Tag Archives: Angry Brigade

How the Angry Brigade’s anarchists helped create the UK’s Bomb Squad

Angry anarchist Stuart Christie

This morning, Stuart Christie (who knows about such things) commented on a 2015 blog of mine entitled The Angry Brigade, British anarchists – the real bombers were never arrested?

Stuart’s comment was:


What complete and utter bollocks from your friend ‘Sam Taylor’. The four people arrested at 359 Amhurst Road had only recently moved there, in the spring of 1971, and were living quietly and clandestinely keeping off the radar, the identities of at least two of them having been discovered by the police and recently published in Hue and Cry. They were never a ‘collective’ in any sense of the word. ‘Sam’s’ account is a concoction of urban myths and befuddled memories.


Stuart told me this afternoon he has “nothing really to add, just trying to put that little canard to bed”.

But he sent me a copy of Edward Heath Made Me Angry, the third party of his trilogy memoir, with permission to quote/extract from it.

For those who don’t or can’t quite remember that time, I think this section from Stuart’s book gives a good flavour.

Part 3 of Stuart’s fascinating memoir


What was loosely called the ‘Angry Brigade’ had received its baptism on 22 May the previous year with the discovery of a bomb in the foundations of the new high security police station in Paddington. This had been followed on 30 August by a bomb at the Putney home of Sir John Waldron, the Commissioner of Police. 

Following the bomb attack on his home, Sir John had made it the top priority to capture those responsible and ordered a complete reorganisation of the Special Branch. Ferguson Smith, the head of Special Branch, was promoted to the rank of Deputy Assistant Commissioner and the heads of its three main sections – Operations, Ports and Administration – to Commander. For Waldron it was now something personal.

I now knew why Palmer-Hall had asked such apparently irrelevant questions when he was interviewing me about the First of May Group attacks on Iberia Airlines at Heathrow. He had mentioned Roehampton and the West End, places nowhere near Heathrow.

On 8 September, a week after Waldron’s house had been targeted, the Chelsea home of the new Conservative Attorney General, Sir Peter Rawlinson QC, had also been bombed. He, too, had been successful in suppressing the news. It was Rawlinson who had defined the Tory no-holds-barred policy on ‘law and order’ in a pre-election speech to the Society of Conservative Lawyers. His speech was the opening engagement of a new class war — the Tory equivalent of the Confederate forces firing on Fort Sumter on 12 April 1861.

One can understand why Robert Carr might have been bitter. This was where ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ came in. They were the signatories on the letter claiming responsibility for the attack on his house. Rawlinson’s bomb had been claimed by the ‘Wild Bunch.’ Albert Meltzer had also been asked why people would use those names when carrying out ‘outrages.’ ‘What names should they use – their own?’ he replied.

Stuart was cleared in 1972 of being part of the Angry Brigade

Before Carr’s house was bombed, only the police and a few news editors had heard of the Angry Brigade. But the name had been used a month earlier in a note to the underground newspaper International Times (IT) claiming responsibility for a machine-gun attack on the Spanish Embassy on the night of 4 December. The machine-gun used, a Beretta M1938-42, was later shown to have been the same one used in the First of May Group attack on the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square three years earlier. Overnight, the ‘Angry Brigade’ had become headline news — and every pundit had his own explanation as to its origin.

How the name ‘The Angry Brigade’ came about, will probably never be known with certainty. It doesn’t really matter. Fiction writers and academics have tried to slot in the Angry Brigade with the student movement or middle-class dropout hippies. One writer wrote a fantasy novel called The Angry Brigade, which he claimed was written from taped interviews with them, which he later destroyed. He, too, portrayed the Angry Brigade as student dropouts – caricatures of the caricatures. On top of this, they were all on drugs.

The names ‘Angry Brigade,’ like ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,’ and the ‘Wild Bunch’ were intended to be light-heartedly ironic. They could equally have used ‘William Brown and the Outlaws.’ The names were chosen, presumably, in an attempt to avoid the quasi-military or political pretentiousness of those used by other action-oriented groups of the times. And although I was never present when any of the communiqués were written, I always imagined the surreal telegraphese of the language of the communiqués to have been inspired by the Jack the Ripper ‘Dear Boss’ letters, and written in surroundings similar to that depicted in Ilya Repin’s famous painting of the Zaporozhie Cossacks Writing a Mocking Letter to the Turkish Sultan.

