At Barking Station in East London, in the late seventies, we were returning from an afternoon trip to the theatre, a group of my fifteen year-olds from Barking Abbey School. There we were greeted by members of the National Front, one at each of the staircases leading up from the platforms, handing out leaflets telling blacks to go home.
One of my group was a black refugee from South Africa where his journalist parents had fallen foul of the Apartheid regime and from where they had fled to Britain. This young man was both quick to assess the situation in front of us, and courageous. The Front stewards could not cope with the numbers of commuters flowing past them and this pupil of mine stepped across and offered to help. Before the skin-head in front of him could reply, a handful of the leaflets had been taken from him and his new, black assistant began handing out these leaflets on the other side of the stairway.
It was immediately obvious that he knew exactly what he was doing and the commuters, most of whom were clearly amused by all this, were discarding the leaflets like so much trash, without so much as a glance at them.
Next morning in school, I asked how he had felt when he had first seen the leaflets and their message. He paused very briefly. “Well, sir,” he said. “That’s all right – I only live round the corner from the station.”