Wisdom of the global village idiot

Review by Will Hatchett

Tony Allen is an unsung hero of the twentieth century. People may know him as a soothsayer for the end of capitalism - "The New Age peaked too soon", as a naughty anarchist, as the founder of Green Wedge, as a cabaret MC who nurtured many other talents or as an "alternative comedian" (although you probably won't find him advertising mobile phones on TV or co-writing a musical with Andrew Lloyd Webber). But a lot of people who saw him, or who he helped, won't know that he had another gig, as a public speaker at Hyde Park corner, and that this fed and deepened his comedy. This engaging autobiographical book explains that it took him many years to join the cast of millenarians, religious enthusiasts and wackos who inhabit the park. The book charts five months of performing as an advocate heckler, funded by a grant from the London Arts Board. It is rare to find such an absorbing blend of humility, self-deprecation, hilarity and chutzpah in one attractive package. Tony chooses not to lock masculine horns with the other speakers, even Chester of the Nation of Islam and his bodyguards, but merely heckles them ironically, where necessary. His life and personality are reflected in his acute observations and we see Hyde Park Corner as an ideological bazaar, in which ideas and religions are buffed up, debated and traded.

In the tradition of the great diaries, A Summer in the Park is candid and funny, illuminating big themes with the searchlight of one man's wit. As Christianity and Islam slug it out on a larger stage, and the world descends into infantilism and barbarity, it is timely to be reminded that humour can mediate between warring factions. It is something. Perhaps the only thing that we have. Mixed ability shaman, holy fool, Sartrean west London geezer. Whatever Tony is, he should keep on doing it. This is a brilliant book and as many people as possible should read it.

Will Hatchett - editor and author

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