Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Tony Garnett’s memoir The Day the Music Died begins with two puzzles: how a private person goes public, and how to tell the truth while recognising every telling is partial. During the 1960s and 70s, along with Ken Loach and other socialist film-makers, Garnett was responsible for path-breaking television dramas that attracted large audiences. Films such as Up the Junction (1965), Cathy Come Home (1966), In Two Minds (1967), The Lump (1967), The Big Flame (1969), Days of Hope (1975), Spongers (1978) and Law and Order (1978) dealt with the suffering caused by illegal abortions, homelessness, oppressive family relations, exploitative work, welfare cuts and police corruption. Most controversially they showed workers’ resistance sympathetically. The over-arching theme was the injustice and destructive waste of class inequality in capitalism, but told from surprising angles.
These were years of possibility for radical film-making but nevertheless the obstacles of cash and culture were formidable. The initial funding for Kes, directed by Ken Loach, came from Garnett selling his house. From a novel by Barry Hines about a boy in a secondary modern in Barnsley who rears and trains a kestrel, it became an instant success when it was released in 1969 and is now on the British Film Industry list of the top ten films to see before you are 14.
While working within the BBC, Garnett, from a grammar school in Birmingham, found the public school and Oxbridge codes of nods and winks incomprehensible. The head of drama, Sydney Newman, critical of class-bound Britain and himself an outsider as a Russian Jewish Canadian, was an ally – up to a point. After one angry confrontation he whispered to Garnett in desperation, ‘How can I explain this? Look. In this country. For instance. You understand this. You cannot piss on the Queen. But if you do . . . you have to do it very carefully’.
Garnett niftily learned how to duck, dive and hide, but the parameters of the possible narrowed from the early 1980s and he left the BBC for Hollywood. A frustrating decade followed. Returning to Britain in the 1990s, he became an executive producer at World Productions, fostering a new generation of film-makers and actors with TV series such as Between the Lines on the police, Cardiac Arrest on junior doctors, This Life on young lawyers, and then The Cops in 2004 to 2005. In 1994, with director Hettie MacDonald, he produced Beautiful Thing, a tender film about gay love on a London housing estate.
Garnett probes traumatic personal experiences buried under his external achievements. Born into the respectable Birmingham working class, his mother died of an abortion when they were illegal and his father, facing a police investigation, committed suicide. In 1941, aged five, he was separated from his younger brother and sent to live with Uncle Harold and Aunty Pom. Amid their orderly, careful world he closed down on his grief and learned a pretend self. The next separation struck at 11, when he passed the 11-plus exam and went to grammar school. Like many others he felt guilty about being selected for privilege, but he loved reading and acting.
As a teenager he grew his hair, despised the class system and fell in love with Topsy Jane Legge. A new world of warmth and ideas opened. Her father had been an electrician, blacklisted for being in the Communist Party; her mother was middle class and worked as a teacher. When he and Topsy moved to London they began to be offered parts. Her gift for acting was exceptional. But after The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner she suffered a psychological breakdown from which she never recovered.
Already interested in Marxism, by 1967, when he helped organise ‘The Dialectics of Liberation’ at London’s Round House, like many of his contemporaries he wanted to open up interconnections to subjectivity. The mind-boggling event featured radical therapist Ronnie Laing, the black power activist Stokely Carmichael and beat poet Allen Ginsberg.
At 80, Garnett is still looking both within and without to tell his truth. The result is a theoretically exploratory memoir that is acute and often touchingly ironic.
Two intriguing paradoxes emerge. On cultural power Garnett is decisive about the media’s hegemonic bias towards class privilege and the status quo. Nonetheless he and many others have hewn oppositional spaces within it, which suggests control is never uniform or absolute.
Emphatic in his critique of capitalism as a system of society, he is committed to comprehending and empathising with individuals whose lives are embedded within it. When he was young, Garnett rejected the working-class conservatism of Uncle Harold and Aunty Pom; at 80 he acknowledges how it imparted self-respect. Because analysis and feeling tug in contrary ways, there are skeins within skeins of dramatic meaning in The Day the Music Died.
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite