The Diverting History of Jimmy Gilpin and a famous Hullaballoo in Hornsey — ‘Twas a famous victory….’
For the benefit of future historians, it was, probably, the late Jimmy Gilpin (shown here, right) who kicked off the great Crouch End Broadway riot of October 26 1968 (outside ‘The Queens’ on the Friday night before the big anti-Vietnam War demo). Jimmy, a young Scots lad, had recently arrived in London from Dumfries; he had come to join the revolution. Having winessed the events of May 1968 in Paris on the telly, read the stories of imminent insurrection in the newspapers, he was determined to be there, present at the Creation, when the barricades went up that weekend and the London Commune was declared. Abandoning his pipefitting apprenticeship (not thinking that perhaps pipefitters might be required in the new society) he arrived in the revolutionary northern arrondissement of Crouch End where his brother, Peter, then an IS (SWP) activist, lived with his wife Sheila up Crouch End Hill in Haslemere Road, next door to Tariq Ali and his partner, Jane.
As we filed out of ‘The Queens’ that night (following a contrived police raid) singing the ‘Internationale’, Jimmy was trailing along at the back of the crowd when a Panda car drew up beside him and a pasty-faced cop wound down the window and shouted, in his best Estuary English, ‘Shut the fakk up, you bastard!’ Jimmy ignored him and carried on walking, singing and waving a clenched fist high in the air. The Panda continued driving alongside him with the cop screaming: ‘I told you to shut up, you bastard.’ Jimmy then turned and, leaning in the window, said — in as polite a tone as he could muster — ‘We are singing about “uniting the human race”, so that lets you out pal.’ Next thing the cop leapt out of the car and had Jimmy bent over the bonnet in a headlock.
It was the contrived event horizon beyond which turning back proved impossible; it was a set-up, a provocation. Police appeared as if out of nowhere — uniformed and plain clothes, dog handlers, cars and Paddy Wagons. When his brother, Peter, and Mike Cohen (of the 1962 Group) dragged the policeman off Jimmy, hand-to-hand fighting broke out and quickly spread the length and breadth of Crouch End Broadway. It was a scene to which only Hieronymous Bosch and Jerome Roberts (the choreographer of West Side Story) could have done justice. (That was the night the trousers of my brand-new bespoke midnight blue mohair suit were ripped to shreds by a police alsatian, and I ended up in Charing Cross Hospital’s Out-Patients Department getting a painful anti-tetanus/rabies injection in my backside). As fast as people were pushed into the police Black Marias, they were being pulled out again.
I think Jimmy was arrested three times that night but each time he got away. On the last occasion he tried to climb into the Paddy Wagon, but was booted out by a copper who told him they were full up — they had got what they had come for. It obviously wasn’t Jimmy Gilpin. Jimmy then swung a punch at the policeman who lunged back, at which point Mike Cohen (now deceased) stepped in took the policeman’s truncheon from him, and cracked his collarbone with it. Mike escaped, but Jimmy was grabbed, handcuffed and frog-marched to Hornsey Police Station. In the end only four people were charged with assault and affray that night. Amazingly, Jimmy wasn’t one of them. Everyone pleaded not guilty and employed the beautiful radical barrister Nina Stanger (also sadly deceased) to defend them at Highgate Magistrates’ Court. Nina’s beauty and charm, however, weren’t sufficient to melt the hearts of the Highgate Magistrates who found all four guilty and fined them quite heavily.