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How we wrecked tyrants’ visits in the past

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If Bush comes to London next month it won't be the first time such a visit has provoked angry protests. Other heads of state visiting Britain have been shaken by demonstrations of ordinary people, writes Helen Shooter
Issue 1873

‘GREAT BRITAIN has seen a foolish display for three days. London’s genteel West End looked like a battlefield. Near Buckingham Palace squads of riot police grappled with leather-jacketed toughs.

‘Wild-eyed girls with straggly black hair and blue-jeaned boys with golden tresses were frogmarched into police vans. Taking advantage of the chaos, a six-man gang waylaid the Dowager Duchess of Northumberland. She sped off in a white Jaguar with her jewels.’

That was one fuming right winger describing what happened when King Paul and Queen Frederika of Greece (Prince Philip’s ‘favourite aunt’) came to London on a state visit 40 years ago.

The police, security services and swathes of the leading politicians were in turmoil because of the protests. Both the Greek royals were hate figures, although of course not in the same league as George Bush is today. As a girl Frederika had belonged to a Hitler Youth group.

While in school in Italy she was heard defending Nazi Germany and three of her brothers served in the Wehrmacht, Hitler’s army.

There was also anger in Britain at Greece’s right wing government. It had jailed thousands of political prisoners, some for over 15 years.

The visit went wrong from the start. Demonstrators gathered as the royal procession of carriages went from Victoria Station, where the queen greeted them, to Buckingham Palace. While the royal couples and 156 other guests dined in Buckingham Palace, 2,000 demonstrators poured into Trafalgar Square with banners proclaiming, ‘Down with the Nazi Queen.’

A report reads, ‘The crowd seemed hell bent on storming the palace but they were blocked by massed ranks of police blocking the way.

‘Police helmets clattered across the streets, fists flew, and the traffic was halted. Police horses charged into the crowds. A few youths who made it into the Mall were stopped by flying tackles from police.’

‘There were also moments of farcical panic. A theatre trip to see Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Aldwych theatre formed part of the royal couple’s visit. The Foreign Office, terrified of what the audience might do, bought up all 1,100 tickets and distributed them to a select group. Shortly before the performance started, a false report that a bomb had been planted in the theatre led to the additional spectacle of police in evening clothes combing the royal box with a mine detector.

Outside, held back by six rows of police, 1,500 people greeted the royal arrivals with boos, hisses and mocking shouts of ‘Sieg Heil!’ and ‘Fascist swine!’

After the play the British Queen Elizabeth left the theatre alone, and was greeted by another chorus of boos. She looked startled and dismayed.

Frederika had already faced protests when she came to Britain a few months earlier. So for this visit the Tory government had promised tight security. They mounted a large security force. There were 5,000 police, including plain-clothes officers disguised in everything from morning coats to overalls.

The police laid into the young women and men who joined the street protests. Some 200 people were jailed. But that did not stop the demonstrators. Their anger was not just directed at Queen Frederika. They booed Prince Philip and the queen.

This stunned the royals who had wallowed in the idea that they had popular support. The queen’s coronation had only taken place ten years earlier.

The protests united socialists, anti-royalists, members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and many others.

One of the protesters was Betty Ambatielos, who burst through the police cordon to rush towards Frederika’s carriage shouting, ‘Release my husband!’

She was the wife of Antonios Ambatielos, a Greek Communist serving a life sentence for his part in the civil war. The heated atmosphere forced the Labour Party’s leader, Harold Wilson, to agree to boycott a banquet for the visitors.

Back in Greece the protests had a big effect. They caused a political crisis which brought down prime minister Karamanlis.

After the second visit 19 political prisoners were released in an attempt to restore Greece’s image. The London protests are still celebrated in official histories and by the left and trade union movement.

The British police also came under scrutiny for their actions during the protest.

Detective Sergeant Harry Challenor, who was notorious for his ability to ‘find’ evidence, was exposed trying to frame a group of young demonstrators. He claimed pieces of brick had been found in their pockets, implying they could have thrown them at the queen or police guarding her.

The accused were all cleared. No brick dust was found in their pockets.

