Leslie John Robinson (b.1929): Habits and Beliefs

‘meetings were very democratic, according to Stinks’ rules and each member gave his report on suspected spies in the area’ (58).

During Leslie John Robinson’s childhood, fears of unregulated culture spread, causing an uprising in working- class movements such as Chartism. These protest organisations created recreational outlets for working- class individuals. However, working- class children had little space and not many toys to play with, which led to their imagination running away with social influences, creating games and scenarios reflective of those attempting to climb the social hierarchy. Leslie notes that ‘children’s lives are governed by the adult world and are heightened by childish naivety and fantasy’ (55). Longing to become a respected members of society on a mature quest of self- improvement, working- class children used play to make their presence known in their own imaginary struggle.

Leslie recalls ‘apart from air raid precautions and gas masks the most important concern for me at this time was to join the Tower Hill Gang’ (55). He writes with pride here as the gang fight for their place in society. According to Leslie ‘the gang consisted of ‘Stinks’ who earned his nickname because of his ability to break wind at will, Erb, Tomo and Jugs’ (56). There is a comedic element to this part of the memoir as Leslie recalls how serious the gang were about their beliefs at the time, with this only becoming humorous looking back as an adult. Influenced by their working- class families, the boys all had one thing in common, a lack of money and opportunities. Leslie remembers that ‘Stinks lived with his widowed father in one of the two up and two down terraced houses in Tower Hill. They were very poor, even by our standards, but that house was spotlessly clean’ (56). This explains that although these families were working- class, the way in which they presented themselves played a huge part in the where they were placed in society. It appears that as long as these people had their pride, they could not be segregated from the opportunities of the middle- class. Stinks’ position as leader could also be explained here, as he would seem to have the most to stand for when trying to establish a useful character.

The gang had three main aims that were ‘firmly laid down’. They were ‘the defeat of Adolph Hitler and all his spies in the Tower Hill area’, ‘never to miss a Saturday matinee at the Regent’ and ‘to be ready to go to the assistance of Flash Gordon and all other defenders of the free world’ (57). Although comical, these innocent values set a precedent for adult life where these boys would partake in a self- improvement that they had previously practiced in their improvised play. In his work In Racket Town: Gangster Chic in Austerity Britain 1939- 1953 (2001), Mark Roodhouse explains the influence fictional gangsters in film and literature had on young men during this time. He writes that ‘as boys became men, the gangster’s appeal altered and deepened. The gangster rejected the moral constraints of the society in which he lived; he dared to break the law, risking life and liberty, and was rewarded with wealth and status. Before the war, his activities presented readers and cinema-goers with an escape and a vision of an alternative path to success’ (Roodhouse, 2011, 529). Trips to the theatre are something frequently mentioned within Leslie’s memoir, therefore it could be suggested that he was exposed to these gangster characters from a young age. Young Leslie became consumed by the idea that being a respected member of society through daring to stand up for the cause could bring fortune and perhaps a middle- class status. Although the Tower Hill Gang did not engage in serious law breaking and life- risking, this was the boys’ chance at becoming more than what their working- class fate had set out for them.

Bibliography:

  • ‘Leslie John Robinson’ in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 2:671.
  • Robinson, Leslie John. ‘One Step at a Time’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection. 2:671.
  • Roodhouse, Mark. In Racket Town: Gangster Chic in Austerity Britain, 1939- 1953. Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. Vol.31, No.4. 2001. pp.523- 541.

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