grosvenor sq

There was another battle going on in the music charts. It was the contest between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones who both released topical singles in the summer of 1968.

John Lennon was inspired to write Revolution after the Grosvenor Square and Paris demonstrations. It was based on his spiritual thoughts and meditations and was widely rejected as an ambivalent bourgeois betrayal by the Left: Lennon was stuck in his trippy mind-expanding retreat in India and hence the various versions of Revolution - it appeared the more he thought the less he knew.

The Rolling Stones' Street Fighting Man was to be the record that would dethrone the Beatles' polite Revolution. Tariq Ali and the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign organised the Grosvenor Square demonstration which Mick Jagger actually attended and later sent the handwritten lyrics of Street Fighting Man to Ali's radical Black Dwarf newspaper where they appeared in the November 1968 issue.


50 years ago the world went wild. 1968 saw an eruption of political, cultural and social energy that was both thrilling and disturbing.  In France students rioted and brought on a general strike which threatened to bring the government down. In Czechoslavakia the people revolted against repression. In Chicago there was widespread rioting after the assassination of Martin Luther King. For a moment the "revolution" appeared imminent. In his 1968 Bristow's published piece the counter-cultural German writer and publisher Carl Weissner combined the Prague Spring with the Chicago riots into a work called "Last View from the Czechago Window".

It was the young who challenged authority. In the US they were sick of the Vietnam war, the Draft and racial discrimination. In France they were against Capitalism, imperialism, traditional values and orders. So what about in Norwich? For the city had its own, relatively new, student population at the University of East Anglia (UEA). The student population mirrored the world's concerns with an arc that went from Vietnam, the Royal Family, being banned from the pubs, Biafra, drugs and student suspensions, banking with Barclays and more. The first rumblings of dissent can be traced to the Grovesnor Square anti-Vietnam war demonstration. Many universities had Socialist groups which were mobilised for this demo and the UEA sent a delegation to London on the 17th of March, 1968. The subsequent trouble was reported in a weekly campus magazine called "Chips":



The UEA established a Labour Club group with its own publication - "Can Opener"in February 1968 . The name derives from a 1917 US prison publication (hence the Can). It's mission was to propogate radical and politically concious views via debate and guest lecturers. The university labour club began to organise protest meetings about Vietnam at RAF Lakenheath (an American base) and Dow Chemicals who made napalm.


The next political act was totally unexpected and blown out of all proportion as the Royal Family were to send two of its members to visit the UEA campus. On the 13th of May 1968 Princess Margaret paid a visit to the UEA and stayed for 90 minutes and visited some residences and classrooms. Spontaneously she went to the University Village over Earlham Rd where a group of students improvised a protest. Seven students threw tattered and charred paper Union Jacks in her path. One of them shouted “Vietnam murderer!” Her jolly response was “Oh good! I’ve been protested against.”

Mandate magazine (21st May, 68)  presented the visit as “unsought for, unwanted, uninteresting.” The Student Union president described the students concerned as recognised anarchists with no respect for the Union, University or anything.

What could be called a minor, unrehearsed incident was, in the climate of the times, amplified into a major crisis between town and gown. Firstly, 15 Norwich landladies refused to accept students into their lodgings. The UEA lodgings officer said “This demonstration hasn’t done us any good. We cannot afford to lose beds, particularly as we need more next term than we have been offered so far.” Hostile letters flowed freely in the local press.

The Princess’s visit in Mandate’s (7-10-68) words “marked the start of a civil war.”




According to The History of the UEA by Michael Sanderson the Queen disapproved the Princess’s visit because “if anything had gone seriously wrong it would have jeopardised her own visit shortly afterwards.”The Queen visited Norwich on the 24th of May 1968. She was to combine the opening of the new County Hall with an afternoon visit to the UEA. Although there was some anxiety about student unrest and complaints from them about the cost, the visit went well. Students decided that rather than protesting directly they would hold an alternative seminar on “democracy in the university.” About 200 to 300 students and staff attended whilst a similar number lined the route to greet the Queen. She walked past a banner which said “No to Anarchy, Yes to Monarchy” Unfortunately the “r” had been left out and the Queen dryly said “it is a pity that our side cannot spell as well as theirs.” A Scottish nationalist carrying a home rule banner is also in several photos.

The seminar was defiantly placed outside on a green area just below a walkway the Queen was to use, but the contents of the seminar were dull diatribes about student representation and the quality of teaching - internal matters which were hardly a threat to the status quo. But the LSE had a sit-in at the same time and the press was looking for some action and they found it when a scuffle broke out between “royalists" and “seminarians.”

The local press reported it thus: "The 'loyalists' decided on the spur of the moment to parade towards the 300 students sitting on the grass waiting for the seminar to begin. On the fringe of the crowd a long-haired youth ("He's one of the Princess Margaret demonstrators" it was said) lashed out and tore a banner. A fight broke out - in convenient view of the TV cameras. But to shouts of "stop it" t was all over in seconds and the 'loyalists' withdrew."




The people of Norwich took a twisted revenge on the students as the Rag Week which raised £4000 in 1967 took only £400 in 1968. Then there was the city publicans (- yes after the landladies it was the landlords) who refused to serve students which culminated in the Backs Affair.

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