This tribute to Frank comes from Lee Jasper who cut his political teeth over a 10 year period working at the Mangrove.
I worked at Mangrove along with Jebb Johnson, Carol Scott, Trevor Carter and people like Dr Richard Stone for over a decade.
Frank Critchlow, the man who 40-odd-years-ago set up the Mangrove Community Association, initially as a support and welfare centre for newly arrived migrants from the Caribbean quickly became a national symbol for civil rights and black power.
Dealing with the racism faced by black people the Mangrove morphed into community cafe and gathering place for both black and white radicals; also attracting the rich and famous from the world of fashion and politics.
Frank’s outspoken politics and charisma attracted artists, authors and musicians who loved him and his passion for the local community.
Christine Keeler, Mandy-Rice Davis and Stephen Ward were all regulars. As were Jimi Hendrix, Muhammad Ali, Bob Marley, Sammy Davies Jnr. Most notably the Mangrove was frequented by John Profumo, the War Minister, during his affair with Miss Keeler in the early Sixties.
The power and magnetism of the Mangrove acted as a key meeting point for a politicised black community. But started attracting police attention as the Mangrove began to organise the community against the brutal reality of routine and indiscriminate police violence, so the police and local press began to target both Frank and the Mangrove.
The Mangrove was raided regularly by the police on the flimsy pretence of looking for drugs. The raids were racist, violent and criminal with officers assaulting black people, smashing up the restaurant and offices. On one occasion the Mangrove was raided 6 times in three months and on each occasion the police found nothing.
In 1971 he organised a protest march against police brutality. Frank took the march to Notting Hill police station where he demanded an end to racist police brutality.
He and others, including Darcus Howe, were arrested and charged with conspiracy to riot. The case became known as the Mangrove 9 trial.
However the trial became a political show trial and the case attracted the support of people like Lord Gifford and Vanessa Redgrave who were among those who gave evidence for defendants, all of whom were acquitted.
This was a turning point for black police relations in the UK. It was the first time that police racism had been successfully challenged in the courts.
Frank’s win generated confidence in black youths across the country who started to fight back and challenge police brutality and racism. Mangrove toured the country urging communities to make a stand.
This was followed by the Mangrove 6 trials for the supply of drugs, once again the police were defeated. There followed a tense decade of raids, beatings, arrests . Frank fought everyone one of those cases however big or small to a standstill. He utilised medical reports of victims of police brutality by Dr Richard Stone, he used Birnberg solicitors to fight every case to a standstill. He never gave up he never gave in.
Throughout the late 70s and 80s Mangrove became one of the UK’s leading black organizations, organising demonstrations against Apartheid in South Africa, institutional racism, colonialism and supporting liberation movements from Palestine to the Congo.
He and others like Trevor Carter taught us the complexity of the struggle for race equality and the need to build alliances with others. Working at the Mangrove was like attending university every day taught you so much.
On one occasion in the late 80s in a swamp police operation, 4000 officers occupied a quarter of a mile radius surrounding the Mangrove. They were trying to prevent Mangrove Cafe from opening and customers had their food searched as the left. The policing was brutal and oppressive.
In 1988, a raid on the premises by 48 officers in full riot gear led by a then ruthlessly ambitious Inspector Paul Condon, who later went on to become Metropolitan Police Commissioner. Condon saw it as a matter of principle to destroy the Mangrove who he and his local officers saw as a perennial thorn in their side.
Frank and 11 others faced charges of supplying heroin and cannabis. At first he was held in custody and when freed on bail, banned from going anywhere near his business for over a year. I joined the Mangrove and worked as part of a unique team that challenged the efforts of the police to fit our people up.
What the police had not taken into account was that Frank was a hugely respected black community leader.
Churchmen, local magistrates, Lords and ladies and local people such as Dr Richard Stone and others who worked among the black and white communities in West London knew Franks hardline anti-drugs stance, he did not smoke and rarely drank. All were aware of his complete disdain for drugs and were aware of our work on delivering a range of anti-drug projects. The local joke at the time was that Frank did not know what weed looked like much less heroin.
The corrupt officers made a fundamental mistake. They had planted 11 members of Mangrove with small packets of 100% pure heroin and cocaine. They messed up their timings with the raid and allowed a police photographer into to picture; those arrested lying on the floor with no drugs in sight. Seven minutes later another picture shows small bags if drugs scattered all over the premises. All the bags had no fingerprints on them at all. At the trial we were told that the drugs purity suggests that they came from a laboratory.
