Forest of Dean & Wye Valley


In R.Richardson, Reviews on January 3, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Everything Happens in Cable Street, by Roger Mills (Five Leaves Publications, £8.99p IBSN 978-1-907869-19-8 )

As someone who had lived in East London all my working life, I was immediately drawn to Roger Mills’ excellent new book, Everything happens in Cable Street.

In most people’s minds the words “Cable Street” evoke that famous battle of 1936 when Mosley’s Blackshirts were turned back. Roger Mills includes the preamble to the battle, some interesting first hand accounts, and refers to the battle as the focus of a number of community events since that time. But the bulk of the book paints a picture of life and the changes wrought in Cable Street over the past fifty or so years.


This is a kaleidoscope of a book, a procession of colourful characters and creative endeavour that have ebbed and flowed in Cable Street. Roger Mills writes, “it was as if there were a hundred Cable Streets, so different were the stories.” Included are a large number of transcripts of interviews made in 1979, 1986 and 2010.

Many of the earlier interviewees were first generation British and were Jewish, of eastern European descent. Others were Irish Catholics. The interviews depict a hard life, mostly in the 1920s and ’30s, but a life with a great sense of community.

Later interviews tell of changes that came post war. “In recent years evil and unscrupulous men have moved in with their all-night cafes and their brothels making life hell for for the decent people who have to bring up children in the midst of all these horrors,” wrote Joseph Williamson, a priest quoted by Roger Mills. Father Joe, as he was known, Edith Ramsay, a Labour councillor, and others did much to highlight the deplorable conditions in Cable Street in those years and gradually slum housing was demolished and the worst of the clubs and brothels were closed down.


Parallel but intertwined with the stories of people in Cable Street is the exploration of some of the creative endeavours in which the author was involved. The formation of the Basement Writers in 1973 was a springboard for creative writing of all kinds. Pamphlets, micro-books and comics were produced, and writing was shared at meetings in the basement of St. George’s Town Hall. An original group member wrote that they had a do-it-yourself aesthetic. The group began to expand and perform their work, featuring poetry, song and knockabout comedy.

The setting up of THAP (the Tower Hamlets Arts Project, involving Thames Television) was another scheme to encourage creativity in drama, photography, painting, film music writing and publishing. The scheme lasted a year, but it spawned a bookshop and publishing house which, through a couple of transformations, runs today as the “Brick Lane Bookshop”.

“Cable Street on Film” is another section of Roger Mills’ book. “To Sir With Love” is probably the best known film to be shot in Cable Street but a number of others are mentioned. “Tunde’s Film”, born of the Basement Film Project in 1973 was very much a community production. It was written by local boy Tunde Ikoh and co-directed with Maggie Pinhorn who brought professional expertise to the project. the author and actors were all taken by Maggie to the film’s showing at the Edinburgh Festival.

There’s more, much more, in this book. There’s the story of the mural of the  battle of Cable Street, the creation of the Community Gardens and a visit to Wilton’s Music hall, saved from demolition but held up with acro-props. And there are many other captivating stories.

For anyone who is interested in social history, and particularly in community involvement, Roger Mills’ fascinating book is a must. If you have a London connection, that will add an extra dimension to your enjoyment.


  1. Dear Alistair,
    Clarion No.97 just received by me shows an article by Andy Burnham MP i,e, Fighting the Health Reform Bill. He recommends that we sign a petition set up by GP Dr Kallash Chand.
    I took the trouble to attempt to sign the petition,only to find that it was closed.
    Graham Williams

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