by Tony Allen
I park my ladder on the junction of the walkway under the plane trees and shout at people to go away and leave me alone. A crowd gathers.
The ghosts of baying mobs and demos past all stalk this turf – mass assemblies of chartists, Victorian rioters and all those famous and infamous last words uttered by the condemned on Tyburn gallows. Hard acts to follow.
“If you hear anyone swear at Speakers’ Corner and you’re offended by it, bless, then you can go and tell a policeman. Then, and only then, can they take appropriate action. What we can’t have here is the police going round being offended on their own initiative.”
My ego swells in proportion to the size of the crowd, reminding me to transcend the cheap laugh and reveal the truth beyond. Oh yes, they don’t call me Lofty Tone for nothing.
There’s a crowd of over two hundred. Up at the front, a dozen or so outraged Muslims are waving their arms in the air, shouting at the speakers and flourishing copies of the Koran; an equal number of Christians are jeering these hecklers and cheering-on the platform; open copies of the Bible can be seen above their heads with fingers pointing at bits of text. The rest of the crowd is pretty noisy as well. A lot of them are non-partisan – simply regular hecklers and thrill seekers joining in for the entertainment value. Their tone is heavily ironic but nonetheless spirited.
Nothing can prepare you for the Hyde Park speaking experience. The performance dynamics are unique. The close proximity of other meetings and the robust heckling tradition make Speakers’ Corner unlike any other forum of public performance. Having an audience of easily distracted browsers harbouring hit and run snipers demands a house style of ‘dramatic conflict’ raw and obvious. A take-no-prisoners gladiatorial confrontation with the speaker as devil’s advocate remains the preferred tried and tested format. Even the rough-house of street theatre is subtle by comparison.
With a foreword by Ken Campbell
Black and White