Leafing through the first 150 or so copies of the Penny Post is like reading the family history book. Many of my first memories are chronicled in those early editions. I can remember, for example, my father, Robin Masterman Pannell, coming home on 15th February 1971 to Silvertown, London with the freshly-minted decimal coins, which he placed on the brown formica kitchen table. I was five years old at the time and together with my sisters, we marvelled at the shininess of the new five and ten pence pieces. The following Saturday appeared an article on the decimalisation of the British pound on the front page of the Penny Post.
Likewise, I remember howling and begging to be allowed to be taken by my father - whom at that age I doted on so much - to the party meetings. One of my first memories is sitting on a plastic chair, my legs sticking out in front, unable to reach the floor, with a Tupperware box filled with ham sandwiches and crisps. (Plastic was all the rage back then.) I remember the scalding I got for making too much noise with the crisp bag – I had promised to remain in silence. I recall watching in awe as my father took the platform and delivered his speech. It all seemed so big and impressive. Really, it was little more than a weirdo group of near-fascists in a crumby old church hall. The group were members of the National Democratic Party, a party led by the charismatic (but usually absent) Dr. David Brown. The NDP's policies in many ways mirrored those of the National Front and many members would eventually end up in the BNP. The family shame!
Such meetings were all chronicled in the following Saturday's edition of the Penny Post.
I was in a state of ecstasy when allowed into a car that formed part of the ‘motorcade’ (as the PP called it) on some election campaign trail in 1971. I sat on my dad’s lap in an Austin Rover (I think) as we drove around the streets of the East End bellowing political nonsense into the megaphone strapped to the roof above.
On the National Democratic Party campaign trail in 1970. Note the Reliant Robin!
Read 'em and weep. The manifesto of the National Democratic Party circa 1970.
The manifesto itself was a heinous piece of vile racism. The title read ‘Battle For Britain’. One paragraph was entitled ‘Repatriation of Coloured Immigrants’. I’ll spare you the rest.
Yet in spite of ugly sentiments and highly questionable politics, some interesting things can be observed.
Firstly, the paper clearly shows that virtually nothing has changed fifty years on from the first edition. The topics often feature themes about immigration; US wars; the Brexit debate was present in everything but name; the European Common Market was scorned on regular occasions; the NDP and most of the UK still thought Europe was the island; austerity was an issue back then too; there were articles about the demise of the health service; all other ills were blamed on Russia or China.
Obviously it goes without saying that we in no way endorse this horrific nonsense! National Democratic Party manifesto 1970.
Yet some things really were different. The whole party took immense pride in their literary and oratory skills. This is a far cry from the groups of knuckle-dragging right-wingers of today such as the EDL and Tommy Robinson. In fact, Enoch Powell, the paragon of the far-right back in the day, was particularly eloquent and even claimed, in one of his books, that the English language was proof of the nobility of the white race, offering as proof the fact that no foreigner could truly dominate it. Strange logic indeed, but at least they were capable of engaging in something resembling intelligent debate.
It wasn’t just the language either. The far right modelled themselves on the Powell aesthetic. Most of them had slick, greased-back hair or hipster-style side partings combed into quiffs. Many wore dandy-like elegant double-breasted jackets. Ties were perennial and would even be worn at home; practically every family photo from the time features a five-year old me sporting one. All this was completely at odds with the fashions of the late-sixties and early seventies.
In fact, my first memory of long-haired ‘layabouts’, ‘nerks’ and ‘yobos’ (in the old man’s terminology) was when I attended a meeting which was interrupted by a group of left-wing student agitators. (Just about every assembly met with some kind of Antifa-style opposition.) I remember them standing in the doorway yelling inflammatory slogans. Years later I read in the PP that they were met with an invitation to participate in the debate – which they declined! That sounds about right. I've seen Robin in action at Speaker's Corners and he would take on any challengers.
3rd May 1971. Robin Pannell and children at Mill Road, London E16.
The Penny Post has allowed me to retrace the steps of my early childhood. I can see how the apologies for missed editions coincided with the family frequently moving house; and how the requests for more subscriptions to cover printing costs coincided with lulls in family income due to my father’s employment hiatuses whenever we relocated. Even the drawings my parents kept from back then are etched on the back of unpublished drafts of the newspaper complete with the editor’s corrections.
I took up the torch of the Penny Post, mainly because I thought the old man might turn in his grave. We never agreed on anything, least of all politics. By the time I was ten I was a fully-fledged anarchist and I’d regularly get my arguments torn to pieces in debates at the dinner table. It was some education.
The newspaper, although it contained a certain degree of noble sentiments and values, was probably responsible for stirring up a fair bit of discontentment, hatred and suspicion. The Penny Post didn’t do much to change the world... but it certainly changed mine.