This evidence was ruthlessly exposed by a legal team that consisted of Gareth Pierce, Mike Mansfield QC and Courtney Griffiths QC.
Despite evidence being given under oath by no less than 36 police officers, including Condon himself, in 1989 the jury acquitted him of all charges. Our defence was that we were politically targeted and that the police had sought to take Frank out by planting drugs on him. He and 12 were acquitted by 12 different juries.
While not admitting that officers had fabricated evidence, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner agreed to pay damages to Mr Critchlow in settlement of his claim for false imprisonment, battery and malicious prosecution. It was at the time the highest ward ever made in British legal history £50,000.
Franks other abiding passion was Carnival. The All Saints Road became the political epicentre of radical black politics during Carnival. African National Congress banners and other African liberation movements adorned the street. Stalls from all progressive campaigning movements were line up from one end of the street to the other.
For Frank there was no difference between black culture and black politics. He railed at the ‘McDonaldisation’ of Notting Hill Carnival, urging the Carnival committee not to abandon the political beating heart of Carnival.
I had the pleasure of working with Frank from the 1980sf or a period of 10 years. I came to love the man, his tenacious pursuit of justice, his compassion and his commitment to his community. He taught me all I know about campaigning in my community. He was considered by most to be our father; a passionate family man with an abiding commitment to justice. He was a radical – a shining black prince.
Crichlow in 1980 during the Notting Hill Carnival, an event he helped develop
The community activist Frank Crichlow, who has died aged 78 after a long illness, was a stalwart symbol of black urban resistance in the face of police persecution. This he achieved through withstanding the trials and tribulations visited on the Mangrove restaurant, which he established in the Notting Hill area of west London in the late 1960s.
Born in Trinidad, in the Woodbrook district of the capital, Port of Spain, Crichlow arrived in Britain on the SS Colombie in June 1953. Five years earlier, the Empire Windrush, with 492 passengers on board, had entered the history of multiculturalism as the ship bringing the first large group of Caribbean migrants to the UK after the second world war.
Initially living in Paddington, Crichlow recalled in the 1990s in an interview with Colin Prescod and Eric Huntley that it “could be a week before you saw another black person. Guys used to hang out on Sutherland Avenue where there was a club called Johnson’s, owned by an African, run by a Jamaican. People used to look forward to going, and everything started mushrooming from there.”
For a time Crichlow worked for British Rail, then in 1956 formed the Starlight Four band, which had some success with appearances on radio and television, and in a cinema advertisement. He used the money to open the El Rio Cafe in 1959 at 127 Westbourne Park Road – the interior decorated with fishing nets purloined from Southend – which became a gathering place for the black community, a likely first stop for those arriving in London from the West Indies.
As the photographer and writer Val Wilmer notes, “Crichlow had links with and benefited from the experience of an earlier group of settlers from the prewar and wartime era, Soho’s African entrepreneurs; they would all have known each other from the gambling tables (in December 1960 the Rio attracted a fine as a common gaming house).” Certainly, with the Notting Hill race riots of 1958, begun by gangs of white youths, still a recent memory, for black people to congregate was as much a matter of safety as sociability; but “slumming it” at the Rio also appealed to white customers.
Crichlow said of those days: “It was amazing. White and black people socialising like you and I could not imagine today. Christine Keeler, who used to call me “Dad”, John Profumo – they all came to the club. Colin MacInnes and all sorts of arty types came too – they loved the spirit of the place and felt released from their own stiff culture.” At the Rio, Keeler met her Jamaican lover, “Lucky” Gordon, a coupling that fuelled the defining political/sexual scandal of the 60s, the Profumo affair. According to Crichlow himself, quoted in Tony Gould’s Inside Outsider: The Life and Times of Colin MacInnes (1993), the Rio was a “school or university” for hustlers, attracting the rebellious and street-smart.
Notting Hill had become the UK’s black-culture capital, and in 1968 Crichlow went upmarket, opening the Mangrove at 8 All Saints Road – going
“from a sleazy cafe to a proper restaurant”, in the words of Darcus Howe, who had gone straight to the Rio on his arrival in 1962 and subsequently worked at the Mangrove. West Indian cuisine was enjoyed by locals and visiting celebrities alike. The clientele encompassed CLR James, Richard Neville, (Lord) Tony Gifford, Jimi Hendrix, Vanessa Redgrave, the Four Tops, the cast of the Avengers, Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye, Sarah Vaughan, Sammy Davis Jr, and Diana Ross and the Supremes.
