Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

When the ETU Blacked the Albert Hall

(May 1958)

From The Newsletter, 10 May 1958.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

Current talk of industrial action against the H-bomb and the Rent Act, and in particular the Electrical Trades Union’s welcome decision on the blacking of rocket bases, calls to mind the time when the lights were put out in the Albert Hall.

Shortly after the Armistice of November 1918 which ended the first world war, George Lansbury booked the Albert Hall for a meeting to launch the Herald as a daily paper.

Suddenly the Hall authorities cancelled the booking. Lansbury appealed to the Government to intervene against this discrimination, but was told they ‘had no power in the matter’. Then the ETU took a hand.

The telephone rang

The telephone rang at the Albert Hall and the authorities there were curtly informed that unless they kept to their agreement with Lansbury the lights would be cut off.

The following exchange took place:

‘Is that a threat?’

‘No, it’s a fact.’

The fuses were removed, and the local power station manager was told that if he promised not to reconnect it would not be necessary to put the pickets on; otherwise, however, all Kensington would be deprived of light.

Brisk inter-union liaison resulted in the busmen and taxi-men announcing that they would not put down passengers near the Hall, while Underground railwayman undertook not to stop their trains at the stations nearest it.

The Hall authorities were desperate: there were evening concerts arranged, and in a few days’ time the great Victory Ball ...

‘Could he possibly ...?’

They appealed to the Government to help. The Government appealed to George (‘Could Mr Lansbury possibly make it convenient to come to the Board of Trade at once?’); and his reply was – ‘If we can have the hall, the ETU will, I am sure, restore the light.’

The Government asked the Hall authorities to change their minds about honouring the Herald booking. This was done. The lights went on again.

The Herald meeting assembled 12,000 people in the Albert Hall, and thousands more were turned away. Lansbury remarked that the incident had shown ‘how dependent all of us are on ordinary workaday people’.

Last updated on 10.10.2011