The Carr bombing brought massive pressure to bear on Scotland Yard from the Cabinet Office. The investigation, led by Detective Chief Superintendent Roy Habershon under his regional senior officer, Commander Dace, was given top priority. With this new authority, Habershon immediately recruited a team of around 30 officers from the Flying Squad and the Special Branch, a group which soon became known as the ‘Bomb Squad.’


 

Stuart Christie’s mugshots in General Franco’s Fascist Spain

BACKGROUND: Stuart Christie was accused of being part of the Angry Brigade but, in a 1972 trial, he was acquitted of related charges.

Before that, back in 1964, he had been arrested in Spain for possession of explosives, allegedly to assassinate Spain’s Fascist head of state General Franco. He faced a military trial and possible execution by garotte but was, instead, sentenced to twenty years in prison.

He was released after three years, according to the Spanish authorities, after a plea to them from his mother.

He has written about this time in his book Granny Made Me an Anarchist: General Franco, The Angry Brigade and Me. Back in 2010, investigative journalist Duncan Campbell and Republican novelist Ronan Bennett‘s screenplay based on the book was on ‘the Brit List’ – the prestigious annual list of “Best Unproduced Screenplays from the UK“.

There is currently a 72-minute documentary about The Angry Brigade on YouTube. I can’t guarantee the facts are true…

 

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The Angry Brigade was mildly irritating

The Bush Theatre stage production

The Bush Theatre stage production today

At the end of April, I blogged about The Angry Brigade play opening at London’s Bush Theatre and quoted my friend Sam Taylor (not his real name) who was around at the time.

This afternoon, I went to see the play with Sam.

I was more concerned with the style; Sam with the content.

The play was two-and-a-half hours long including a 20-minute interval in the middle and the first half, at least, could/should have been cut by a third. Words were being written and spouted simply for the sake of writing and spouting words, not developing a plot.

The first half seemed like some stylised semi-farce or something out of a 1970s sitcom with comic police and added serious bits and the second half seemed to be trying to be poetic and arty and cutting-edge.

“I just don’t know,” I told Sam, “why the story of The Angry Brigade has gone off the radar and disappeared from memories of British social history. I mean, you say it’s cos they were so dull, but…”

“Yes,” said Sam.

“You were in two minds about seeing the play,” I said.

“I just didn’t have a clue,” explained Sam, “what they could possibly do with the four of them because, as far as I know, they’ve never given out their story and no-one knows, so I just didn’t see how you could make a play out of these four very dull people. They just were not very charismatic people.”

At the time of the eventual trial verdict...

Four of the eight charged were sentenced…

“The real people?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Sam. “And they were so young.”

“Immediately post-university,” I said.

“Yes,” said Sam. “I was afraid of what the play might do with the story – try and make it politically justified. That all their wild ramblings would be rationalised.”

“I thought,” I said, “that the play gave vent to their wild ramblings in the second half in a reasonably fair way.”

“But the astonishing 168 or was it 186 attacks in one year?” said Sam. “That is quite astounding. At what point did the papers first print the story?”

“I have to say I didn’t know there had been an embargo on it,” I said. “I guess there must have been a ‘D’ Notice on it.”

“Yes,” said Sam.

“And, in the play,” I said, “the police seemed to be baffled why they bombed the Post Office Tower.”

“They were just kids,” replied Sam. “They were just… Biba, the Post Office Tower. How can you rationalise that?…”

Photo (left) of bombing at the Employment Secretary’s home

Photo (left) of bombing at the Employment Secretary’s home

“Well,” I said. “The Post Office Tower is fair enough. It was a defence installation. Presumably is. Nothing to do with the Post Office. But I just thought the whole play was superficial. There is so much material in that story, there has to be a good play – or film – in there somewhere. But this wasn’t it.”

“You have to have charismatic characters,” said Sam, “a premise and some genuine political beliefs instead of playing at anarchism.”

“They vaguely,” I said, “tried to have some depth in the second half, but it just degenerated into running around, full of sound and fury signifying nothing. A lot of the budget must have gone in buying the music rights.”

