A funny thing, nostalgia. It comes from the Greek ânostosâ, for returning home, and âalgosâ, for pain or desire. Many of us have had it since the 60s, even though we weren’t close to being born. We think we missed out on all the proper parties and drugged fun.
Yet in the summer of 1962, a legally organized Nazi-inspired rally took place in Trafalgar Square in central London. He had a nostalgia of his own. The National Socialist Movement (NSM) brandished swastikas with slogans shouting “Free Britain from Jewish control”. This far-right party, with its own paramilitary force called Spearhead, was led by Cambridge-trained Colin Jordan, who viewed Oswald Mosley as a “kosher fascist” for being too “gentle” to the Jewish people. Around Trafalgar Square were policemen, paid to protect Nazi rhetoric under the auspices of free speech, staving off a chorus of boos. The boos were voiced by anti-fascist groups, who when such events turned violent, as they often did, were usually stopped.
I knew a little about this fascist revival from when my father was an Anti-Nazi League walker, growing up as an Orthodox Jew in Stamford Hill, north London. But it wasn’t until I read Jo Bloom’s wonderful novel Ridley Road that I realized the extent of the threat and the power of the resistance. In order to defend against the not-so-neo-Nazi violence, an activist section of the Jewish community created Committee 62, which became famous as Group 62. Inspired by the anti-fascist resistance on Cable Street in the 1930s and 43 Group in the 40’s, they met muscle with muscle.
As soon as I read this story and their ultimate success in pushing the far right to the fringes of British politics, I felt compelled to tell the story on screen. I went to see TV producer Nicola Shindler to make this happen.
The more I searched, the more horrific the details of this campaign of terror organized by the NSM. These included a series of synagogue fires, in one of which a young Jewish boy was killed. Despite witness reports that NSM members targeted the Jewish school in Cazenove Road, police say they found a bottle of soft drink at the scene, concluded it was a house party who had gone wrong and had conducted no formal investigation.
This was before the Race Relations Act or any other hate speech law, so targets of far-right groups did not have the luxury of police protection. Group 62 – some of whom were ex-combatants – was tough, as they had to be. They included Wally Levy, who owned London’s largest black cab business – Eddie Marsan’s character in Ridley Road, Soly Malinovsky, is partly inspired by him – and Harry Bidney, who had been a leader of Group 43.
They raised money, gathered intelligence and secured the support of Rabbi Leslie Hardman, who inspired Allan Corduner’s character, Rabbi Lehrer. Hardman was the first army chaplain to free Belsen and provide first-hand reports of the living dead inside the camps.
A few years later, they were joined by Monica Medicks, who helped strategize enemy group intelligence. It was the learning of the women members of Group 62 that inspired me to center the story on Vivien Epstein of Bloom, a young hairdresser from Manchester (played by the astonishing Agnes O’Casey), and to invent her entry. in this dangerous underground world.
Jordan is said to have a short-lived marriage to glamorous FranÃ§oise Dior, Christian Dior’s niece. They cut their fingers and mixed their blood while making their vows on a copy of Mein Kampf. She wore a diamond swastika brooch and is said to have had an incestuous relationship with her daughter, who later committed suicide.
The 62 Group used the anti-fascist Searchlight newsletter to print coded messages about where to gather and how to counterattack. They stormed meetings, protests and headquarters and used espionage techniques such as wiretapping and infiltration.
The use of violence was not accepted by everyone in the Jewish community. The Council of Deputies – the community of Jewish leaders – particularly disapproved of their violent activities, taking the “they go low, we go high” position. But the tenacity of Groupe 62 paid off. The NSM ran out of steam and fractured and Dior left Jordan. It was later convicted of shoplifting three pairs of red panties from Tesco and a fine of Â£ 50.
When I was writing the series, I asked my dad if he had been a victim of anti-Semitism when he was growing up around Ridley Road. He said, âNo, not really. Only when I was a little boy and a group of boys brutalized me, took my kippah and called me a dirty Jew. I was surprised I hadn’t heard from him about this incident before; I asked him what he had done in response. âNothing,â he said. ” I could not. I was alone and it was a big bunch of thugs. I ran home and told my dad.
“How did he get you through this?” I said, shocked that he was able to keep the trauma all this time without therapy, help or healing. âWell, he blamed me for losing my hat,â he laughed. This is the Jewish way of dealing with fury.
Ridley Road starts at 9 p.m. October 3 on BBC One