“People would be waiting outside in cars until tables were free. . . The place would be packed and we’d see the police peeping through the windows,” Crichlow reminisced.
At the interface of liberal counter-culture, radical chic and ordinary community life, the Mangrove was by no means a dangerous drugs den, yet the Notting Dale constabulary seemed determined to close it down. Crichlow was targeted with raids and fined for such petty licensing offences as allowing dancing or serving food after 11pm, although police claims about drug dealing on the premises could not be made to stick. “In the first year they raided my restaurant six times and six times they found nothing.”
Protesting against police harassment in 1970, Crichlow, Howe and seven others were arrested for “riot and affray”. The trial, which lasted for 55 days the following year, was a cause celebre, exposing racism within the police force almost 30 years before the Macpherson Report. The “Mangrove Nine” were acquitted. “It was a turning point for black people,” Crichlow said. “It put on trial the attitudes of the police, the Home Office, of everyone towards the black community.”
After this win he set up the Mangrove Community Association as an offshoot of the restaurant, providing advice and assistance, nurturing local projects to improve housing, establish youth facilities and services for the elderly, and help rehabilitate ex-offenders and those with drug and alcohol addictions.
Despite being well-known throughout the community for his anti-drug stance, in 1979 Crichlow was charged, alongside five others, with drug offences, of which he was again cleared. In 1988, police officers responsible to the deputy assistant commissioner Paul Condon used sledgehammers to break into the Mangrove allegedly to seize drugs. Crichlow spent five weeks in custody before being granted bail, on conditions that banned him from going near his business for over a year, from which the Mangrove never recovered. When the evidence was demolished by a legal team consisting of the solicitor Gareth Peirce from the radical firm of Birnberg & Co, Michael Mansfield QC and Courtney Griffiths QC, the jury threw out the charges. Suing the Met in 1992 for false imprisonment, battery and malicious prosecution, Crichlow was awarded record damages of pounds 50,000.
Of equal importance to his involvement with civil rights was his connection with cultural ventures, and he was a central figure in the development of the Notting Hill Carnival. The award-winning Mangrove Steelband was founded in 1980.
The solicitor Benedict Birnberg said:
“Frank was a great person who stood out among others around him, never bitter, always it seemed to me cool in the face of discrimination and prejudice.” The community development expert Vince Hines observed: “Because of his work, Britain has become a more tolerant, caring and balanced society.” He is survived by his son Knowlton and daughters Lenora, Francesca and Amandla from his former partnership with Lucy Addington.
The Notting Hill Carnival
From the start The Police tried to ban the Notting Hill Carnival. When all else failed, they physically attacked it. From its beginning they have hated it because it is a symbol of black resistance and black and white solidarity.
The Notting Hill Carnival survived because of the resistance by black, and many white, people. The carnival was a response to the vicious race riots in August 1958.
Black people were excluded from many workplaces, pubs and clubs and racist attacks were common. The police constantly harassed and arrested black people. In 1958 in Nottingham, white youths rampaged through areas like St Ann’s night after night. They surrounded black people and threatened to lynch them. In London, fascists stirred up racist gangs to attack blacks with knives, guns and petrol bombs. The 7,000-strong West Indian community in Notting Hill was terrorised for four days and nights.
A local black man, Ivan Weekes, described what happened in his street: “There was a pitched battle in Powis Terrace where I lived. The street was alight, fires, Molotov cocktails. And blood was everywhere – it was awful.
“By that time, the situation had become so bad that black men used to come from surrounding areas knowing the whites were going to hit this particular street, this particular night. They would come in solidarity. Many black people felt if they’re going to kill us, we won’t be passive about it. The next morning the street was like a battlefield, with burnt out cars and the rest of it.”
The police claimed the riots were “the work of ruffians, both black and white”. But secret papers released showed they knew the violence was caused by “Keep Britain white” mobs, at times thousands strong.
The carnival came out of ordinary people’s desire to combat racism and celebrate multiracialism. In January 1959 London’s first Caribbean carnival was held. One of the organisers, Claudia Jones, said, “We needed something to get the taste of Notting Hill out of our minds.”
