Today’s politically active students today may spend their time occupying lecture theatres over Israel’s actions in Gaza, but 50 years ago the hottest issue was South Africa’s apartheid system.
The University of London Union determined to do something about it. Its annual carnival would be used to raise funds to bring Black South African students to attend universities in the British capital.
But the man they took on to edit the carnival’s magazine, a major part of the fundraising drive, had other ideas. An article he intended to include in the publication unequivocally stated: “apartheid is a good thing.”
David Irving, has since become rather more famous for his right-wing views than he was back then.
Irving was a student at Imperial college (although he never graduated) and came to the attention of then ULU Vice-President David Jacques through his work on the Imperial College publication ‘Phoenix’. Mr Jacques says he knew of Irving as a capable pair of hands in putting a magazine together.
“He clearly had great expertise as an Editor and writer and was Editor of the Imperial College newsletter. So I asked him to edit our newsletter for the Carnival. But I told him I knew of his neo-fascist views and I wanted them out of it.”
Having been taken on to edit ‘Carnival Times’, Irving took to the task with gusto. The one shilling and sixpence magazine (which guaranteed free entry to the carnival fete) was full of witty snippets from other UL publications, student cartoons, and details of the University’s plans for expansion.
But even at the beginning, tensions were apparent between Irving and the rest of the carnival team. Correspondence between David Jacques and Irving reveals arguments over whether a piece about Imperial’s internal politics should be included.
“Firstly,” wrote Mr Jacques, “whilst appreciating that you are the Editor and that your dismissal from the Editorship of Phoenix may not have been completely justified, I do think it would be very unwise to publish again articles and quotations which have already roused the wrath and indignation of the powers that be.
“They will serve little or no purpose as the vast majority of the readers of Carnival will have no idea who the Rector is, and as you yourself said, the object of Carnival is to entertain the student.”
Suspicious that Irving might try to sneak something even more controversial through, Mr Jacques told Irving that he wanted to see everything before it was printed.
But on the evening it was supposed to be put together, he received a panicked phone call from the editor of Sennet (London Student’s predecessor) to say that the printer had found an insert in the magazine with articles entitled ‘Apartheid – the facts’ and ‘Battle for Europe’.
“I had a late call from Doug Smith, and he said ‘I think he’s done the dirty on you and had this insert printed which has already been put in,” recalls Mr Jacques.
The apartheid article argued, “seldom has there ever been a concept so confused, a cause so lost, as that of Racial Integration.”
It claimed that apartheid as then practised in South Africa had not gone far enough: “If… apartheid is the total separation of the black and coloured populations, with each people being given separate territories and separate states within the same Continent and in which each people is free to develop its political, social and cultural life to the full without interference from outside then it is a distinct advance on past conditions.”
Stereotyping black South Africans as inherently violent, it suggested expanding apartheid to the whole African continent, so that “the white man lives in the temperate uplands, which are suited to him, and the blacks live in the tropical coastlands and the West of Africa, where they can also thrive.”
A photograph of a fight at a meeting in Notting Hill was captioned “Can white and coloured folk live peacefully together? Yes, say the multi-racialists. And yet this photograph, taken within the last two months in London, England, would appear to show the opposite. Not only are the coloured folk fighting the white, but they are causing whites to fight each other too. This need never has happened.”
Irving’s editorial on Europe, however, is the most revealing piece. He wrote: “Great Britain has often been in the wrong. Somehow we found ourselves lined up with the Bolsheviks in a fight against the first great unifying force Europe had known in six hundred years, and we barely scraped a victory, a Pyrrhic victory.”
A section titled ‘Herr Hitler’ glorified the Nazi leader’s role in the Second World War. The whole piece was unashamedly anti-Semitic: “The formation of a European Union is interpreted at building a group of superior peoples, and the Jews have always viewed with suspicion the emergence of any ‘master-race’ (other than their own, of course).”
When he became aware of the situation, Mr Jacques went straight to the printers.
“I made sure everything he had written was shredded. But on the bus back he said, ‘Well, you fell for that, more fool you. I’ve another 500 copies already printed.’”
The incident came to the attention of the national press. Speaking to the Daily Mail later that year (although he later denied the comments) Irving said: “You can call me a mild fascist if you like,” and said he had visited a former home of Hitler’s in Germany, which he regarded “as a shrine”.
Private Eye covered the scandal in 1969 as background to a piece on Irving’s latest misdemeanours. They wrote: “The [Carnival] committee were so shocked by the supplement’s contents that they engaged a number of volunteers to rip out 30,000 of the supplements from the magazine, almost all of which were then burnt.”
The incident wasn’t the last the University of London would see of Irving. He re-enrolled as a student at University College London and in February 1961 took part in a debate on immigration, seconding Sir Oswald Mosley. Private Eye magazine reported that “Mr Irving closed his speech by greeting the audience with a Heil Hitler salute.”
Irving has since been convicted of holocaust denial in Austria, for which he served 400 days in prison.
Mr Jacques says he hasn’t been surprised to see Irving in the news since then.
He’s even kept a copy of the Guardian of April 12 2000, which, reporting on Irving’s defeat in a libel case against author Deborah Lipstadt who had called him a Holocaust denier, bears the headline: “Irving: consigned to history as a racist liar.”
“He had no scruples,” says Mr Jacques. “He was without principles, and that’s been the story ever since.”