A Summer in the Park

A Speakers' Corner Journal by Tony Allen
Review by John Phillips

I have been arguing with Tony Allen for over thirty years. In other words, I know the author of A Summer in the Park, and I'm aware that some unscrupulous writers have reviewed their own work under a pseudonym, or coerced distant relatives to script eulogies to their published offerings. Neither, I stress, is the case with this review.

Generally speaking to know Tony is to argue with him. He has raised cantankerousness to a fine art, and turned it into a profession. In blatant opposition to the dress code of 1970's bohemia, Allen donned a diner jacket and launched himself on a crusade; to take radical politics into working men's clubs. He invented the term Alternative Comedy, and has shaped much of its terrain. To sharpen his wit Allen pursued a parallel career at Speakers Corner, a small tarmaced space, in the centre of London. Once the site of public hangings, it continues to offer a weekly ritual of public discussion, banter and humiliation, for performers and audiences alike.

From his milk-crate anarchist platform Allen regularly berated global capitalism, and denounced the folly of work. In 1999 he wholeheartedly revised a stock theme 'the end of the world is nigh', and predicted the collapse of Western civilization, undermined by the millennium bug. In December of that year he fled to the hills to wait Armageddon, only to return shamefaced some months latter.

During his country repose Allen continued to harass the authorities. Learning of an Arts Council proposal; to offer grants to 1,000 artists, to do their own public thing, he submitted an application: to promote the art of heckling at Speakers' Corner. Much to his surprise, the bureaucrats accepted his challenge.

A Summer in the Park is Allen's account of his career as a government sponsored Advocate Heckler; available from midday each Sunday, to teach the techniques of banter to newcomers, and heckle on behalf of shyer members of the public. It is an hilarious account of the techniques and vulnerabilities of the art of performance, and a manifesto for Allen's anarchic Utopia, in which tolerance and opposition are freely intertwined with the exploration of ideas. Assuming that Allen is incorrect in his revised prediction: that the world will now end in 2025, a Summer in the Park, will offer future generations a wonderful insight into Londoners' concerns at the cusp of the millennium. For the rest of us it's a fucking good giggle.

John Phillips July 2004

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