A Summer in the Park

Review by William Briggs - Freedom

Comic autobiography or political manifesto?

Tony Allen may well be the man to bring about the revolution. Not necessarily the one he preaches every Sunday at Speakers' Corner, the anarchist one involving the end of private property and the eradication of the work ethic. No, Tony may bring about a revolution in your friendly local libraries and bookshops. As with his previous opus Attitude: Wanna make Something of It? A Summer In the Park will give the Dewey Decimal people a hell of a time trying to classify it and could do away with the whole '001-099 Reference, 100-199 Religion' thing altogether.

Should it be filed under autobiography? Comic autobiography? As a guide to the potential public orator? Maybe as a piece of local history for all those of us who are compelled to spend every Sabbath by the Marble Arch roundabout putting the world to rights? Perhaps it's a radical political manifesto for those who want to follow him in getting rid of London's Starbucks, MacDonald's, exorbitant rents, and bendy busses and turn everything 'charmingly rural'? Certainly it should be a must-read for the thousands of regulars and semi-regulars at the 'Home of Free Speech' (!) who want to see their hobby/outlet chronicled by one of its shrewdest observers.

It will also be fascinating to anyone who wants to read texts of mind-blowing confrontations between the highly enlightened and the irritatingly banal.

Speakers' Corner being the ultimate public forum with a unique 'revolving crowd' structure- Thus, another classification for this book might be 'Literature specifically devoted to dealing with comic geniuses forced to talk to those who are their intellectual and social inferiors: 729.430123'. The highlight of Tony's meeting always comes about 30 minutes in when he is confronted by a day tripper trying to make a name for himself through some obvious, and usually second hand heckle, and is given a reply along the lines of 'Do you not realise - Property is Liberty. Property is Theft. Property is Impossible. Now, any questions? Not you! Not You! And definitely not you!!!.

I'm sure Tony is aware that he is performing a wonderful social service by giving the various 'characters' (think of the word 'character' in the slyly pejorative sense that we use it in this country. As in 'Albert - He's a real character') that he catharts at, their moment of posterity. Hecklers, winos, academics, god-botherers, bores, geniuses, and straightforward regulars, all cross his path and are dealt with fairly but are never allowed to get above themselves.

Equally when he is allowed to be in a positive mood Tony will happily explain why currency is unnecessary, the role of the clown in comic history, the difference between male and female modes of gaining personal attention, all aspects of the performance dynamic, the difference between swearing as punctuation, emphasis and gratuitousness, and the social and economic phenomena that have forced you to ask of him a particular question. He is, in short, almost unique in being a very considerable brain for hire between the hours of 3 and 7 on a Sunday afternoon.

Tony here writes about a more innocent time. A few summers ago when for most Britons 9/11 still meant 'November 9th' and Saddam Hussein was our enemy from years ago, the evil dictator who upset the US President before last. Speakers' Corner is nothing if not 6 months ahead of the curve in terms of knowing what is going on in the world. Today you cannot walk from the 'Religious' end of the Corner near the Bayswater road to the 'Political' end nearer Park Lane without hearing heated arguments about the last war and whether Venezuela or Iran will get it next. As one cynical but well-informed regular put it to me this week 'The difference between Bush and Kerry will be one letter - cross out the Q and turn it into an N' - depressing but probably true. Speakers' Corner is currently a rather angry and scary place because we are currently in a rather scary and depressing world.

Much of this book, after the excellent and lengthy introduction giving the historical context for the Corner from the 60's 'till today, is given over to Tony fighting and arguing with friends, strangers and casual acquaintances, for a better, less selfish, more chilled-out world. Long may he continue to 'Disturb the Comfortable, and Comfort the Disturbed'.

William Briggs - Freedom



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