The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
Communist playwright Ian Buckley on why his play The Tailors' Last Stand, shortly to open in London, is a must-see for trade unionists in these times of economic slump
The snow was thick outside when I met communist playwright Ian Buckley toward the end of last month. Before the interview we listened to the morning news announcing that despite all the best hopes and bluster from Osborne, Cameron and Clegg, Britain was still not just in the economic mire but probably heading for a triple-dip recession.
Buckley's new play is set four years ago during another snowy January when the official announcement came that Britain had just gone into that slump.
The Tailors' Last Stand doesn't deal with these big issues directly - it's a close-up look at four old communist London tailors, two of whom are Jewish.
They gather in Bethnal Green Labour Party Rooms in the East End of London for the final meeting of their GMB London branch.
Max, Barney, Tom and George come together to perform the last rites over their beloved union branch and consign it to history.
But for each, after well over half a century of membership, their union will always be the good old NUTGW - the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers.
So where did Buckley get the idea for the play?
"It's my dad's story," he explains. "My father Ernie is the inspiration for one of the characters.
"Dad is now 93 and all his working life he created expensive suits. He worked in far from salubrious workshops in Soho but the suits he made were sold for thousands of guineas by the posh tailors of Savile Row."
The four are "loveable rogues" and one happens to be Buckley's dad. While they all share the same political ideal, trying to follow it creates "total comic mayhem," Buckley says.
"This last union meeting is meant to be a solemn affair but things don't go to plan," he explains. "A chance remark and suddenly all hell breaks loose.
"Instead of bidding a sad farewell to a life of struggle they're up to their necks in unforeseen events and dodgy stories."
For all the comic twists and turns Buckley hopes that the play - "a memory and a tribute to them" - shows the real affection these men have for each other and their union and the nostalgia that grips them as they say that final goodbye.
Playwright Buckley is no stranger to communist ideas. Still politically active, he now spends much of his time across the Channel where he works with the Communist Party of France.
"I love the fact they still have huge marches and demonstrations. I love the sight of all those red hammer and sickle banners," he declares.
He relates how proud his communist parents were when he gained a place at Cambridge, where he was the first student from a state comprehensive to enter the "hallowed portals" of Christ's College where he gained an honours degree in English literature.
He sounds just as proud to explain that he was the first lad from a comprehensive to gain a football blue, playing at Wembley against Oxford.
An MA at Kent University on Sean O'Casey followed and that convinced Buckley to become a playwright himself.
Alongside a career teaching drama and writing at colleges and university he has seen his plays produced on BBC Radio, at numerous fringe theatres and even in a dockers' social club.
One of the plays The Revolutionary, about a communist second-hand car dealer, was broadcast both on BBC Radio 4 and on German radio.
Although the tailors' old union forms part of the mighty GMB, the union has never forgotten its historic roots. It is assisting the play financially and taking over the whole theatre for a special performance for GMB members on February 23.
In the audience will be GMB general secretary Paul Kenny who in earlier days with the union had the responsibility for the tailoring section. Kenny worked closely with, and became a great friend of, Ernie Buckley.
"Me and my dad are both proud and delighted that his union is getting behind the play," says Ian.
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