Challenor was put on trial for conspiring to attempt to pervert the course of justice. Three young constables who worked with him were jailed for three years. Challenor was found unfit to plead and detained in a mental hospital.



July 1973

‘In 1973 the Portuguese dictator Marcelo Caetano was mobbed in the streets of London and forced to return to Portugal like a bandit fleeing from the police. Actions such as these are worth more than a million letters written to the Indonesian tyrant Suharto or the UN Secretary-General. This is what the British people should do.’

XANANA GUSMAO, The leader of the movement for independence in East Timor, speaking from prison in the 1990s. In 1973, when Caetano visited Britain, East Timor was under Portuguese occupation. Gusmao now leads East Timor

IN JULY 1973 the Portuguese dictator Marcello Caetano visited London. He was invited by Heath’s Tory government to a celebration of 600 years of links between Portugal and Britain.

Caetano wanted to attract trade and get support for Portugal’s wars in its African colonies, especially Angola and Mozambique.

On Sunday, the day before he arrived, some 5,000 people gathered in Hyde Park. They marched through London to Downing Street and the Portuguese embassy, swelling to a 10,000-strong crowd.

Francisco Salgado, a deserter from the Portuguese army, spoke at the rally.

He told the marchers that assassinations, torture and atrocities were part of everyday life in Portugal’s colonies. Everywhere Caetano went throughout his visit he was met with angry protests. Police held back demonstrators outside Downing Street as Caetano arrived to meet the prime minister.

The media picked up on the mood of protest. The Times newspaper also ran articles about a report of a massacre seven months earlier. Portuguese soldiers in the village of Wiryamu in Mozambique had killed around 400 people for refusing to leave their homes.

Tom Delaney, a Royal Docks TGWU union shop steward, helped expose a dirty tricks campaign by Caetano’s supporters. The Portuguese government had paid the Alfred Marks employment agency to hire people to hand out leaflets in support of Caetano. Tom discovered this and found the pub where the leaflet distributors were assembling. Around 100 of them were hard-up students.

He struck a deal with them-he would get their wages doubled if they agreed to dump the leaflets.

The agency, embarrassed by the publicity, agreed to pay the higher rates. The workers collected their wages and then threw the leaflets away in a large bin on a building site. Tom said, ‘It gave me great pleasure to organise these people to get higher wages for chucking fascist literature into dustbins.’

The protests against Caetano’s visit were part of a growing mood internationally against the brutal dictatorship in Portugal.

A year later a revolution in Portugal toppled the regime.



September 1850

The brutal Austrian general Haynau had to be rescued by the police who spirited him away by boat across the River Thames

WORKERS PLAYED a vital role in confronting the brutal Austrian general Haynau when he visited London in September 1850. He was notorious for his bloody suppression of the Italian and Hungarian revolutions in 1848-9.

After the siege of a town called Brescia he lined up a group of women suspected of spying and ordered soldiers to strip the women and flog them.

He became dictator of Hungary, where his behaviour earned him the nickname General Hyena.

On his visit to London, like many other high-profile figures, he wanted to visit London’s biggest brewery, the Barclays and Perkins brewery.

One of the workers there was a refugee from Hungary. He explained to his workmates who Haynau was and what he had done. The Times reports Haynau had barely set foot in the brewery when the workers began to attack him.

They used brooms and stones and shouted, ‘Down with the Austrian butcher.’

Haynau fled, pursued by the workers. He is pictured on the front page of the London Illustrated News hiding first in the George pub’s coal cellar, and then in a bedroom. He had to be rescued by police who spirited him away by boat across the Thames. The foreign secretary initially backed the workers. Then the prime minister and the queen forced him to send a letter of apology to the Hungarian government. The British royal family also backed General Hyena. The prince spat that it was ‘a slight foretaste of what an unregulated mass of illiterate people is capable’.

But public feeling was completely on the side of the brewery workers. Karl Marx also wrote approvingly of the workers’ action.

The workers were lauded as heroes in street ballads. One of the songs included the lines, ‘Make his back and sides to swell, till he roars aloud with dreadful yell, the fellow that flogged the women.’

News of the workers’ action against the dictator spread. When the Italian revolutionary Garibaldi visited London in 1864 he thanked the ‘men who flogged Haynau’.

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