Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Freedom for Tooting

Some friends of mine have recently moved from New Cross to Tooting, so as a parting gift Transpontine will take a rare roam into the western lands of South London to offer up some nuggets of cultural history from Tooting and Balham.

Tooting Popular Front

In the late 1970s comedy TV series Citizen Smith, the Tooting Popular Front was a fictitious South London revolutionary group with slogans including 'Freedom for Tooting' and 'Power to the People'.

In real life, Balham was arguably the birthplace of British TrotksyismIn the early 1930s, a group of South West London socialists were expelled from the Communist Party for their opposition to Stalin's policies. Their ranks included Hugo Dewar from Tooting CP, Reg Groves and Harry Wicks and they constituted themselves as the Balham Group of the International Left Opposition operating from 79 Bedford Rd, SW4; Groves later wrote a biography of the 'red priest' Conrad Noel, and indeed some of the Balham Group had been close to Noel's Anglo-Catholic socialist 'Catholic Crusade'.

Punk and stuff

Charlie Harper of punk band UK Subs was a hairdresser on Tooting Broadway when the band started out in 1977. Guitarist Nicky Garratt recalls: 'We based ourselves out of Charlie’s hairdressing salon... where we stored our battered Marshall P.A. system in the back room along with drums, amps, baskets of towels and a huge supply of hair care products. The Salon, became both meeting place and hang out over the next year mostly because it was one of the few places where Charlie could be found with any degree of certainty'. In Julien Temple's film Punk Can Take It (1979), based around the band's music, there a scene with Charlie Harper in the hairdressers.

Other musical connections include:

- Marc Bolan (T-Rex) went to Hillcroft School in Beechcroft Road, Tooting (now known as Ernest Bevin College) - as a teenager he lived in Sun Cottages, Summerstown;
- Captain Sensible of The Damned was born in Balham;
- Kirsty McColl started out in a band called The Tooting Frooties;
- Kitchens of Distinction did a song 'On Tooting Broadway Station':

Angela Carter

Writer Angela Carter grew up in Balham - her favourite building was the Granada Cinema in Tooting, where she went as a child with her father, as recalled in a 1992 BBC documentary: 'This cinema, with its mix of the real and false - real marble hugger-mugger with plaster, so you have to tap everything to see if it sounds hollow or solid - this apotheosis of the fake. There was a functioning cyclorama, in my day, clouds, stars, a sun, a moon, drifting across a painted sky. I held my breath in the gallery of mirrors - anything might materialise in those velvety depths, monsters, beauties, my own grown self. I would have been seven or eight. This was the first great public building that ever impinged on me - and even though it was then jam-packed with queues, the marble steps polished by uniformed ushers, all the same, from outside it was just a concrete bunker. So there was always the element of surprise. It was, like the unconscious itself - like cinema itself - public and private at the same time... I fell in love with cinema although I scarcely remember the movies I watched with my father, only the space in which we sat to watch them, where we sat with all those wonderful people waiting in the dark'.

World War Two

In October 1940 at least 66 people died while sheltering at Balham tube station during a German air raid. The tunnel was flooded after a bomb fractured water mains. The incident features in Ian McEwan's novel Atonement, and in the film version of the book.


Tooting Vicar said...

I am touched and have ordered a copy of Reg Groves.
Power to the people!

Transpontine said...

Of course if I was writing this now I would also say - 'hey the 2012 Masterchef winner comes from Tooting you know'

Transpontine said...

Also very embarrassed that I left out (one of ?) the UK's greatest performers, who also happens to come from Tooting/Mitcham. MIA of course: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uYs0gJD-LE