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London newspaper vendor, George Curry, discusses politics and art, while Studs Terkel was in London, England

BROADCAST: Sep. 1975 | DURATION: 00:23:12

Synopsis

While in London, England, Studs Terkel interviews George Curry, a newspaper vendor with a storefront in a hotel. The two discussed Curry’s hometown of Dundee, Scotland and its politics, in addition to London’s current political atmosphere. They also talk about Curry’s political leanings; he is a socialist, and he criticizes England’s immigration policies. Curry comments on his interest in the arts and speaks on stereotypes surrounding the working class. The interview is interrupted intermittently by customers buying their morning paper.

Transcript

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Studs Terkel George Curry is -- how shall I describe you, Mr. Curry? This

George Curry newspaper -- I operate the the book stall and news kiosk in the hotel.

Studs Terkel And I -- we just talked casually the other day and I realize you come from Dundee.

George Curry The same as your friend, Mr. Cameron.

Studs Terkel How would you describe Dundee?

George Curry Oh, I would say it's a [gray? very?] depressing city and loads of unemployment, loads of poverty, a great place to be away from, probably why Mr. Cameron came down here as well as me. There's thousands of others of us.

Studs Terkel Known for the three J's.

George Curry Jute, jam and journalism. Well, there's quite a few journalists and reporters and subeditors and editors come down to London from Dundee, and of course it's the home of D.C. Thomson, I don't know if you've heard of him, he's a very old-fashioned type of employer.

Studs Terkel As an old-fashioned type employer, what do you mean?

George Curry Well, he was very paternally-minded, he was against trade unions until a few years ago, you couldn't get a job there if you were a trade unionist until a few years ago. You wouldn't have long-haired people working for 'im as representatives or so on.

Studs Terkel Mr. Curry is being interrupted because he's selling various newspapers and magazines here. This is in the lobby of the hotel. You were saying about Thomson, the thing a certain -- What was his ind-- What the industry, was he the newspaper man?

George Curry Well, he owns all the local newspapers in that part of Scotland and he owns a big comic group as well, "The Dandy", "The Beano", "The Wizard" and all these juvenile sort of things, you know, the penny dreadfuls. He owns these. As I say, he's a very paternally sort of -- Minded sort of man and Dundee being so bad for employment. He was able to get away with this for many many years, and it's only a few years ago he started. He allowed the trade unions to get into the firm, and of course, now, they've got that hold now, but then he had to move with the times eventually against his will, I can tell you.

Studs Terkel This is, I think James Cameron's first employer was Thomson.

George Curry He probably would be, yeah, because that's where anybody who is going to go to journalism in our part of Scotland goes to Thomson.

Studs Terkel How did you hear of James Cameron?

George Curry I don't even know, you know, I've read several -- I've never read any of his books. I've read several of his articles in various papers. I saw him on television a couple of times. He was on about a month ago or five weeks ago. I think someone died, he was doing the obituary bit, I think, I'm not sure, he was on just about five weeks ago.

Studs Terkel Do you like his work?

George Curry I like his style, sort of thing, he's got a dry sort of writing style, doesn't he, you know, I think his heart's in the right place although his politics may not be.

Studs Terkel His what?

George Curry His politics may not be, but I think his heart's in the right place.

Studs Terkel You say his politics may not be.

George Curry I think he's -- I don't think he's a socialist, and I'm a socialist, so anybody's who not a socialist to me is not in the right place, you know.

Studs Terkel Oh. Then -- Oh. You're being sardonic when you say his heart's not -- His politics is not in the right place.

George Curry [Unintelligible].

Studs Terkel You mean it is.

George Curry Well, he's not really a socialist, is he? Well, I've heard of him and while [unintelligible] he doesn't seem, that is, all that much socialistic.

Studs Terkel Oh, I see, you're more socialist.

George Curry Yeah. I am, yeah.

Studs Terkel Well, can you express, by the way, it's interesting hearing where you were in Dundee or here in London, can you express your feelings about socialism openly?

George Curry Yes, of course I can, yeah. Oh, yeah, there's no problem there. Do you mean generally speaking about the country?

Studs Terkel Yes, I mean, as you do to me right now. You know, in the United States, when someone says he's socialist, it's sort of a [unintelligible].

George Curry Yes, I know, in the States they're a wee bit scared to say they're a socialist because they're sort of saying a socialist is a communist, and a communist is a dirty word, well, it's not quite the [right States? United States?] here yet, I don't suppose ever will be because there's nothing dirty about socialism. And I would hate to think that, although there are people in this country especially in some of the right-wing papers and the fascist papers who would condemn anybody who was a bit socialistic and say I mean anybody who stands up at a trade union meetin' and says the employer is wrong sometimes, people like ideologues who condemn him and say, "This is a trouble maker, he's in the pay of the Reds." And all this rubbish, you know, this [load?] is rubbish.

Studs Terkel What led you to this feeling?

George Curry Well, I suppose being dropped in a [unintelligible] in a certain place like Dundee, it helps to formulate your character, doesn't it? When you see people unemployed as a boy with millions unemployed, and in Dundee very hard to get work and they were very autocratic. [Unintelligible] that thing was all jute mills were the main industry, they were very autocratic and were very low paid, very hard work, and there was absolutely no sympathy for the workers at all. I mean, if you were off sick one day, you came back next day, [unintelligible], you were out in the street, there was no such thing as get your job back, or getting sick, be anything like that, you were finished.

Studs Terkel What did your father do?

George Curry My father was a coal miner. And I was a coal miner for a long time -- Well, for some time as well, when I first came out of Navy. Then I had a bad accident and with my arm, I got my arm smashed up and I resolved never to go back down there.

Studs Terkel You remember, then, from childhood on, the matter of coal mining and hard work.

George Curry As I said, it was was my main impression of Dundee, I mean, for any working-class [unintelligible] my age in Dundee, that was the main thing in Dundee, poverty and [door keys?].

Studs Terkel I noticed that you are interested in reading, in books, and news events, how did -- You were a coal miner, too. Did the did this urge for education come early, or what? How'd this happen?

George Curry I don't know, but I think this is pigeon-holin' again, you know, because I'm a coal miner I shouldn't be interested in--

Studs Terkel Right.

George Curry Literary or the arts or opera.

Studs Terkel This is part of the stereotype, you see, working man and literature are not connected.

George Curry This is the sort of thing I hate, you know, because I'm a keen opera fan, and when I was a navvie, I used to be a navvie at one time. If I said so, my workmates said, I went the opera, they'd think I was queer or somethin', you know, they'd think there's something wrong with him. But it's wrong, it's so wrong, you know. And you get this even more so. In all strata of society if it -- The working class themselves are a wee bit suspicious of -- That they're not so bad now, they are gettin' a wee bit more enlightened, but in that then they were always a bit suspicious of anyone who liked opera, [Ollie?], especially a navvie or a miner, they might think there's somethin' funny about this [block?].

Studs Terkel As Mr. Curry. This is early hour of the morning in the hotel where I am and customers bought the paper for how much, six pence, five pence. "The Daily Mail", and various papers. That's interesting it's the working people's in many case suspicion of someone interest in quote, unquote, 'culture.'

George Curry Yeah, in any of the arts at all. You know, I'm afraid I hate sayin' it, but it's true although it's not so bad with the young people nowadays, there are many young people nowadays who are doing manual jobs who are interested in the arts. So that's where the hope lies, in the young people.

Studs Terkel What is a navvie, you said navvie?

George Curry A navvie is what you call a construction worker, taking up roads and so on.

Studs Terkel A hard hat, we use the phrase, you know, we use a stereotype in the United States because someone wears a hard hat and so you -- We imply also someone's a hard hat is also reactionary --

George Curry Rough and ready.

Studs Terkel Racist. You know, again the stereotype. So you were -- So you were

George Curry

Studs Terkel This is pigeon-holin' people again. So you were a construction worker and you were a coal miner.

George Curry I've been about 100 jobs, I think. I've been shop assistant, shop manager,, shop owner civil servant, company representative, commercial traveler, och, everything except a [ballet? belly?] dancer.

Studs Terkel Except what?

George Curry [Ballet? Belly?] dancer.

Studs Terkel Except a [ballet? belly?] dancer.

George Curry Except for that.

Studs Terkel You're talking about this working man and his quest for knowledge. You're from Dundee, this industrial city, this polluted city, and yet there's this search for beauty all the time.

George Curry Well, Dundee, of course, is surrounded by natural beauty, I mean, three or four miles outside Dundee, are wonderful countryside and seaside. And that's it. The great thing about Dundee, you can even walk without a car and get to really nice places. That was the best thing about that, but Dundee itself, for working and so on is terrible. Although, since the war, they built huge industrial, huge council estates which give the people better housing conditions, but these places are now ghettos. These big council estates they built outside Dundee, they built them about three miles outside Dundee and the people didn't want people [moving in? living in?] in the first place because of the walk, and even a shilling or two shillings a day for bus fares of their money, it's quite sizable.

Studs Terkel You say surrounded by beautiful areas, though here is this industrial area, but around it is natural beauty.

George Curry Oh, yeah. Very nice. You've got all the famous golf courses and the seaside.

Studs Terkel Isn't there a song called "The Bonnie Banks of Dundee"?

George Curry No, the song called "Bonnie Dundee", but this is a misnomer, because Bonnie Dundee was actually a man, it wasn't the place. This is a thing that Dundonians seem to get confused about. They say that a fairer Dundee is Bonnie Dundee, but Bonnie Dundee was the Earl of Claverhouse, and he was a very handsome man and they wrote songs of 'im, and one of 'em was called "Bonnie Dundee."

Studs Terkel Is it -- Are you unique, Mr. Curry, you the coal miner, construction worker, and this interest in literature and politics, or are there many?

George Curry Oh, I hope I'm not unique, no, I'm sure I'm not, no, many many people in Scotland here are the same as I am here. No, you know, it's not a quest for knowledge as such, it's just that you want to be abreast of things in your life. I mean I've read all Dickens and all --

Studs Terkel Robert Burns plays a role.

George Curry He's a typical, he's an outstanding Scotsman, isn't he?

Studs Terkel Mr. Curry has both magazines, paperbacks, and newspapers. Interesting, I should have called the accent of the customers as they bought the, there's your coffee and your tea. As he bought "The Telegraph" it's interesting, you can also tell, can't you, the customers, you know, almost tell their political persuasion sometimes, can you not? The customers [unintelligible] the paper. Now he's getting kind of busy now, so I'll hold off, some of the people working in the place are also buying papers. See, this is early hour of the morning now, it's about 8 o'clock now, now it starts getting busy a little, isn't it? You know, it's interesting yet in the sale of the various papers a good number of papers are sold here, you know, whether it's "The Times" or "The Express" or the London edition of "The Herald Tribune", Paris edition, or "The Financial Times" or "The Telegraph", sometimes you can tell by the -- By the person buys the paper the political persuasion.

George Curry Yes, normally, well -- "The Telegraph", of course, is a right-wing paper, it's a Foreign Office paper, isn't it, and it's a favorite right-wing. The "Times" again is right wing. "The Sun" and "The Mirror" are more or less common papers, they're mostly bought by Labour voters, because they are -- "The Mirror" is a Labour paper, and "The Sun" is more of a middle-of-the-road, [unintelligible] [rights?] sort of thing. But they're both sort of comic papers, but they give a good news coverage and sports coverage.

Studs Terkel And then of course there's "The Guardian", too.

George Curry "The Guardian" is the sort of paper that I think the most fair-minded people buy, the people here who [are? aren't?] going to see both sides of the question.

Studs Terkel Fair-minded from your point of view.

George Curry Yeah. A [unintelligible] thinks I was fair-minded, as the bloke says.

Studs Terkel You were talking about Robert Burns, is is this just my romanticizing or do most Scottish people know some work or other of Burns?

George Curry Oh, I should think so, I think you can ask almost any Scotsman, and he would at least quote some of his great love poems, like "My love is like a red, red rose", that's one that most Scotsmen would know at least one or two lines of Burns, although they do over-romanticize 'im, I mean he was a bit of a villain as far as women are concerned, and so on.

Studs Terkel A what?

George Curry A bit of a villain. You know, he had bastard children with several different women and so on, but he was a very compassionate and very articulate man especially when you consider the times he lived in.

Studs Terkel Was your father, was your father also interested in changing the world?

George Curry Well, I can't remember my father, he died when I was three. So I can't remember anything about him.

Studs Terkel So you were raised fatherless, then. Always poverty, it was poverty.

George Curry Yeah. My mother being a widow and we were on what we called the [parish?]. But it would 'relief' in the States. We used to get a little uniform, you know, a gray jersey, a gray shirt, and a gray pair of shorts, and thick boots with huge nails in them, and they made a terrible noise when you walked along the street. So as soon as you went outdoors, the people could see, he's a 'parish child', you're on relief, so you were branded, you know. This is --

Studs Terkel Branded as what?

George Curry You were branded as a poverty-stricken tot, from a poverty-stricken family.

Studs Terkel You were talking about the clothes.

George Curry Yeah, [unintelligible] , you know.

Studs Terkel So that played a role in your --

George Curry Of course it did. What else could you be but socialistic after an upbringing like that? You'd have to be very thick-skinned, or --

Studs Terkel And yet, how come that many men and women who are poor do not become socialistic from this experience? How come they say, "By God, I'm gonna make it!"

George Curry I think they're like my brother, for instance, my brother was a socialist, too. And then he became self-employed, and as soon as he became self-employed he started voting conservative, and I says, "What the hell are you voting conservative for?" He says, "Well, I'm self-employed, and I [dare look after?] the self-employed." You know, to me this is such a narrow-minded,, bigoted stupid [unintelligible]. This is -- that many people in this country, you'll find, that even convicts or burglars, they're self-employed, they vote conservative, they think that any-- conservatives will always support anyone who strikes on his own, whether he's a burglar or a shopkeeper or anything else. Now, this is the feeling in this country,, the conservatives, they [work?] the wrong idea about even the word conservative for a lot of people I think conservative means 'conserve' and not [unintelligible],, so if you have it, you'll conserve it for you you know. And that's why a lot [unintelligible] who as soon as become shop owners, are self-employed, then they turn conservative.

Studs Terkel And how are you? How are you, sir? He's telling good stories. Here now, interesting now, the people working in the hotel are coming in and they're buying the papers. How are you, sir?

George Curry 52, please. That's 15.

Studs Terkel Your work is, I notice here that, I notice your work here also that hours are long.

George Curry 'Cause I enjoy it here, you know, it's different, I only -- We only took this place over six weeks ago, I was a company rep for W.H. Smith, you know, and [first?] they used to deliver here, we had this place, the chap was retiring from here, so my wife always wanted to get in something like this --

Studs Terkel You and your wife work at a stand that sells newspapers and sweets --

George Curry Cigarettes, souvenirs --

Studs Terkel Cigarettes and magazines and books and newspaper -- Is this yours?

George Curry No. We lease it from the hotel. I don't work for the hotel we work for ourselves, but I mean it's --

Studs Terkel You are self-employed.

George Curry I am self-employed, yeah.

Studs Terkel And yet a socialist.

George Curry Oh, yeah, yeah. Can never be anything else.

Studs Terkel But ordinarily you see, you hear the phrase 'merchant' from self-employed, in many societies becomes a member of the right wing, in France they're called the [burgiodists? bourgeois?].

George Curry Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Studs Terkel But you are different. There's a man taking pictures now. That's good. It's a pose. That's nice. And so we're talking about yourself and how you came to think as you do. How do you explain then, dock workers and working people also, say voting for a man like Enoch Powell here? Enoch Powell is sort of a, you might describe him, the George Wallace of England, only much more literate.

George Curry Well, the reason they vote for Enoch is not far to seek because if they went into Enoch's politics they would never vote for any of it at all because his politics economically speaking are dead against socialism. They only vote for him for the simple issue of racist, sort of racism. That's the only reason to want Enoch in, but as soon as they analyze Enoch's politics and his laissez-faire sort of [attitude?] to life. They would never vote for 'im. And that would explain it. But of course they don't, they only see the headlines about 'send immigrants back' and they see a lot of immigrants here, and they do cause a lot of problems because I feel very sorry for Londoners, I know many of them have been here and fought in the war, they cannot get a council house and they see an immigrant family comin' in, and bein' rehoused next year. Within a few months. This aggravates an awful lot of people, you can understand it. That's why they want Enoch, because they see all [unintelligible], but particularly in London, where it's a terrible housin' shortage. You don't get it so much in Scotland because there are very few immigrants in Scotland. And the housing shortage in Scotland is negligible in my part of Scotland. They've got council houses there, you could walk up to Dundee tomorrow and get a council house within a month and I would say that.

Studs Terkel If you got a job.

George Curry That's the thing, you see, you get a job -- you'll get a house, but you won't get a job, or you may get a job, but it would be a very low-paid one.

Studs Terkel Do you find racism increasing here in any way?

George Curry Well, I live near Brixton which has a very high immigrant population, probably the highest in London, I should think, except for perhaps [Sentall?] and then the tension there. I wouldn't go in Brixton late at night myself, because there's gangs of black youths from around there and if they see a white chap or a white [unintelligible], you've had it. And this is supposed to be, you know, but you can walk on the streets without fear. Imagine some American comin' across here and sayin', "You can walk in the streets without fear." I feel like sayin', "You come down to Brixton at 11 or 12 o'clock at night and you walk alone here on your own and see if you can walk without fear, because you can't, not a white man and a white girl."

Studs Terkel You having some questions yourself. You have questions, yourself, on the matter of race. You do, yourself.

George Curry Well, I hate -- I don't think I'm a racist, but I think you got to approach it realistically and you've got thousands of people here without jobs and without adequate homes. And if you find them adequate homes, I don't know if that will work, because an awful lot of Black people do seem to have the idea that they must start at the top. You know, they're givin' the youths a local paper, a Brixton paper, and the youths leave school, and they want a job as a manager or somethin', and well, you've got to start at the bottom, we've all got to start at the bottom, unless you [unintelligible] your nepotism in the right circle sort of thing, but I mean, the Black people seem to want everything their way, so a lot of them, anyway, the young ones, not the older ones, but young ones do, and that will blow up, I'm sure it'll blow up in Brixton.

Studs Terkel Mr. Curry, you are presenting to me a very interesting person, you yourself are, because you are a socialist, advanced politically, socialist point of view, at the same time you are maybe accepting a stereotype, too, about Black people, I don't know.

