This is a confession as to my part in the downfall of the Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations.
Not many people know this…but way back in the 1980’s I was arrested for not allowing the South African flag to be flown during the Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations. This is how it happened (short version).
I had intended to lend my voice and only play a small part in the Anti-Apartheid demonstration that had been organised at the river-end of Sheep street. The atmosphere was friendly and light-hearted. We were quite lively and very amused that two police officers in plain clothes (paint-stained decorators overalls) had been placed among us. To achieve what, I have no idea. Even funnier, was the fact that I knew one of them.
[Remember these were the days at the birthday celebrations when Ambassadors and their entourages from all over the world were wined and dined and invited to fly their country’s flag].
All was going to plan. There was lots of shouting and booing when the South African Government representatives came into view to take up their places underneath their flag.
To cut a long story short.
I saw red. The injustices that me and especially my mother (a black woman) had experienced filled my thoughts. In one bound and much to the astonishment of my partner, I was over the fence and before I realised it I had hold of the poor, surprised and innocent council bloke who was actually in the process of attaching the flag to its pole.
I was arrested and hauled away by a large number of policeman to the cop shop where I (a little bit scared and worried) spent the rest of the day in solitary.
Eventually, I went to court charged with ‘disturbing the peace’ as it was then, allowed to make a short speech and fined £92. To my surprise and delight the actors at the theatre (RSC) where I worked at the time, had a collection and paid the fine for me.
I’m sad to say, that my/our action went some way to changing the Birthday Celebrations to what they are now. In those days even I have to admit, there was something quite cool about having Ambassadors and the like whizzing about the town in their big, black official cars. The actual flag pulling was something else too, what with everyone resplendent in their National Dress. So, sorry if you miss all that.
Which brings me to my point.
You/we cannot let these things stand. Whether they are statues or corrupt governments. To let the representatives of an evil system like apartheid roam and be ‘honoured’ on our streets is just not on. To erect a statue of a man who made his fortune on the whipped backs of thousand upon thousands of slaves, men, women and children (THAT’S CHILDREN) is very wrong. AND…to expect the descendants of those slaves to walk past it day after day, year after year on the way to work or whatever, is going too damn far.
Anyway, rant over.
It has been a long time coming but I would like to apologise for my part in ruining the pomp and circumstance of latter-day Shakespeare’s Birthday Celebrations and leaving you with the rather sad and ramshackle state of affairs it has become today.