“It wasn’t any music I ever listened to,” said Sam. “The strange thing is that, in that circle, I don’t remember anyone ever playing music. At university you did; you used to go to each other’s rooms but, in that circle, with so many people coming and going in all the squats and in these communes – we weren’t in squats, we were communes – I don’t remember anyone ever sitting quietly listening to music.”

“Also,” I said, “the play was only about four people and the police in the play only seemed to be pursuing four people. Maybe it was concentrated for artistic reasons.”

Poster supporting The Angry Brigade

Poster supporting The Angry Brigade

The Angry Brigade trial was called, at the time, the trial of The Stoke Newington Eight.

“I knew nothing about the trial,” said Sam, “except everyone knew that they were guilty, though not on those charges. I do remember there was fundraising for them and marches for them and the feeling – which you would appreciate – that those charges were false. They did it, but not what they were charged with… I’d have to go back and read about it in retrospect because I knew about it so little at the time.”

“And there was the other guy,” I said, “who I think everyone thought was the central one. Though the play did include a German bloke coming over with guns. And they mentioned Paris.”

“Yes,” said Sam. “They were clearly getting their supplies from Paris.”

“I was,” I said, “amazed they only got ten year sentences. You would think, just for setting off bombs at the front and back doors of the Employment Secretary’s home alone they would have got stiffer sentences.”

“Mmmm…” Sam responded.

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The Angry Brigade, British anarchists – the real bombers were never arrested?

The Post Office Tower was bombed by The Angry Brigade

London’s Post Office Tower – bombed by The Angry Brigade

Tonight, the new play about 1970s anarchist bombers The Angry Brigade is being premiered at the Bush Theatre in London.

I have always thought it odd that The Angry Brigade are seldom mentioned in social histories of the 1960s and 1970s. They were active around 1969-1972 and the Bomb Squad (now called SO13) was specifically formed to track down The Angry Brigade.

Their targets included banks, embassies, factories, the 1970 Miss World contest (a BBC Outside Broadcast van was bombed) and the homes of judges, police chiefs and government MPs. In 1971, a bomb exploded in the Post Office Tower (now renamed the BT Tower) and two bombs exploded outside Employment Secretary Robert Carr’s house.

Some of the alleged Angry Brigade’s alleged arms

Some of the alleged Angry Brigade’s arms found by the police

I have a friend called Sam Taylor. Well, no, I don’t. I have no friend called Sam Taylor. But let us pretend that is his real name. It is not.

When I mentioned the new play at the Bush Theatre to Sam Taylor, he told me he did not think the play should have been written.

“Why?” I asked him.

“Because,” he told me, “I thought the Angry Brigade were meaningless. I thought they were just a sad little collection of young people who were doing something which was very wrong. They were making the facts fit the plot. They wanted to do something. They were caught up in their own propaganda. These days, the propaganda is political correctness. Back then, it was anarchism. I can only remember being in the same room as them once.”

“With who?” I asked.

The Bush Theatre stage production

The Bush Theatre stage production tonight

“With the four who were convicted. The men I can’t remember at all. I remember one of the girls. They were very unprepossessing young people. I only remember them being in the corner of a room, probably at some meeting about what time we were going to arrive at Covent Garden Market in the morning to pick up the fruit and veg.

“London had had the Vietnam protests and there were a lot of Americans in London at the time. So, from that protest movement grew this anarchist movement and it had its roots in things which are quite acceptable now.”

“You were living in a squat at that time?” I asked.

“No,” said Sam. “The squatting movement was pretty much starting up around then, but we are not squatting. We were renting. We were a collective. It was a very loose group of anarchists, all having different aims. The other collectives were quite well-off. We were probably the poorest. The other collectives were not short of money. We were the only working class people I ever met. In one collective, one of the members was very much into women’s refuges. I remember there was a Food Co-op but also there was an Adventure Playground group. Adventure Playgrounds were thought to be quite revolutionary in their day.

The Angry Brigade logo - whoever they really all were

The Angry Brigade logo – whoever they really all were

“These were not mainstream things in those times and that was the link. That was how I got to be on the fringes of these collectives. We only ever knew them as the name of where they lived. It was a very small, loosely-connected group of collectives and one of them was the Amhurst Road Collective.”

