In Charing Cross Road in London in the 1950s, there used to be an elderly woman selling Peace News who stood on the pavement saying: [uses frail voice] “Pacifist paper. Pacifist paper.” And it put me off! Although I was interested in the peace movement and remember going to a big anti-bomb meeting in Hornsey town hall addressed by Alex Comfort among others, before CND was formed, to buy the paper seemed uncool, although I wouldn’t have used the term then. Of course I regret it now!
Probably I would have seen Peace News first when I lived at Greenham. Almost certainly. We would have been scrutinising all the coverage of Greenham. The most likely way I would have first come across PN would have been fishing it out of the back of the sofa around the fire at Blue Gate....
When I went to demonstrations when I was eight or nine, and they were handing it out, that’s when I first came across Peace News. It was informative, and it had quite a few pictures which was good – I was quite young so the pictures were important! There was different information about different parts of the world – that was the best thing, when it wasn’t just about Britain. Reading about people’s lives was interesting. I felt a bit more knowledgeable when I read it
What was my first encounter with Peace News? It’s always been there. It’s like asking what one’s first encounter with the queen was! I have no special memories of Peace News. I just read it!
I think the first issue I ever saw was on sale at News from Nowhere, the radical bookshop in Liverpool. It looked colourful, maybe slightly dated. I thought it might have something to do with the Vegan Society, I don’t know why. I was asked to go to some PN consultation meetings, and one of the conclusions at one of them was that there should be more positive news, and then someone pointed out that there was already a paper called Positive News, which I thought was funny.
I think it was through my partner, who showed Peace News to me the first time. What did I think? Well, we get Heddwch from CND Cymru, and that’s where we normally get our news and this appeared a little more analytical, a bit more critical. Also it comes across as being more understanding of the international situation although it looks local it also looks globally. What’s stood out for me? I guess it is always fun to see yourself in it! What has really stood out for me are the illustrations, Emily [Johns]’s prints. It’s as if I recognise something from my past – that way of presenting material. It really hits the spot, I guess it goes back to the ’70s and books that really made an impact on me. Her pictures are very stark and very clear. They illustrate things that would take a lot of words to say with just one image. I really like the one she did for oil.
I have a terrible memory so I don’t have a clear image of when I first saw PN, but I imagine it was at a demonstration. My first real engagement with it was when I wrote an article about going on a peace delegation to Northern Ireland and meeting David Ervine, who had had an unclear role in a loyalist paramilitary group before becoming a politician in the Progressive Unionist Party. The meeting with him was nerve-wracking because other PUP members, not David Ervine, were quite confrontational and were a bit suspicious of us. The article I wrote in Peace News probably wasn’t that kind to him, but he talked about Marx and socialism and it was a surprising encounter for all of us in the peace delegation. In the light of everything that’s happened since, David Ervine is definitely one of the good guys, and I wish I’d emphasised that enough in my piece. It was the first time I’d written something for a publication that went out to the general public, and was on display, and I look back now on my activism at the time, which includes writing for PN, and I feel mostly quite proud of what I did, though, with hindsight I wish I’d been kinder to David Ervine.
The first time I heard of Peace News was in the back of the booklet in Crass’s Christ: The Album, which was sort of a bible for me for a while as a teenager. The first time I actually saw Peace News was on a stand in the pedestrian tunnel at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park in London. I bought a couple of copies from it, and I read it and it was like finding a home. I became a PN seller at my school, which was a boys’ school. The issue with the picture of a tampon on the front (I think the headline was “The Curse”) was a hard sell. Going to Nottingham to actually volunteer at the office for a week was a dream come true.
I remember starting to go on demos and wherever I went there was always a Peace News seller at the gate of wherever it was we were, and that was how I came across Peace News for the first time. Reading it, it was quite exciting to find out what people were doing, the variety of actions and things people were involved in, though it was a bit dry reading as I remember. It was an entry point for a lot of things. I remember going to Housmans bookshop for the first time, and that seems to be associated with Peace News for me. Anarchism, that kind of came through Peace News.
I was at school, and this person put a copy of Peace News on my desk and wrote a note by it: “Jesus was a pacifist, why aren’t you?” That was my first copy of Peace News, and, reader, I went on to edit it! As for outstanding memories of PN, I actually sold 100 copies of Against All Wars, the book PN published for its 50th anniversary, at the Glastonbury festival, and I felt very proud of that. I even got a mention in the next issue!
As I recall, when I came back to the UK from Canada, I’d met one of the former editors of PN. I’d solicited advice from activists in Canada on what do when I got back, and they suggested subscribing to PN so I did as soon as I got back.
At that time Emily [Johns] was doing quite a lot of covers. I remember colourful covers. For me personally, as the result of one of the first issues I got, I would use it as an events listing, I went to support some people at the high court in London who were fighting a BAE injunction, and that is how I met the people who became my affinity group for the next 10 years. So Peace News played a very important role in bringing me into contact with British peace activists.