Partisan Coffee House

The exterior of the Partisan, and coffee and conversation inside.

“It was once the home of radical talk, where subversive thinking was encouraged and a cup of trademark mediocre coffee came with a complementary side-order of socialist discourse. London’s Partisan Coffee House, the 1950s Soho venue that gave birth to many of Britain’s leading leftwing movements and campaign groups, will be the subject of an exhibition next month that will feature newly discovered photographs of its heyday. Pictured in black and white on the walls of the Four Corners gallery in Bethnal Green, east London, will be many of the renowned clientele of the Carlisle Street cafe, where the occasional undercover police officer posed as a chess-playing customer in order to eavesdrop. Among its regulars were influential 20th-century intellectuals, including the social and cultural theorists Stuart Hall, John Berger and Raymond Williams, as well as the film-makers Karel Reisz and Lindsay Anderson, the novelist and Nobel laureate Doris Lessing and the folk singer Peggy Seeger. … Berlin, a specialist in London’s cultural history, came across photographer Roger Mayne’s unused images of the coffee house on a forgotten contact sheet stored in the vaults of Bishopsgate Institute’s library in the City of London. Before the pictures go on display alongside film clips and magazine covers on 5 May, Berlin hopes to find any government files still held that record the routine surveillance carried out at the cafe. ‘I know that Special Branch officers used to come in and play chess so that they could listen in to the conversations,’ he told the Observer. ‘Mayne’s photographs are a great record of the first coming together of many of the people behind the counter-cultural revolution that was to come in the 1960s, and the genesis of organisations like the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Some of the images are quite obviously set up, but Mayne may have been there with his camera on more than one occasion as there are some evening shots.’  The cafe was set up in 1958 by the radical historian Raphael Samuel, with the help of Hall and the Marxist academic Eric Hobsbawm, partly as an antidote to the flashy Italian coffee bar fashion taking hold in the capital. It was also intended to support Samuel’s socialist History Workshop Journal, and to fund the magazine Universities and Left Review. Initial investors included the actor Michael Redgrave, the Observer’s theatre critic Kenneth Tynan and the novelist Naomi Mitchison. …”
GuardianHow a Soho coffee house gave birth to the New Left
W – Partisan Coffee House
The Partisan Coffee House

The social and cultural theorist Stuart Hall (seated facing) at the Partisan.

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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