East End Jews who took on Britain’s post-war fascists are to be the subject of a new six-part TV series for the BBC and American network NBC.
Written by Erik Jendresen, Emmy-winning creator of Band of Brothers, the new drama series will tell the story of Jewish vigilantes who hit back against Oswald Mosley and his ‘Blackshirts’ between 1946 and 1950.
It will include footage of the late Morris Beckman, a merchant seaman and veteran of the 43 Group, which he helped form on his return from the war in February 1946, when he and 42 other Jewish ex-servicemen came together to form a paramilitary organisation to tackle the threat. Among them was a former British Army private now learning hairdressing, called Vidal Sassoon.
Home-grown fascists at the time were busy stirring up communal hatred by smashing windows of Jewish schools, abusing Jews in the street and daubing ‘PJ’ – Perish Judah – on buildings.
What followed was four years’ of pitched battles, in which the 43 Group – which grew to include 100 members – broke up fascist gatherings with violence. Knuckle-dusters, knives, steel-toed boots and sharpened belt buckles were used on both sides, with serious injuries sustained. As Sassoon later said: “After Auschwitz, there were no laws.”
Now, after three years researching the activities of the 43 Group and interviewing its remaining members, the Anglo-American producers say they are ready to start casting and filming the drama, to be called ‘The 43’.
A Community Security Trust (CST) spokesman said: “It’s a very interesting episode in the community’ history. It brings more colour and nuance to our understanding of Jewish integration and how anti-Semitism was fought. It was a time when a lot of Jewish people really stood up and it worked.”