For the first generation of black immigrants, Carnival was a protest against racist mobs that besieged their community in west London. In the 1970s the next generation of black people saw it as a symbol of resistance to the police’s criminalisation of young black people.
As one black activist explains, “Anybody who knows Carnival, now a joyous occasion, and its wonderful food and music and people wearing policemen’s helmets, better go back to 1976, and ’77 and ’78, when the negotiations with the police were about whether the carnival was going to happen at all.”
Reggae music inspired and gave confidence to the new generation. During the 1970s the police became increasingly hostile to the carnival. A police officer explained, “Carnival was their day. For the rest of the year, police would be stopping them in ones and twos in the street, where they would be in a minority. But for one weekend they were in the majority and they took over the streets.”
In 1976 the police hyped up safety fears about the carnival. A police chief told the press, “The carnival has outgrown itself and it is no longer suitable for Notting Hill or any London streets.”
Huge numbers of police turned up to the carnival and began trying to arrest people. The crowd united to stop them. When police rampaged through the carnival, lashing out at men, women and children, they fought back. The Financial Times stated,
“Those who steal or assault must be classed as criminals. But those who crowd around to prevent the police from arresting them must surely be seen as expressing a kind of social or political anger.”
An officer admitted,
“The police had taken a beating and were determined it wouldn’t happen again. So when the next one came around, there was some desire for revenge.”
The following year there were renewed calls for the carnival to be restricted. The police wanted revenge. When a few stones were thrown, they waded in. Sandra Knight and her young child were attacked by baton-wielding police. Her husband said at the time,
“They just hit her over the head. One policeman went for the baby. He aimed for her head. If he had hit her, she would have been dead.”
Sections of the right wing press and the police continued to attack the carnival. They tried to fit up key organisers like Frank Crichlow of the Mangrove Club. In 1988 Frank spent six weeks in prison awaiting trial before a jury threw out charges related to drug dealing.
In 2001 some 10,000 police were on duty after officers warned that gun-toting gangsters would terrorise the event. Only 35 people out of the two million that partied were arrested – mostly for being drunk. In 1991 Lynda Lee Potter, Daily Mail columnist, described Notting Hill Carnival as “a sordid, sleazy nightmare that has become synonymous with death”.
Despite all this they couldn’t stop the carnival, because of its huge popularity amongst ordinary people. In recent years, there has been talk of moving the carnival off the streets and letting corporate sponsors take over, which would rob the carnival of its unique atmosphere.
Amid a series of rows, the London Notting Hill Carnival plc was established to seek sponsorship and franchises. Frank Crichlow, a key figure in Notting Hill, says the talk of sponsorship
“means selling out to big business people. Carnival belongs to the community. When the entrepreneurs move in, the little people go out of the window.”
Ken Hinds is vice-chair of the Mas Bands Association, which makes carnival floats. He says, “The people who come to Carnival don’t come to see the police or the officials-so why are they telling us how to run our event?
The first Caribbean carnival was held in Trinidad in 1834 to celebrate the abolition of slavery. In 1881 Trinidad’s former police chief described how the tradition evolved: “After the emancipation of the slaves, thing were materially altered. The ancient lines of demarcation between classes were obliterated and, as a natural consequence, the carnival degenerated into a noisy and disorderly amusement for the lower classes.”
Carnival has lost none of its power to rock the establishment, as journalist Gary Younge explains: “Massive in size, working class in composition, spontaneous in form, subversive in expression and political in nature-the ingredients for Carnival are explosive. Add to the mix the legacy of slavery and it soon becomes clear why so long as there has been Carnival, the authorities have sought to contain, control or cancel it.”
Cities across Britain have Caribbean-style carnivals. Leeds hosts what organisers claim is the biggest carnival outside London, with an annual parade of tens of thousands dancing its way to the West Indian Centre in Chapeltown. It has been going since 1967.
Birmingham held its first carnival in 1984. Over 50,000 turned out to take part in last year’s event. A Caribbean carnival has been held in Nottingham since 1970. When it was cancelled in 1998 the outcry was so great it was reinstated and organisers claim this year it was the biggest ever.
But the fight to defend our right to celebrate multiracial Britain continues. Only last year Dudley police forced the local carnival to be cancelled, claiming 15,000 gun-toting black people would turn up.