Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Beiderbecke Tapes by Alan Plater (Mandarin 1986)

Whenever Jill felt the need to recharge her campaigning batteries, she sought out Sylvia. Like many such friendships, it had started on the Aldermaston road, a road that had doubled for Damascus in many people's lives.

They loved to talk about the great heroines, yes, and about the occasional hero too, of their own and earlier times: trading tales of Red Emma Goldman, Annie Besant, Sylvia Pankhurst, the one member of the family who never deviated and whose name Sylvia herself had inherited. On seeing any hostile element, Sylvia would cry out 'No Pasarán' - the famous Republican slogan from the Spanish Civil War, coined by a woman, and translated meaning: 'They shall not pass.' They very rarely did. Sylvia was no phoney. She had gone to Spain in the 1930s and had paid her dues.

Her view of the world was clear-cut: people were marvellous and politicians were shit. Asked for evidence she would say: read a history book. In her younger days, when her activities were more public and noisy, and she occasionally went to prison, the newspapers frequently claimed she was in the pay of Moscow.

'Alas,' she said, ' would that it were so.'

She had written to the Kremlin several times, suggesting that they might slip her the odd bar of gold, if only to add substance to the allegations, and ease her later years; nothing ever arrived - not even a nominal kopek. She suspected her mistake was to add a regular PS about sending dissidents to mental institutions.