From a dark road in the sixties to a dark age today, British TV series “Ridley Road” illuminates

By David E. Kaplan

It was by casual chance and indifference that I tuned into a chapter of history that I knew little or nothing about. Screening down the latest new movies and series that appeared on my streamer list, I opted for a BBC drama series titled “Ridley Road”. I had no idea what it was about but it sounded mildly interesting as it was briefly described as set in London during “the swinging sixties.”  Far from it!

Darkness Lurks In Broad Daylight. A poster for Ridley Road  (l-r) with Rory Kinnear as fascist leader Colin Jordan, Agnes O’Casey as Vivien Epstein who infiltrates the neo-Nazi organization and Tom Varey as Jack Morris, a Jew working undercover.

Sure it was London and the sixties but not about what I was expecting –  the youth-driven cultural revolution that saw London flourishing in art, music and fashion, and emblematic of fun-loving hedonism.

This was not Abbey Road but Ridley Road!  

It was a dark road covering a dark period in history and yet it was hardly ‘history’ when the underlying issues it covered are as sadly prevailing as today’s headline news.

It took me down a road untraveled and left me disturbed as we, as Jews, have been down this road before – too many times.

And one is left asking:

What has changed?

If Abbey Road was the eleventh album by the Beatles named after the location of EMI Studios in London, Ridley Road by contrast was the Jewish headquarters not of a music studio but of Group 62 formed in 1962 in response to the resurgence of fascism in Britain headed by Colin Jordan, the founder of Britain’s National Socialist Movement (NSM). The 4-part series opens not as I was half expecting of a bright London bus careering down Piccadilly  but a sunlit bedroom in a country house in Kent in 1962 where an adorable child is helping a young blonde woman make the bed. They are then joined by a dapper man with a warm friendly face. He is the husband and the father. They gather in front of the window welcoming the morning sunshine from a Kentish pastoral scene. Then the jolt –  the man, while smiling gives a Nazi salute. This man, this husband, this father – is the infamous Colin Jordan.

For those unfamiliar with this constantly sieg-heiling character, John Colin Campbell Jordan (1923 – 2009) was a leading figure in post-war neo-Nazism in Great Britain. Through his leadership of organisations such as the National Socialist Movement and the World Union of National Socialists, Jordan advocated a pan-Aryan “Universal Nazism”. Although unaffiliated with any political party, he remained an influential voice on the British far right.

Tough Times. A scene from Ridley Road with (l-r) Malinovsky (Eddie Marsan), Vivien Epstein (Agnes O’Casey) and Ronnie Malinovsky (Danny Sykes). Photo credit: Ben Blackall

In the fictionalized drama series based on true events, the headquarters at Ridley Road is run by group of Jews who are joined by a young Jewish girl from Manchester who bravely sets out to infiltrate Jordan’s neo-Nazi organization. Their most remembered confrontation – depicted in the series –  was in Trafalgar Square in 1962, when Jordan – protected by the Free Speech Act – held a raucous rally where a riot broke out between his neo-Nazi supporters and protesting anti-fascists.

Of the plot I will write no more; only of the secondary ‘plot’ , that is, the ramifications of the series reflecting the spiraling antisemitism in Britain today.

Battle of Trafalgar ’62. Covered in the TV series Ridley Road, here is actual footage of the first public meeting called by the British National Socialist Movement in Trafalgar Square that ended as reported “with 20 arrests, fights, bleeding faces, abuse, and tears.”

No sooner had I started watching Part III of the series, my eyes were drawn to an article in the Time of Israel headed:

“UK actor faces ‘relentless’ abuse for playing Jewish character in BBC series”

The series is Ridley Road  that debuted on October 3 on BBC and the UK actor is Eddie Marsan, mostly known for his role in the hit American series ‘Ray Donovan’. Marsan, who is not Jewish, plays the leading role of Soly Malinovsk, the leader of the anti-fascist underground movement known as the 62 Group. Twitter users were quick to attack the show of “favouring Zionists” and accusing Marsan of supporting “apartheid”.

Read all About It! A newspaper cutting from 1 July, 1962 of several thousand anti-fascists breaking up a rally held in Trafalgar Square by Colin Jordan’s National Socialist Movement. This was followed by a wave of anti-fascist action against the NSM and Oswald Mosley’s Union Movement throughout 1962.

Did these twisted twitter users even WATCH the series?

Marsan was quick to respond revealing that he has been facing “relentless” online abuse for playing a Jewish character in the four-part “Ridley Road” TV series.

F**k me, this is relentless, all I did was play a Jew, I dread to think what would’ve happened if I was actually Jewish,” Marsan tweeted .

On the Warpath. Scene from Ridley Road shows Colin Jordan (Rory Kinnear), Vivien Epstein (Agnes O’Casey) marching towards a Synagogue. (photo Ben Blackall)

Should anyone be surprised at the spiraling increase of anti-Semitism in the UK when a non-Jewish actor is subjected to such vile hate. See some of the tweets Marsan shares:

  • Facts are facts Eddie, you are a crap actor and I’ll never watch shite with your Apartheid loving bake in it.”
  • Why does the BBC do so many programmes favouring the Zionists ‘return’ and so few favouring Palestinian’s Right of Return? Just asking

The former Ray Donovan star was quick to fire back with:

 “I did a series about British Jews facing antisemitism, nothing to do with Israel or Palestine. But if you think they’re linked you probably think one justifies the other & the irony is, that’s exactly why Ridley Rd got commissioned.”

Responding to another antisemitic comment, Marsan proudly explained that he was grateful “to do ‘Ridley Road’ because it gave me the opportunity to confront people like you constructively and creatively. You can scream & shout all you want & throw around false accusations about, but it just reconfirms your prejudice.”

Outspoken against antisemitism on social media in the past, Marsan grappled with an explanation:

Antisemitism gives the myth that it’s punching up to some mythical all-powerful Jewish elite… so quite often, young people are taken in by antisemitic tropes on social media. They don’t see it as racism, they see it as anti-capitalist, and they feel more inclined to support it.”

In truth, Jews have been victimized for being communist as much as being capitalist suggesting the nature of the prejudice  is never over belief but blood.

Disgusting DuoColin Jordan gives a Nazi salute outside Marylebone Magistrates’ Court in 1963 while leaving with wife Françoise after being fined for insulting a Jewish taxi driver by saying “ good Luck to you for being a Jew …but what are you doing out of the ovens?’ (credit National

The Jews are despised not for what courses through their brains but through their veins.

British Jewish actress, Tracy-Ann Oberman, who costars in the series as Marsan’s wife and co-activist in the 62 Group, is intimately connected with the history. Her grandparents were members of the intelligence-gathering and anti-fascist underground movement 62 Group, which tried to stop the rise of the far-right. Oberman has been a staunch advocate for the fight against antisemitism since she left the British Labour Party in April 2017, after it refused to revoke the membership of former London mayor, Ken Livingstone, who was accused of antisemitism.

Standing Firm. The former EastEnders actress, Tracy-Ann Oberman now staring in Ridley Road, has faced a torrent of antisemitic abuse on social media over the years but remained defiant by ‘standing up against injustices’.

Appearing as a guest on the British talk show “Lorraine”, Oberman revealed that she was  being targeted by antisemitic trolls on social media, who have been abusing her online for years.

It comes from the left and the right, and if you see an injustice, I’ve always felt I needed to stand up and talk about it.”

Despite the treatment Oberman has been experiencing – described as “frankly vile” by talk show host Lorraine Kelley – Oberman is adamant that she will continue to speak against antisemitism despite online bullying.

The British writer, activist and Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, Karen Emma Pollock CBE, called the abuse that Marsan is facing:

 “shocking, disgusting, [and] exhausting all at once.”

While appreciative of the support following the verbal abuse targeting the intrepid actor, Marsan wrote:

 “Thanks for all the kind responses about this but honestly, I’ve been in this game for 30 years & I think I’m the dog’s bollocks, I’m fine. But the point is, what if I wasn’t. What if I were a young kid just starting out & I had to deal with this level of abuse. It’s unacceptable.”

None of this should be surprising!

Failed Führer. Actual Colin Jordan. Ridley Road is inspired by the true story of a revival of neo-Nazism in Britain in 1962 and a group of Jewish men and women who club together to try beat the fascists off the street and push them to the fringes of British politics, which they were successful in doing.

Also hardly ‘surprising’, last Thursday, London’s Metropolitan Police arrested a 28-year-old man suspected of carrying out five “unprovoked assaults on Jewish people” over the past month in the heavily Jewish neighborhood of Stamford Hill. Police had been searching for the suspect since he had been filmed two weeks earlier assaulting a Jewish man and a child on the street in separate incidents on the same day.

Londoners today hardly need reminding of the situation. Who can forget the video – televised globally on TV news networks earlier this year – showing cars with Palestinian flags driving through Jewish populated areas of the British capital honking their horns and screaming:

F*** their mothers, rape their daughters

If this is the ‘road’  the UK is set on going down, then Ridley Road is a ‘much watch’ as warning sign how societies can so easily “go down the wrong road”. Whatever the stresses and strains on a society, it seems Jews  are perennially caught in the middle and are blamed and ostracized.

One must bear in mind that this fanatical leader of the National Socialist Movement, Colin Jordan, was not “some crazy” aberration – he went to Cambridge and was a teacher in a school – a classic example as how the ordinary  transforms into the evil extraordinary.

Whether the threats to deal with Jews are heard as manic murderous screams from moving cars or are delivered in more refined parlance from those attired in suits and fine skirts, the instructive narrative of Ridley Road  is no less about the past as it is about the future.

Ask actors like Eddie Masan and Tracy-Ann Oberman!

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

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