A Summer in the Park - Tony Allen

Review by Colonel Spiggott

The Soul of the Speaker

Speakers' Corner in London is a legendary site for all on the planet who value freedom of speech. Hyde Park had long been the place where the people of London would gather to show their feelings to the powers that (should not?) be. In 1875, the north-east corner of the park was legally designated as a place for public speaking. Since then it has been a magnet for everyone who values freedom of argument whether Londoners and they be Londoners or Albanians, Irish or Russians. Thirty years ago, Heathcote Williams' "Speakers" gave the rest of the world access to the extraordinary people at the heart of the Corner. Now, a generation later, Tony Allen has given us a new look at the corner in his new book which is a worthy successor to "Speakers".

Unlike Williams, who remains the recorder of the speakers, Allen shares the perspective from the top of the soap-box... or the step-ladder in his case.

With an honesty that rivals Rousseau, Allen recounts his disasters as well as his epiphanies, the moments when he falls of the ladder as well as the times when his voice becomes the medium for the soul of the audience.

While there are many who. like Clemencau, regard anarchism as a philosophy of youth, to be abandoned with age for the lure of hierarchies, Allen has, if anything, grown stauncher with the passing decades. Twenty-five years ago he broke down the taboo against four letter words at the park, enabling the English to join those other European cultures which judge people for what they say rather than the words used.

The book is beautifully produced with photos which give us a gallery of the giants of the corner, from St Paul, standing in enigmatic wisdom to Khoo the radical, with the appalling "Lurch", the most challenging of the spoiling hecklers.

Thanks to Allen for giving those of us in the rest of the world a glimpse of what real debate and collective searching can mean, and to the British taxpayers who paid him to spend a summer in the park, speaking and recording his experiences.

Colonel Spiggott from Auckland, New Zealand, Dec 18 2004

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