled with pride the moment when, as she said : "The protestors were singing songs and after a while the police come over the loudspeaker and said : "They are not going to come, they will not pass". Huge cheers erupted. The battle had been won. The march was abandoned, the Blackshirts walked back defeated through the deserted City away from the East End. Beatty said : "Everybody was so excited; we knew they’d never get there. The wonderful thing was that people came from all over to stop them, the dockers as well, but practically all the Jews in London came out, it was an amazing day. We were victorious". Celebrations went on late into the night and "There was dancing in the pubs and side streets of the East End". Needless to say, the 'Daily Mirror' issue the next day was less enthusiastic

Beatty recalled the events of the Battle of Cable Street eighty years later when she was ninety-nine years old in 2016. (link)

When she recalled her social life in the turbulent 1930s she said that as a member of the Labour League of Youth : "We used to go on rambles. It was lovely. We went to Southend once. I always used to march to Hyde Park on May Day and carry one of the ropes of our banner. I met my husband John in Victoria Park when I was with the Young Communists League, although I was not a member. They had a Sports Day and my husband was running for St Mary Stratford Atte Bowe because he was a Catholic. I met him and we went to a Labour Party dance. We got married in 1939. We managed to get a flat in the same building as my mother, at the top of the stairs. They were private flats and I remember standing outside with a banner saying, ‘DON'T PAY NO RENT' , because the owners would not do the flats up, they did not look after us. It was horrible thing for us to have to do, but it worked. I laugh now when I think about it. I was always brave. I am brave now". Beattie said this in 2018, when she was 101 years old.

With the outbreak of the Second World War and the German blitz of London Beatty said : "We got bombed out of those flats while my husband was in the army. I had a baby so they sent me to Oxford where my husband was based with the York & Lancasters. I came back to the East End to try to get a flat here and I got caught in one of the air raids, but I knew this was where I had to live. My mother used to get under the stairs in Wentworth St when there was a raid and put a baby’s pot on her head. The War was terrible". She said eventually : "We got a three bedroom flat at last, because I had two girls and a boy. I lived sixty-seven years there".

Beatty said that after the War :"My husband never earned much money so I had to carry on working. He had twenty-two shillings a week pension from the Army. He did all kinds of things and then got a job in the Orient Tea Warehouse". 

As communities across Britain rebuilt in the early 1950s, the Orwells joined the Bethnal Green Labour Party and began campaigning. John Orwell was elected as a local councillor and in 1966 and in 1971 served as Mayor of Tower Hamlets, making Beatty the Mayoress. 

She said : "Our council was the best council, they were best to the old people. We used to go and visit all the old people’s homes. I never told them I was coming because I used to try and catch them out. We checked the quality of food and how clean it was. I was a councillor for ten years from 1972 until 1982. I had to fight to get the seat, but I always loved old people, my husband was the same. He was known as the ‘Singing Mayor’ because he used to sing in all the old people’s homes" As a measure of the substance of Beatty, she had started to visit old people in their homes on a friday night and fifty-nine years later, in 2018, when she was one hundred and one, she was still doing it : "From when I was forty-two, I used to go round old people’s homes on Friday nights and I still do it. We have dinners together, turkey, roast potatoes and sausages, with trifle for afters".

When interviewed by Louise Raw for the 'Morning Star', when Beatty was asked : when passing British Fascists on the streets of the East End of London, was it frightening for her, as a young Jewish girl, then of only about 15 or 16, to have to walk past them?  Beatty replied : 

Well – I shouted at them. "Fascist bastards. I’m afraid ! " 

When Louise asked Beatty what she would she say to those argue we shouldn’t get involved in spontaneously confronting far right groups in Britain today, she replied : 

“You have got to try to stop them marching. You have to protest, whenever they appear. You can try not to get involved with fascists all you like – but if you don’t, they will get involved with you”.

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This post was composed with grateful thanks to Rachel Lichtenstein and 'Writers Mosaic'