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.
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
We need a society built on openness, community and equality to truly defeat everything that trump stands for, writes Nick Dearden.
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry