Play to Be Staged at Questors to Commemorate Death of Blair Peach

Teacher killed in Southall at anti-racist demo

Blair Peach


Local Theatre Literally Wants to Raise The Roof

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January 4, 2024

A play is being staged for one night only at the Questors Theatre to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the death of Blair Peach and the events that took place on 23 April, 1979, in Southall.

‘Go Back Home’ is written and directed by Tajinder Singh Sindra who is a well-known figure in Punjabi theatre in this country and also in Bollywood. It will be performed on Friday 12 January and all tickets have already been sold.

Most of the writer’s plays highlight social issues and historical as well as contemporary oppression and injustices. He also runs the Punjabi Theatre Academy based in Southall where young actors and directors learn the trade. This play is about the racism of the 1970s faced by non-white communities and the violence unleashed by groups like the National Front (NF) concentrating on Southall.

On April 23, 1979, the National Front were allowed to hold an election rally in the Southall Town Hall despite it widely being believed that members of the group were responsible for instigating attacks on immigrant communities. Marches and rallies were often held by far-right groups through areas with a high proportion of non-whites in a deliberate provocation. This resulted in counter demonstrations from groups such as the Anti-Nazi League (ANL).

Before the NF rally, a meeting was called by the Indian Workers Association and attended by representatives of many organisations, including Gurdwaras, Temples, Mosques, Churches, trade unions, the ANL and others. It was decided to actively oppose the NF rally with peaceful protests and marches and a committee was elected to organise the response. Balwinder Rana, a long time anti-racist activist, was appointed as chief steward to oversee the protests.

On Sunday, 22 April, around six thousand people marched from Southall to Ealing Town Hall, to hand in a petition to the council appealing that the NF rally be cancelled but, despite this, the event went ahead.

The following day thousands of locals, supported by the ANL, gathered in the town with the aim of making their way to Southall Town Hall. Over 3,500 police had arrived in the area earlier that day and set up road blocks to prevent the protestors reaching the Town Hall and escort the NF supporter through the counter protest.

Scuffles followed which resulted in many injuries, including to police officers, and 350 people were arrested. Blair Peach, a 30-year-old school teacher from New Zealand, who was a member of the ANL, died from what is believed to have been a blow from a police officer.

Six witnesses say they saw a Special Patrol Group officer hit Blair Peach over the head. He fell to the ground and an ambulance was called but he died later in Ealing Hospital.

Balwinder Rana, chief steward for the protests at the time, said, "We were only trying to defend our right not be insulted in our own community by the racists and we appealed to all the authorities to cancel the rally. But no one listened to us and instead we were attacked and beaten by the police truncheons, trampled upon by the police horses and bitten by the police dogs. But the people, men and women, young and old, black, Asian and our white friends, stood united. It was not without sacrifices as many young people went to prison, others paid heavy fines and my friend, Blair Peach, made the ultimate sacrifice. But we showed to the world that with our unity racism can be defeated.

"This is a very timely play and its very important to remember our struggles. Racism and fascism is on the rise again in this country, in Europe and beyond. Therefore, all the communities, black, white, Asian and regardless of religious differences coming together at this time is of the utmost importance so that our children do not have to face what we had to go through in the 70s."

Balwinder Rana has given a personal account of the events of that day in this article.

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