The Way We Were Then

The Way We Were : 144 Piccadilly  squat

A few years ago a TV company approached me to see if I would be interviewed for a programme they wanted to make about the Street Commune squat at 144 Piccadilly. It was to be broadcast as part of a series entitled ‘The Way We Were’ in which people who had been directly involved in recent historical events were asked to talk about their experiences, the interviews being intercut with archive film footage of the scenes being described. It was a neat, if somewhat simplistic formula, based on the notion that the testimony of direct participants or eye witnesses would provide a ‘human angle’ or ‘inside story’ otherwise missing from the public record.

At first, I was reluctant to take part. I was somewhat dubious about the programme’s premise and did not know if they could treat the subject in a non-sensational way. I was also not entirely sure I wanted to revisit such a chaotic period in my life. All the same there might be something to be gained. The accounts of sixties radicalism that were beginning to appear focussed almost exclusively on what was happening in the universities, largely because the people writing them were left wing academics who had been active in the student movement and inevitably privileged their own involvements.  Even if the squatting movement was only a footnote to that history, I felt it was still a distinct and unique moment, and deserved to be remembered as such. It also occurred to me that making the programme might be a way of contacting some ex-street communards, and doing some interviews with them, so that the event would be properly documented. I was also interested in what had happened to them since, how that  experience  had affected their subsequent lives. So I agreed. The programme was duly made and screened on a community channel; a few people I knew saw it, including some academic colleagues who were somewhat bemused to see me in my pre-academic guise but that was the end of the story. I never heard back from any old communards and so the research project never got off the ground.

Here is an excerpt of the programme: