Power to the People’s Press

HPP87 loresFrom 1974 to 1985 I was involved in a collective of people who produced a monthly community newspaper in Hackney, the Hackney People’s Press. At the time, it was the most important thing in my life, and I devoted an inordinate amount of time to it. One whole weekend every month was devoted to its layout – typing the text on an IBM golfball typewriter, rubbing down headlines in Letraset, pasting the whole thing up on large sheets of wide card. These were delivered to the printers on a Tuesday, and we would then collect finished papers from them on the Friday. The following Saturday would involve driving round various Hackney newsagents, leaving a few copies on sale or return, and collecting the meagre income from the previous month. The next morning, Sunday, a group of three or four of us would meet up on either the De Beauvoir or Holly Street estates, and sell some more copies door to door.
The Centerprise bookshop was far and away the best outlet – some months we would sell 150 or so copies there. Altogether, we might sell a few hundred of each print run, so the paper never broke even. We were just about kept alive by a few ads, the occasional donation and the unpaid toil of a small but dedicated group of people.
Although we were nominally a collective, rotating duties every month, I had the most print production expertise, and so I took on for myself a lot of the design and production decisions. When I first got involved, Crispin Aubrey was the mainstay of the group and he did all the business of liaising with printers and paying the bills. In those days, the paper consisted of a series of backed up A3 sheets, held together with three staples on the left hand edge. The sheets had to be collated and stitched by the collective, which meant another production session after the printing had happened and before we even got onto the streets.
Crispin stood down sometime in the summer of 1975. After a few months, I got together with two or three other people (Hi Andy and Marilyn, wherever you are these days!) and we decided to make an attempt to bring the paper out on our own, using it to look for more people to join us. We decided to give up on the A3 size and produce the paper in A4 format. Although we still had to collate and fold the sheets this was easier than the stapling method.
I designed a masthead and made the other design decisions such as what Letraset typefaces to buy.
We contiunued in this way for a couple of years, and then I found out about a new firm of printers in Morning Lane. It was Turkish-owned and had some sort of tie to a Turkish left group – exactly who, I never found out. But for much the same price as we were producing a 16ppA4 publication, which we had to fold ourselves, we could get an 8pp A3 newspaper, all folded and finished. It was, as people say nowadays, a no-brainer. I designed another masthead, and invested in sheets of Letraset Futura Extra Bold Condensed, which I reckoned was a more authentic font for the headlines of a tabloid size newspaper.
The final change to our production methods came when we moved over to cold-set web press production, and were able to use a red spot colour on the front and back pages. We first went to the SWP’s printer, Feb Edge, just off Hackney Road. A year or two later, the Militant’s printer nearby in Cambridge Heath Road approached us and offered us an even cheaper price, which we were happy to accept. (No room for comradely inhibitions about poaching clients between these two species of Trots.)  Both outfits were pretty paranoid about their security. Their presses had impressive grilles on their windows and you never got closer than a locked front office when delivering artwork or picking up the printed copies.
Quite why the paper stopped in 1985, I’m not sure. We produced an issue in June of that year, but then nothing afterwards. Normally I would have phoned the key members to arrange a meeting to plan the next issue, but for some reason I didn’t. And… no one seemed to notice.

A year or two after this, I broke up with the girlfriend I had been living with through all this period. I took a big pile of back copies when I moved out of our house to the other side of Stoke Newington. Ten years later, married and with two small children, I dumped a lot of them just before we moved to Ireland. And tidying up again, over the years since, I have pruned my collection down to just one copy of each issue. Back in 2013, I was able to donate an almost complete set of papers to John from the excellent Radical History of Hackney website, and I did an email interview with him, which you can see here. People occasionally still get in touch with me to ask the odd question about the paper, and I am happy to help.

Crispin Aubrey, mentioned above, died suddenly in 2012 at the age of 66. I hadn’t seen him for years, but even then it was a terrible shock. He had been a real mentor to me in my early HPP days, and I used to look up to him with real admiration. His family have set up a fund in his name which helps journalism students at the University of the West of England. Further details here.

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Printing the Proclamation

Print MuseumITimesPic: Irish Times

As I wrote above, the printing of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic was a central part of the events of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin, and it was commemorated in several different ways during the recent centenary. One of the most authentic experiences was to see a full size replica being printed at the National Print Museum in Beggars Bush Barracks, on a Wharfedale stop cylinder press, similar to the one which was used for the actual printing 100 years ago.
The Museum has a copy of the Proclamation on display, and it was this which was used to make a photo polymer letterpress block. The machine itself, which was once used by the Nenagh Guardian, ran noisily but beautifully, expertly handled by a crew of three veterans, Alf McCormack, Freddie Snowe and William Ryan. This was accompanied by much authentic joshing between the trio as to who had been a compositor and who a printer in their working lives.
To anyone interested in printing history, the Proclamation is a fascinating document, as is explained on the Museum’s website:

The Proclamation is intriguing from a printing perspective. It was type-set and printed in secrecy on a Wharfedale Press in Liberty Hall. As sometimes happened in small printing offices in Dublin, its printers were short of type. Once they had begun their work, it became clear that they would not have enough to set the entire document. The resourceful compositors, Michael Molloy and Liam O’Brien, and printer Christopher Brady, decided to print the document in two halves. Once the top half was finished, they reused their type and set the text for the bottom half. They then locked up this forme and returned it to the bed of the machine. Next, they reinserted the half-printed sheets into the press. A clue to their technique can be seen in some copies of the Proclamation, as one half is more heavily inked than the other.

With the original metal type long gone, the only way of printing it by letterpress is to create a polymer block from a photographic copy, and this can be seen in my photograph below.

IMG_1039 loresThe chase holding the plate can be clearly seen, with the block locked in place with traditional quoins.
A limited edition of 100 copies, produced on a heavyweight paper, was printed on the day. This is still on sale from the Museum shop at €200. However, a more modestly priced unlimited version is also available, printed from the same block on the same Wharfedale press. At just €20, it makes a great present.