One person who is an 'inspirational local', probably more influential than many in our national politics and current public life but without most people knowing why, is a man called Roger Huddle.
His is not a name that trips off that many lips. However, ask anyone in their mid-forties about when they first stopped worrying about the pop charts and reading reviews of bands and started getting interested in politics. In particular, ask them when they realised that it was just not about party conferences, droning trade unionists passing composite motions and stultifying party political broadcasts. Back in 1976, rather like today, the country was broke. The Labour government was running out of steam and the National Front, which to some looked like an alternative, was on the rise - mainly due to peoples' frustrations.
There is a good chance, if you ask, they will mumble something about being at school at the time. A time of Rock against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League. Politics suddenly became cool, under Roger Huddle's influence, because he helped found RAR, at a time when it was otherwise decidedly not. People could unite round what was (apparently) a single, clear and unifying issue, make a powerful statement and at the same time have fun. Young people could actually get together and make a difference.
Huddle, and a photographer and "agitprop" theatre performer called Red Saunders were creatures of the 1960s - the Cuban misslie crisis, Vietnam, May 1968, hippies, the summer of love, Ginsberg, the Black Power movement. They were also music fans.
They decided to hold a one-off gig against the rise of racism because Eric Clapton made a sickening drunken declaration of support for Enoch Powell at a gig in Birmingham. Clapton allegedly told the crowd that England had "become overcrowded" and that they should vote for Powell to stop Britain from becoming "a black colony". He is said to have ranted that Britain should "get the foreigners out, get the wogs out, get the coons out" and then repeatedly shouted the National Front slogan "Keep Britain White".
Readers of my blogs will know that I have some concerns about the density of housing in Wathamstow and concerns about the effects of uncontrolled, illegal immigration. I do not, however, consider that the BNP or anyone with attitudes like theirs, are now, or ever will be, the answer.
Huddle, Saunders and two members of Kartoon Klowns responded by writing a letter to NME expressing their opposition to Clapton's comments, which they claimed were "all the more disgusting because he had his first hit with a cover of reggae star Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff"". The letter continued: "Come on Eric... Own up. Half your music is black. Who shot the Sheriff, Eric? It sure as hell wasn't you!".
The founders of RAR were all soul fans, but what really made it into a mass movement was punk. The killer phrase in the fight aginst the Nazis was 'NF=No Fun', something which I presume to be as true today as it has ever been. I can't say I know this as a fact. I don't knowingly socialise with any members of the BNP, a successor to the NF, but I do get the strong feeling that it's not a great night out: I will be showing my own prejudices here, but you only have to consider the negative way they think and the boring way they dress. They are a past that never was the future.
What is also credited as giving RAR the political context to become much bigger was the establishment of the Anti Nazi League in 1977. Together the ANL and RAR built a mass movement against the Nazis. A carnival in Victoria Park with the Clash, Tom Robinson and Steel Pulse attracted 85,000, and received fantastic coverage in NME. Twenty five thousand saw The Buzzcocks, Graham Parker and the Rumour, and Misty in Roots in Manchester. A Brockwell Park event with Elvis Costello and Aswad drew 100,000, and 26,000 heard Aswad and The Specials in Leeds. It was big, well before Live Aid and its successors.
RAR also had a fanzine, Temporary Hoarding. Huddle considers it the only really revolutionary cultural paper in Britain then or at any time. I think this is going a bit far. The uniqe influence of RAR should not be exagerrated.
Nevertheless, although Right-wing groups have never entirely been shown the door and the BNP is still active in East London, (though not very organised in Walthamstow as far as I am aware), they have never gained any cultural credibility or political traction. They recently managed to poll one vote for every four cast for Labour in a by-election in Wanstead, not far from here, but that still only amounted to about 170 votes. Both parties were miles behind the Tories and the LibDems.
Electorally, the BNP are not making any ground and if they did, they would be firmly opposed. I am sure one reason for that is that so many people now in positions of influence grew up in an age when Huddle decided to get them off their formative adolescent backsides and to stand up and be counted.
Huddle is, as far as I can tell from comments he made about the Berlin Philharmonic playing Shostakovich's 10th Symphony, a cultured man, who once wrote in Socialist Review:
"There's no "high" and "low" art, just good and bad, and I'll be fucked if they are ever going to stop me getting to it."
Aside from this, Roger Huddle is into Typography, Photography, web design, print design and production, book design and creative writing. He was born in Walthamstow and lives in the area. He shares, with another local person who should be put in front of our young people at least once in their lives to see if it will do them any good, Peter Cormack MBE, an interest in William Morris.