“Which,” I said, “was partly the Angry Brigade.”

“Yes,” said Sam. “But I didn’t know that at the time. The extraordinary thing about the whole of that anarchist movement is how nobody has spoken about it. The big story is the extraordinary loyalty. As far as I know, I never heard that anyone had shopped anyone else. Everyone was being arrested, followed, searched, intimidated, beaten-up…”

“I think,” I said, “that beating-up suspects was standard practice at the time.”

“Yes,” Sam agreed. “The words you did not want to hear were: Come along with me to Barnet police station.”

“Barnet?” I asked.

The offices of Time Out magazine were raided in the search for The Angry Brigade

Time Out magazine’s offices were raided in the police search

“For some reason it was always Barnet police station. We were just hearing: Such-and-such a collective were all taken to Barnet. They were trying to say these people were loosely affiliated but, after people were arrested and released and their names were in the frame, the bombings were still continuing. As far as I know, nobody has ever come clean about what was actually going on and who was running it.

“There was clearly, from what I could see, a lot of coming-and-going between France, Germany and London and the people I met had clearly been very involved in the student revolt in Paris in 1968. I never knew the back story except I knew there were foreign links. The people in these other collectives had links with foreigners and they were going off abroad.

“The other thing I remember is someone called Petra turning up and I was told I had to leave the house I was staying in because Petra was arriving. When I asked about her, everyone closed down and I was even told there were two Petras. I wondered if that was to throw me off the scent. I always wondered if was Petra from the Baader-Meinhof group.”

Part Schelm of Baader-Meinhof

Petra Schelm of Germany’s Baader-Meinhof Gang

(In May 1970, Petra Schelm travelled with other members of Baader-Meinhof to Jordan where they were trained by the Palestine Liberation Organisation in urban guerrilla warfare. On 15 July 1971, after a car chase in Hamburg, Petra fired a handgun at police. The police returned fire, allegedly with a submachine gun. However, a closeup photograph of her body taken at the scene immediately after her death shows a single gunshot wound through the eye.)

“I don’t know if there was a link with the Baader-Meinhof group,” Sam told me, “because nobody has ever come out and spoken about any links between all those groups. There were lots and lots of raids going on and the one thing they were always after was address books.

“At the time, my collective were simply paranoid about smoking dope. We knew we were being watched, but we thought it was the Drugs Squad. I took it all with a pinch of salt. But then we heard Amhurst Road mentioned in the news and we saw the names and we realised it was that collective. And all these people were being arrested and taken to Barnet police station. We were surprised and shocked and moved out very quickly.

“I went to stay on people’s floors within London. They were regarded as safe houses; I don’t know why. I don’t know why they were safe when everyone else was being picked up. Then I worked under another name in London and then I left London to work in the West Country.

At the Angry Brigade trial, the jury was bette for their political beliefs

Angry Brigade trial jury was vetted for their political beliefs

“It seemed to me from what I read and heard that they were framed by the police, that the evidence was planted on them. Clearly they were involved in it – but it may simply have been that they were the printing press.”

“Supposedly,” I said, “the Rolling Stones’ arrest involved drugs being planted on them. They were guilty as hell, but the police planted the drugs to get an arrest.”

“Exactly,” said Sam. “That seemed to be accepted at the time. What came out at the trial was that they seemed to have believed the… I don’t know much about the others. I only know about the four. I didn’t really follow it at the time… But, as far as I know, no-one was ever arrested successfully for placing the bombs. They were charged with conspiracy. No people – because it seemed there were many more than just one person – were actually successfully arrested or prosecuted for planting the bombs.”

“There were an awful lot of bombs going off,” I said to Sam.

“Yes,” he agreed. “And the press were not printing them all. There were a great many more bombs than were publicised. I found that out retrospectively. And what happened has stayed with me. Even now, I instinctively don’t like having my picture taken.”


For a follow-up on this, see my 2019 blog HERE.

There is a trailer on YouTube for the Bush Theatre play.

and there is a 72-minute documentary about The Angry Brigade on YouTube. I can’t guarantee the facts are true.

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