Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Greek Colonels - my part in their downfall

In June 1970 I received a 9-month prison sentence, and served 6, for my part in a demonstration in Cambridge. This was the Garden House Hotel demo, which took place on Friday 13th February that year. It has been much on my mind since last March, when a journalist contacted me for a feature he was writing to mark the 40th anniversary. More of this below. This post gives the background. I shall have further comments soon on my involvement, and the role of chance in human affairs.

The picture is from the Cambridge Evening News. I don’t have the original caption. I imagine we are all on our way to the trial at Hertford Assizes in June; though it’s possible it was the magistrates court committal hearing in March or thereabouts. The two cheerful fellows had good reason to be cheerful. They weren’t on trial. Striding out to the left of the picture is Gottfried Ensslin. The cheerful chap with the specs is Stephen Ginsborg, whose brother Paul I shared a house with in York a few years later. Eyeing me disapprovingly, as well he might, is Rod Caird, while I make a spectacle of myself with my tie.

You can read about Gottfried and Rod, and about me for that matter, in the latest issue of Cambridge University’s CAM magazine. Scroll down to page 22 or search for Here six of the protestors recall their part (without quotes).

The magazine ran this feature to mark the affair’s 40th anniversary. I gave a telephone interview to William Ham Bevan, a journalist who had been commissioned to write the piece. It appeared in the October edition of CAM, and was reprinted on 23rd November by the London Independent, whose editor detected a resonance with this year’s student protests over fees.

The Garden House demonstration was to protest against a dinner which was the culmination of ‘Greek Week’, an initiative held in the city to raise Greece’s profile as a holiday destination. We were informed that the Greek embassy had sent down a chef for the occasion, and I imagine this was indeed the case. What made it distasteful was that Greece was in the hands of a fascist military Junta which had seized power by a coup in 1967. The regime, often referred to as the Greek Colonels, was rabidly anti-communist and justified its actions by claiming to save Greece for democracy. Torture was widely used. The Scandinavian countries as well as the Netherlands took a very hostile stance and filed a complaint before the Human Rights Commission of the Council of Europe in September 1967. (The Junta opted to leave the Council of Europe voluntarily in December 1969 before a verdict was handed down.) The United Kingdom voiced criticism about Greece's human rights record but supported Greece’s continued membership in the Council of Europe and NATO because of the country's strategic value. The USA took the same stance as the UK. There is a murky story of close association between Greek military intelligence and the CIA, which I don’t have the details of. But I can tell you that at the time we were convinced that the CIA had a hand in the coup (like Chile later). The regime collapsed in 1974.

I notice that in the preceding paragraph I have used the word “we” twice, which might give the false impression that I was fully integrated into the protest and au fait with the issues at stake. This is far from the truth, as you will see if you study my quotes in the CAM article. I shall have more to say on this soon, when I have got my thoughts in order. My role in the protest was extremely minor, and my presence there almost accidental; but its effect on the rest of my life was total. Everything that happened from then on stems from the night of Friday 13th February 1970. 

Read more here



  1. This is really interesting, I'm delighted you have written about this and I look forward to reading more.

    I've never seen that photo before, and I think it's a really good one. OK, so maybe you were inappropriately acting the maggot, but you do look like a dude!

    Could it be the case that you and your associates inspired the iconography Quentin Tarrantino used in the opening scenes of Reservoir Dogs..?!

  2. Pete - I'm amazed. You've always been a legend to me but now it turns out that you actually are one, and you're part of history.

    Like Albert I found it fascinating, and would love to know your side of the story in full, including the spell at her majesty's pleasure which changed you so much. You mention in the Cambridge magazine article that you never had strong political views before this chain of events and their consequences, but I just cannot imagine Pete Household without the rock-solid beliefs and principles you've held for the thirty years I've known you.

    The picture shows you playing the jester (or were you satirizing so-called "blind justice"?) and it's not a role I'd associate you with - I don't mean that in a bad way, just that I can't imagine you fooling around in such a serious position, although you do say in the article that you didn't appreciate the gravity of it all until just before those unbelievable sentences were handed down. Prepare yourself for lots of questions next time I see you, or even better write a blog with your perspective on it, forty years after the event (it'll save you time in the long run!).

    By the way, it's probably not an exaggeration to say that your conversion to left-side politics didn't just affect YOUR future life - I know at least two people for whom your influence was a big factor while they were growing up, and while it might not have changed the paths of their lives directly, it certainly affected the values and principles by which they have lived those lives. Much respect!

    All these years I've seen you as a thinker, a man who stood up for his beliefs with a fiery passion but was essentially a gentle man, and I was completely unaware that you spent the winter evenings of your youth cracking policemen's skulls........

  3. Noggin, your response here is ace! I really appreciate, and I'm sure Peter does too, the openness of your 4th paragraph ("By the way...") and the tongue-in-cheek irony of your closing observation..! :-D