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182 Pentonville Road

December 19, 2010
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We were delighted to receive a letter from Bob Purdie…

Dear Rob,

I thought you’d like a description of the Red Mole offices at 182 Pentonville Road in the early ‘70s. Above is a picture of the building as it is now, it consisted of the single storey front part, with a basement extending the full length and with two floors of offices set back from the road, (brick exterior in the above).

Entry was by the door on the left of the picture, which led directly into the print shop with its offset litho machine. It was a commercial operation and did jobs for local businesses and also printed other publications – early editions of Gay News were printed there. It also printed Socialist Woman , and IMG and Spartacus pamphlets. One external job I remember was an edition of a pamphlet originally published in Dublin, with photographs of the Provisional IRA in action. Another one was a selection of quotations from Kim Il Sung, for which I believe we were paid quite a lot of money.

In the basement was a large room used for various activities, like making posters, organising for demos and etc. There was a storage room at the back which (eat your heart out Rob) used to contain huge piles of back numbers of the Mole. There was also a small room which opened onto a back yard. This contained, in order of importance, a boiler and my desk as London Organiser of the IMG.

The first floor was the editorial offices where Tariq worked and where the camera ready copy for the Mole was prepared. The offset litho process required pasting up the typeset copy and illustrations onto sheets, these were then photographed onto metal plates which were fixed to the machine – it then rolled! A lot of the art work for the early editions was done by jobbing designers who came in for a few hours. I remember working on the centre spread of a special supplement on Ireland with Peter Till, later to be a regular Guardian artist. It was remarkable how quickly he turned a photograph on a riot in Derry into a dramatic and balanced composition.

Stored on that floor were copies of left wing and alternative publications, with which the Red Mole had an exchange arrangement. That was where I first saw Robert Crumb’s cartoons. Before the full impact of Feminism, some of the Hippy newspapers and magazines from the USA were obscenely male chauvinist. It’s a measure of the impact of the Feminist critique of pornography that this kind of material disappeared from the scene very quickly.

On the top floor, there were offices for the printing business and the IMG, before it moved to Caledonian Road. With Tariq on the premises there was always lots of gossip and fun, practical jokes, insulting songs and parodies. Visitors from overseas would drop in, I once opened the front door to Joseph Hanson leader of the American SWP, who was the first guard into the room at Coyoacan, after Trotsky was assassinated. His face was frozen into a stern look of disapproval. I realised later that he always had that expression. More welcome were French comrades such as Gerard (a party name – I never knew his real one). Small, thin and sallow he exuded humour – he got a great kick out of the name plate on the premises next door, it was an ex-army organisation known as the “Old Comrades Association.”

Bob Purdie

December 2010

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