John Tyndall was the leader of the National Front for much of the 1970s and the founder in 1982 of the British National Party (BNP) - the two most notable extreme-right groups to have emerged in British politics since 1945.
Tyndall was born in 1934, and spent much of his early life in London. After leaving school and undertaking National Service, he took on a variety of relatively humdrum jobs. Lacking fulfilment through work, and coming from a family which included a strong Irish Unionist strand, Tyndall became attracted by the League of Empire Loyalists, founded in the 1950s by A.K. Chesterton. During the 1930s, Chesterton had been a leading member of Sir Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists, but the ethos of the LEL was more Colonel Blimpish conservative than Fascist. Tyndall began to associate with more radical elements.
This brought him into contact with Colin Jordan, a Nazi-admirer who had founded the White Defence League during the 1950s. In 1962, they founded the British National Socialist Movement, with Tyndall becoming deputy leader. He was also commander of a paramilitary organisation named Spearhead which adopted a Nazi-style uniform and which led to his prosecution under the 1936 Public Order Act. However, the pair fell out over a variety of issues, including their shared love for Françoise Dior: although initially engaged to Tyndall, she married Jordan - they swore that they were of pure blood over a copy of Hitler's Mein Kampf.
During the mid-1960s, Tyndall came to realise that overt Nazi politics was never going to provide the basis for a significant electoral movement. Particularly influenced by the popular impact of Enoch Powell's 1968 " river of blood" speech, he came increasingly to focus on hostility to immigrants as the key to attracting a mass following for nationalist politics. This change meant that he was allowed to join the National Front, which was formed during 1967-68 through the amalgamation of the LEL and other small groups. By the early 1970s, Tyndall's drive had taken him to the leadership of the NF. By the late 1970s, the party had forced its way into the national headlines through its signature policy of the "compulsory repatriation" of immigrants and through a series of provocative marches, which often culminated in violence.
Against a background of continued immigration, British entry into the Common Market and mounting economic crisis, the NF showed signs in some localities of becoming a serious electoral force, including winning 119,000 votes in the 1977 Greater London Council elections. However, when in 1979 the party put up over 300 general election candidates, they all went down to humiliating defeat.
During the early 1980s, the NF broke up into small warring factions and in 1982 Tyndall founded the BNP. In spite of the new name, the party never shook off the extremist tag and, for almost 20 years, languished on the fringes of politics. The only exception to this pattern of electoral marginalisation, combined with low-level street activism, came in 1993 when the party won a local election in Millwall. Increasingly during the late 1990s, "populist" critics of Tyndall argued that the party was still too clearly tied to an extremist tradition to make a significant electoral breakthrough. In 1999, this helped Nick Griffin to replace Tyndall as BNP leader (although Griffin himself had been involved in extremist politics since the 1970s).
Griffin was also helped by the fact that, whilst Tyndall was a forceful speaker at rallies, he rarely gained access to the mainstream media and, when he did, proved too bombastic for the "cool" medium of television. He was in many ways a throwback to an older era.
After losing the BNP leadership, Tyndall did not retire from politics. He became involved in a bitter wrangle with Griffin, which led to his expulsion from the BNP, and at the time of his death he was awaiting trial on charges of incitement to racial hatred.
The only time I went on a march, or took part in a demo, was in November 1976, a few days after interviewing John Tyndall, then leader of the National Front, writes Revel Barker.
Along with a Sunday Mirror reporter, Alasdair Buchan, I had spent two hours listening to the man's outrageous and distasteful outpourings. As we'd looked at the early editions of our copy on Saturday night Alasdair had invited me to join him on the march against racism next morning and when I said it wasn't my scene he asked: "How can you not take part, after meeting a man like that?" He had a point.
Tyndall had outlined for us his policy for the day he would be "leader of Great Britain". It included repatriation to the country of their choice for all non-whites, a definition that would include people with one coloured grandparent, a condition he described as "quarter-black". As a concession, immigrants who agreed to sterilisation could be allowed to stay; otherwise they would be "obliged" to leave. Other race laws would include no sexual relationships between whites and non-whites, no entry to "white" schools for "coloured" children, no aid to countries who refused to accept people on his repatriation scheme.
When he walked, he strutted. When he spoke his chin jutted out and he adopted postures that perfectly mimicked the most famous posed portraits of his idol, Adolf Hitler. It was therefore little surprise when he turned during the interview to "the Jewish question". It was untrue, he said, that he had described Jews as "parasites." His definition had been:
Poisonous maggots, feeding on a body in an advanced state of decay . . . They have a very powerful influence in certain aspects of national life that is out of proportion to their numbers and is not achieved solely by merit. We would simply attempt to reduce that influence in these sectors banking, law, politics and the press.
Also under scrutiny in the new Tyndall order would be teachers and students, trade unionists, Communists and rank-and-file members of the Labour Party "which is just the Communist Party under a different name".
During that week we had stumbled across a story from the Remembrance Day ceremony at the Cenotaph in Whitehall. Three 12-year-old schoolgirls had been banned from taking part as members of a pipe band booked to lead the march-past of a National Front column that was allowed to parade after the formal proceedings. A steward had spotted the girls and yelled, "Take them out! We are not having coloureds." And, rather than spoil their chums' big day, the girls had stayed on the coach that had brought them from Staffordshire, sitting alone for two hours.
With the Tyndall interview across two inside pages, this story, under the 90-point bold headline "Victims of Hate", led Sunday's paper. Mirror circulation had lined the route of the anti-race march with news vendors displaying the story and people were leaving the procession to buy copies, and passing them around their friends, saying: "Look, this is what it's all about."
On the following day the doorbell rang at a flat I was using in Bayswater. There was an entry phone into which the caller told me he wanted to come in to talk about "security" because I had "a high-risk job" and was "away from home a lot". He addressed me by name, although it was not on the door, I was not in the phone book and not even the doorman knew what I did for a living. I explained that I already had sufficient security, which was why he couldn't get in.
I mentioned this a few days later to a friend in the Special Branch and he told me they would have traced me through "the NF cell" at the Mirror building in Holborn Circus. "You think they're all socialists there? Do me a favour. Think national socialist." He said it was " fair enough because all the commies in Fleet Street are on The Daily Telegraph".Reuse content