George Curry I know that's a wee bit conflicting, but [unintelligible] goin' to say that, I'm not all that keen on immigrants, because I'm not, I mean that as a socialist I should say, "We are all equal, we are all equal, and that the immigrants should be --" But I cannot say that because I live amongst it. And but when you live amongst it and see all this violence that is perpetuated mostly by immigrants because they're very aggressive. My wife will tell you, if you talk to her, she's scared to go shoppin', you get [shot? shoved?] every day [than anybody's?], you know, and when you look, you see, these people who are like Mr. Wilson and the cabinet, they live [unintelligible] nice area. Well, you know, live in a nice area, they get driven in a chauffeur-driven the car to the Parliament and so on, do their work, and they go back again. The only Black people they come in contact with are the professional people. They've never lived amongst them or worked with them. And that's when you really can tell, and although I know many Black people, they are nice people, I play on the same football team as Black people and [not other?] football team and that's the most I would [ever say?], you have to stop immigration, because they can't do anything about it now, they're here to stay. They can't send them back. But they'll have to do an awful lot of work on it.

Studs Terkel It's a question also, you say the conditions, too.

George Curry Yeah, of course, they're in the ghetto, Brixton is one huge ghetto.

Studs Terkel Would they ever say, when you were a poverty-stricken kid in Dundee, in Scotland, what did they say about you? The others?

George Curry Well, I think the Blacks and [unintelligible] are taking the place of the lower classes and they're expected to do all the dirty jobs and earn the position that people like I were in 30, 40 years ago, we were the underdogs and they're in the same position now, but whereas poorer people 30, 40 years ago were prepared to work and try and get out of it, a lot of immigrants don't want it, there are certain issues, as I say, start at the top.

Studs Terkel How do you see, how do you see England going?

George Curry Well, at the moment, downhill fast. I think it'll get a lot worse before it gets any better. You know, nobody seems to, there doesn't seem any sense of urgency about anything, does it? We're in a terrible state, everybody knows we're in a terrible state, they pretend we're not in a terrible state. But there's no urgency, there's no [unintelligible]. When you think of it, the employers, the way they fiddled around all our dividends and so on, the way they fiddle everything to get them. I mean, the chap, one the [council? Counselor?] at Harrington, read him in the paper that day, he's talkin' about the M4 is always parked between 10, 11 in the morning and during 2 and 3 in the afternoon. The bosses come then, doin' three hour work and goin' back again, you know, stockbroker belt sort of thing. And these are the people you most summon, as well, is the workers. I mean, why is it always the certain working class that gets [unintelligible] and so on. When you think, I worked in places up in the city, and this city to me has more crooks per a square mile than any place in the world, you know, in the city of London, full of crooks and sharks and a way they manipulate the money, and the way they manipulate the stock exchange, has always made me sick. I'd love to see them cleanin' up the city. Really would.

Studs Terkel What would you like to do? Would you like to see for yourself some day? You, what would you like to do?

George Curry Working for myself. Well, again, the only jobs I'd like to do would be in social work with some [bar form?] and new qualifications. And I think of the young some of the people who are doing social work and you read about them every day, and you know, that they've got a qualification and bit of -- No common sense, no compassion, no initiative, at anything but they've got a qualification, so they get a job. I cannot get a job, I've tried for years to get a job in social work, it's impossible. You don't have a degree or you don't have the qualification. I like anything to do with social work or with books, you know, any of these things. There's a few things I'd like to work with.

Studs Terkel You know, it's been a very -- to me, a very rewarding experience meeting you and talking behind the counter here with you, Mr. Curry.

George Curry I'll get you a job behind

Studs Terkel that counter. Perhaps, even -- That man who bought those Hamlet cigars the other day, that was James Cameron.

George Curry Well, I [unintelligible] say to my wife, "I know that chap, I just can't think who he is." I thought it was someone who we'd seen on TV or something. And as soon as you mentioned it, I realized who it was.

Studs Terkel Who was

George Curry

Studs Terkel

George Curry

Studs Terkel

George Curry a fellow Dundee-ite of yours? Dundonian. Dundonian. That's the name, 'Dundonian', yeah. Is there a phrase from a Robert Burns poem comes to your mind before we say goodbye? Yeah, I'd say one thing I'd like everybody to think about and Robert Burns said, and it's so true and it's always been true, "Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn", and that's the truest words he ever said, you know, and it's truer today than it ever was.