Ridley Road: How the gruesome British Nazi horror inspired my thriller | the television
a Funny thing, nostalgia. It comes from the Greek word “nostos” meaning homecoming and “algos” for pain or longing. Many of us have it in our 60s, even if we weren’t close to giving birth. We feel like we’ve missed out on all the proper partying and drug fun.
However, in the summer of 1962, a Nazi-inspired legal rally was held in Trafalgar Square in central London. He had a craving of his own. The National Socialist Movement (NSM) waved swastikas with slogans that shouted “Free Britain from Jewish control”. This far-right party, with its paramilitary force called Spearhead, was led by Cambridge-educated Colin Jordan, who considered Oswald Mosley a “kosher fascist” because he was too “gentle” with the Jewish people. Around Trafalgar Square there were police officers, paid to protect Nazi speech under the auspices of free speech, to fend off the chorus of boos. The boos were voiced by groups of anti-fascists, who were usually caught when such events became violent, as they often do.
I knew quite a bit about this Fascist revival from my father’s time as a protester in the Anti-Nazi League, growing up as an Orthodox Jew in Stamford Hill, North London. But it wasn’t until I read Ridley Road’s beautiful novel by Joe Bloom that I realized the extent of the threat and the strength of the resistance. In order to defend themselves against neo-Nazi violence, a hardline section of the Jewish community created the 62nd Committee, better known as Group 62. Inspired by Anti-fascist resistance on Kabul Street In the 30s and Group 43 in the 40s, they met some muscle.
As soon as I read about this history, and their eventual success in pushing the far right into the fringes of British politics, I felt compelled to tell the story on screen. She went to TV producer Nicholas Schindler to make it happen.
The more I researched, the more horrifying the details of NSM’s terror campaign were. These included a series of fires in a synagogue, one of which killed a Jewish boy. Despite witness reports that NSM members were targeting the Jewish school on Cazenove Road, police reported finding a bottle of fizzy pop in the building, concluding it was a false house party and not conducting an official investigation.
This was before the Race Relations Act or any legislation on hate speech, so targets of far-right groups did not have the luxury of police protection. The 62 group — some of them ex-military — was tough, as it must have been. They included Wally Levy, who owns London’s largest black cab company – Ridley Road’s Eddie Marsan character, Sully Malinowski, is partly inspired – and Harry Bidney, who was a leader at 43 Group.
They raised money, gathered intelligence and had the support of Rabbi Leslie Hardman, who inspired Alan Cordner’s character, Rabbi Lerer. Hardman was the first Army chaplain to liberate Belsen and report directly on the zombies inside the camps.
A few years later, they were joined by Monica Medix, who helped draw up intelligence strategies from enemy groups. It was getting to know the members of Group 62 that inspired me to focus the story on Blooms Vivian Epstein, a young hairstylist from Manchester (played by the stunning Agnes O’Casey), and to invent her entry into this dangerous underworld.
Jordan had a short-lived marriage to Françoise Dior, Christian Dior’s niece. They cut off their fingers and mixed their blood as they made their vows to a copy of Mein Kampf. She wore a diamond swastika brooch and was said to have had an incestuous affair with her daughter, who later killed herself.
Group 62 used the anti-fascist newsletter, Searchlight, to print encrypted messages about where to gather and how to counterattack. They stormed meetings, protests, and headquarters, and used espionage techniques such as eavesdropping and infiltration.
The use of violence was not accepted by everyone in the Jewish community. The House of Representatives—the community of Jewish leaders—particularly resented their violent activities, taking the “reconcile, we rise” stance. But the perseverance of the group of 62 paid off. She ran out of strength and broke and left Dior Jordan. was later Convicted of shoplifting Three pairs of red Tesco knickers and a £50 fine.
When I was writing the show, I asked my dad if he had experienced anti-Semitism when he was growing up around Ridley Road. He said: No, not really. Only when I was a little kid and a group of boys roughed it up, took my yarmulke and called me a filthy Jew.” I was surprised I had never heard him bring up this incident before. I asked him what he had done in response. He said “Nothing.” “I couldn’t. I was alone and they were a big group of thugs. I just ran home and told my dad.”
“How did he help you during that?” I said, shocked that he might have stored the trauma for so long without treatment, help, or healing. Well, he said with a laugh, he told me well that he lost my hat. This is the Jewish way to overcome anger.
Ridley Road It starts at 9pm on 3 October on BBC One