Look at this old Evening Standard I discovered under the floorboards recently. The date? Friday May 30, 1977.
Eagerly flicking through the pages, it read, uncannily, rather like the news in 2012: London was gearing up for the Silver Jubilee, with Oxford Street expected to earn ‘£200million’ from tourists. The leader celebrated 150 years of the paper in the face of fears of a ‘dying industry’ (little did they know…) Small theatres were ‘uniting’ to survive. And on page 3 there’s a ‘happy birthday’ to a famous movie star (a very gaunt Sir Olivier ‘healthy at 70’).
And the one story on Kentish Town reports a row over – you guessed it – the price of booze in the manor. A rather reactionary report tells how a ‘community centre’ is undercutting the other pubs in town by selling pints at 27p – 6p cheaper than its nearest rivals.
Cheeky bleedin’ monkeys! Yet read closely and this is not just any old gaff, but Ed Berman’s Inter-Action, the seminal community arts resource centre – steel-framed, and with exposed pipes and girders – that had just been opened by Princess Anne on a former bomb site off Talacre Road. (Berman was also the geezer responsible for the pioneering Kentish Town City Farm.)
Inter-Action was the first centre of its kind in Europe, its aim to make print and radio media accessible to the local community. The Standard also reports that it had ‘dress-making facilities’. Wowsers. Yet despite this visionary thinking, it quickly found itself in hot water as a ‘glorified pub’ offering discount booze. Not only that, but it paid no rates and a ‘peppercorn rent’ of £5 a year’. Read the full report here (click on it to make it bigger):
Other publicans – at the now-defunct Carlton Tavern on Grafton Road, and the Prince Albert opposite the centre on Talacre Road – were of course furious, complaining of ‘subsidising’ the place. Berman (now MBE) answered back their critics by saying if they had to pay rates they’d be right ‘up the spout.’
And there the paper left the story. But what happened to Inter-Action afterwards? Well, in 1985 Ed and the Trustees decided to divide the charity into national and local functions, with both Berman and senior Inter-Action members moving to the Royal Victoria Docks with the others staying in NW5, renamed ‘Interchange’. Later Interchange benefited from Berman’s contract with the Local Authority to realise £2m which it used to purchase Hampstead Town Hall (where it still resides).
Long after Berman & co had left, the building was eventually pulled down due to massive debts. But the tale has a happy ending as the very popular Talacre Sports Centre was built a few years later at a cost of £5 million (in 2002). And Talacre Open Space – once a rubbish-strewn bombsite – was redesigned shortly after as the much more bucolic Talacre Gardens.
In a nice addendum, a still youthful Ed Berman opened the new Kentish Town Community Centre this year, and announced the revival of his influential Fun Art Bus, again set to tour estates around Britain. So it really does feel like ’77 all over again.
But back to booze. Which local watering hole wants to offer readers a pint at 1977 prices?
Go on, Camden Brewery Bar…a little nod to your history, perhaps?
We’ll keep you posted, people.
Words & Colour Pics: Stephen Emms