BBC - British Broadcasting Corporation

11/10/2020 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 11/10/2020 04:50

Small Axe - Mangrove

The telling of a story such as Mangrove - a significant juncture in British race relations history, that marked a tremendously successful win at the Old Bailey Court that has been forgotten by many - carries a great responsibility.

McQueen explains: 'This is a story that I grew up knowing through my parents, my dad was friends with one of the Mangrove Nine. it was crucial to me that my co-writer Alastair Siddons and I put all our effort into research and to retelling this story with as much accuracy and care as possible.'

McQueen says: 'Alastair is very particular. He is an innate researcher and likes to get to the nitty gritty. The minutia. We worked together in tandem, digging and refining as we went along on this journey.'

So, let's begin with some background.

Frank Crichlow opened the Mangrove in 1968 in Notting Hill's All Saints Road, only the Notting Hill of 1968 was a very different one from the one portrayed in movies of recent years. The construction of the Westway Motorway meant that cheap rent could be found, and many people who arrived from the West Indian islands from 1948-1971, known as the Windrush communities, sought home and community in the area.

The Mangrove quickly became a sanctuary to the islanders. Frank himself was Trinidadian-born and simply wanted to run a good business. The cosy restaurant was dimly lit and served delicious West Indian fare, such as spring chicken with rice and peas, to an eclectic mix of fellow migrants, intellectuals, activists and artists: Nina Simone, Vanessa Redgrave, Diana Ross and Jimi Hendrix are known to have frequented the café, as well as Bob Marley, who played football nearby and would come to the Mangrove afterwards to eat.

The restaurant was much more than a late-night haunt for artists - it provided a home base for the Black community to support each other. It's where people came for advice about housing and job applications, it was their anchor, until the local Kensington and Chelsea Council removed Frank's license from 11pm, when much of his trade happened after midnight. Frank made a formal complaint of unlawful discrimination, as the Council cited criminal patrons and activity such as prostitution as reasons for revoking the license, but the police continued to turn up and raid the premises looking for drugs and causing havoc. The harassment became untenable. Frank was losing business and the locals were losing the heart and soul of their community.

Frank Crichlow's (Shaun Parkes) first resistance in this triumphant story was resisting his leading role as a community activist. After all, he just wanted to run a great restaurant. Eventually, the Mangrove became a makeshift hub of community activism spread across three floors. Frank and his friends planned to protest on 9 August 1970, but first they wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Edward Heath to explain how they were forced to protest, 'as all other methods have failed to bring about any change in the manner the police have chosen to deal with black people'.

As Executive Producer Tracey Scoffield explains: 'One hundred and fifty marchers turned up and 300 policemen, which gives you some idea of what the police thought of the whole thing.'

There are reports that over 500 police attended the march as well as undercover policemen. While varying accounts exist of how the initial altercation with police initiated, we know that bedlam ensued, and that numerous protestors and police were injured. In the aftermath, the police charged Frank and eight others, Altheia Jones-LeCointe (Letitia Wright), Darcus Howe (Malachi Kirby), Barbara Beese (Rochenda Sandall), Rupert Boyce, Rhonan Gordon, Anthony Innis, Rothwell Kentish and Godfrey Millett. They became known as the Mangrove Nine.

One of the most shocking facts about the trial was the court in which the nine were tried, the Old Bailey, a high court reserved for the most serious crimes. Three of them, including Altheia Jones-LeCointe and Darcus Howe, represented themselves so they could speak directly to the jury. But even then, the defendants used their right to question and dismiss potential jurors. Sixty-three were rejected. The final selection included two Black people.

Lawyer Ian MacDonald was a formidable and profoundly inspirational figure in the establishment of anti-discrimination and anti-racist laws in the UK. It was his commitment to equality and race relations that led to his successful defense of the Mangrove Nine, some of whom attended his 80th birthday in 2019 and spoke of his eagerness to present their account of mistreatment and injustice. MacDonald passed away in November 2019 during Small Axe production. He was working on immigration cases at the time of his death.

The trial led to an historic ruling whereby the jury acquitted all of the nine of incitement to riot. Five were acquitted of all charges against them. The remaining four - Rupert Boyce, Rhodan Gordon, Anthony Innis and Altheia Jones-LeCointe - received suspended sentences for a selection of lesser offences, including affray and assaulting police officers.

Nonetheless, it was Judge Edward Clarke's closing comments that cemented in stone the most significant hard-won triumph.
He concluded: 'What this trial has shown is that there is clearly evidence of racial hatred on both sides.'

The Mangrove closed in 1992 and Frank Cricklow died in 2010.

Up until now, the story has remained relatively unknown in the UK. 2020 is the year to tell it.

Pictured above: Letitia Wright as Altheia Jones