1940s >> 1949 >> no-540-august-1949

Death of a Clown

Coming out of the factory I bought a “mid-day” to look at the runners. A bob each-way on a decent priced winner would pay for a night in town.


“Seen the stop press?” the paper boy asked as he took my coin. I glanced down.


“Early this morning Peter Waring, the comedian who was yesterday sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment, was found hanged in his cell.”


I hadn’t read much of the case. Every day in courtrooms up and down the country men, women and adolescents are being sentenced to so many weeks, months or years imprisonment for enjoying property to which they have no legal right. Borstal institutions are full of boys who wanted bicycles or girls who wanted gay new dresses for the summer; Holloway is full of women who were light-fingered in the chain stores; the Scrubs and the Pen are full of men who were fools enough to believe that merely because they produce they have a right to the product.


But Waring was a celebrity. By nature of his work he was in the public eye and hence his tragedy had commercial value as news. The Sunday papers revelled in it. Each one probed into his past, examined every angle; each one attempting to outdo its rival in hounding the victim even beyond the grave. But the facts they produced examined carefully provide a useful object lesson in the effects of a system of exploitation upon the exploited.


He was born in Camberwell in 1917. D’you know Camberwell? An ugly place just like Stepney or Salford, Bermondsey or Birmingham, East Ham or Everton, or any other place where workers are hounded together to live, breed, and die.


Silly fellow—he objected to it, and vainly sought escape across the seas. At the age of sixteen he stowed away in the funnel of a liner and was badly burnt for his trouble. The second attempt won him twenty-eight days in jail.


Working as a footman he absconded with £100 belonging to Lord Sysonby—three years in Borstal. 1939, guilty of fraud—six months—again in 1941. And then came his big chance! His talent as a comic made him a top of the bill star.


Yet still the ugliness of his past haunted him. Was he not a child of the threadbare thirties? Still he strove for the antithesis of his youth. He wanted to enjoy the luxuries he had seen as a servant. In 1948 he was bankrupt.


Finally he was charged with obtaining money under false pretences, When sentenced he wept, “I am not a criminal. I have been foolish but—.”


What does it matter? So many workers end the same way. Seeing the good things of life always in sight, never in reach, they conduct a one-man struggle to make them their own. Always Nemesis, in the form of the state overtakes them and back they are pitched.


For this is a system of society based upon private property and all the powers spiritual and temporal are bound up in its protection. No one man can permanently assail its defences. But many men and women—the useful but propertyless section upon whose energies it depends, can when they are ready destroy it for ever.


You who can study the intricacies of racehorse breeding, forms and timing; you who are wily enough to make a few bob here and there at the expense of your masters; you who go to your graves still hoping for something to turn up; give a few moments’ thought to the world in which you live. Understand the comparatively simple workings of capitalism and the need for Socialism. Equipped with that knowledge nothing can stand in your way.