Speakers' Corner Review - Der Spiegel June 2014

Speakers' Corner challenge to Culture Secretary Sajiid Javid. (see Bulletin 01).

Translation by Farrell/Bruno/Google.

Original Article in German on Der Spiegel Site

Renovated Speaker's Corner in London: The anarchists from Hyde Park

When Angela Merkel spoke to the British Parliament in February, she told the assembled MPs and Lords about her first visit to London, soon after reunification.

The Chancellor said that Speakers Corner in Hyde Park was one of her first destinations. The symbol of freedom of expression had a special meaning for her as an East German.

It is quite possible that Merkel listened to Tony Allen rage against the authorities on that visit to Speakers Corner. Now sixty-nine, the veteran anarchist has been a regular speaker at the Corner, in front of the Marble Arch, since 1978. Last Thursday, Allen was back on his little step ladder perch, ranting away – but this time he was attacking the park administration.

The authorities were not interested in Speaker's Corner, Allen shouted. They allowed regular pop concerts to take place on the adjacent lawn in the park . The speakers were drowned out, their place at the park entrance overrun by masses of music fans.

Cleaner, neater more tourist friendly

Allen's appearance is a question of honour. The park management has invited the media to unveil their plans to redesign Speaker's Corner. The British Minister of Culture Sajid Javid has come to cut a green ribbon. Allen could not let this kind of ceremony pass unchallenged.

A woman from the park administration extols the regeneration of the park entrance. The cameras pan across new flower beds and fences; the asphalt has been replaced by gravel. Information signs have been erected, outlining the history of the famous square; Everything is cleaner, neater, more tourist friendly.

The woman from the administration said she was proud that they had brought the London Marathon and the Tour de France into Hyde Park. Yes, and the pop concerts were a great success as well. "Could you please tell me where the bathroom is?" Allen interjects. "Shame", roars Heiko Khoo.

Khoo, a 50-year-old academic, has been speaking at the Corner almost every Sunday since 1986. He is doing research for a PhD at King's College, while he earns his living as a tourist guide. On Sundays, he leads tourists on a "Karl Marx Walking Tour" through Soho, then he comes to the park and talks about socialism.

Marx, Lenin and Orwell all spoke here.

The regular speakers complain that their needs are being ignored: they cite the lack of toilets, and the invasive noise from pop concerts. The park management was only interested in improving access for concert-goers, says Khoo.

Speaker's Corner thrives because of the presence of characters like Allen and Khoo. From the nineteenth century when the labour movement fought successfully to make the Corner a zone of free speech, it attracted revolutionaries and idealists, including Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and George Orwell. Today though, the speakers are largely unknown anarchists, socialists, atheists, pacifists, religious preachers - and vegetarians.

Frequently, several speakers simultaneously vie for attention: they are distributed over a wide area, with small groups of spectators and hecklers gathering around them. The hecklers are an essential part of the performance, inspiring the speakers. It helps if you're a stand-up comedian like Allen. Humour and quick wit always pull a crowd.

Amusing side-shows rather than political relevance

Like so many features of London, Speaker's Corner is living off the glamour of bygone days. The audiences have become smaller; the political relevance is now miniscule. Most day trippers remain for only a short time in front of the performers perched on their ladders, who are perceived as amusing side-shows in the big city.

"Some say it is the best live theatre in London," says Reinhard Wentz, 71. The German-born retired librarian has been coming once a month to Hyde Park for over 50 years. But, according to Wentz, the speakers are not only entertaining; it is well worth listening closely.

"When you spend ten minutes with the religious fanatics, you may think that all the speakers are wafflers," he says." But if you take an hour, you can learn a lot."

One comment in "the Spiegel":

…behind the phenomenon Tony Allen hiding after all, the "godfather of alternative comedy", the end of the 70s in the first Comedy Store with Alexi Sayle, Andy de la Tour, Pauline Melville and Arnold Brown occurred. Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders have also started their careers here - it was a fantastic time. See Allen's delicious memories: "Attitude - the secret of stand-up comedy." In the novel 'Felix' revolution ', there are also references to Tony Allen, the midnight ride with the street theatre company Rough Theatre. "Lenny Bruce finished his career, out of his head on drugs, chased by the police, and dying in a toilet. That's how I started off." Allen was much more subversive than Monty Python

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