Sunday, 11 October 2015

Book Review: Angela Remembered

From LSHG Newsletter #56 (Autumn 2015)

Reviews: Angela Remembered

The Life of Angela Gradwell Tuckett
Rosie MacGregor
Watermarx Media, 2015 96pp
ISBN 978-0957072633

The work of the Dictionary of Labour Biography has done a good deal to detail the lives of labour movement and socialist activists in the UK, but there are many who remain undocumented. Rosie MacGregor’s memoir of the life of Angela Gradwell Tuckett provides a fascinating insight into one such activist.

Tuckett was born in Bristol in 1906 and died after a life of activism in 1994. She was Bristol’s first articled female solicitor and her legal training led her to work as the lawyer for the National Council for Civil Liberties in the early 1940s and then for the Daily Worker (Morning Star) ending her working life on Labour Monthly. In between all that she qualified as a pilot and played hockey for England until she was blacklisted for failing to take part in diplomatic niceties on an England hockey team tour of Nazi Germany. She joined the Communist Party in the late 1920s and stayed a member, on the Morning Star side of things, until her death. She was also a noted and knowledgeable folk musician, although MacGregor notes that her concertina playing was to put it mildly not to the taste of all, or sometimes in an appropriate key.

There is much more fascinating detail in the book, including that of her personal relations. Her politics, which would be labelled ‘Stalinist’ by many, won’t be to the taste of all readers. MacGregor makes clear the tensions they sometimes called and some might be tempted to see Tuckett as a Communist Party activist following a party line. MacGregor however provides a much more rounded picture of Tuckett’s life and reminds us that labelling people simplifies and distorts what they were really like and what they actually did. Her support for feminist causes, or, late in life, the 1984/5 miners strike, was something shared across the left, although no doubt Tuckett had a particular ‘take’ on them. Tuckett was also the author of several books on theatre and trade unions underlining that while she was not a Marxist theoretician she had a good grasp of the history of the movement. She also notes that Tuckett could seem quite an awkward, single minded person. One might reflect however that if she had not been she might well not have continued with political activism over so many decades. At the same time, the activism may have made an impact on her personality in return. This book is a really interesting study of the life of an activist, and it also poses important questions about activism.

Keith Flett

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