December 2, 2023

The 70s 80s 90s Blog

Three Decades of History with TV historian Tony McMahon

Racism in 1980s Coventry night clubs

2 min read
Night clubs still operating a race bar in the 70s and 80s

I wrote two biographies set in Coventry that exposed the racism and violence in that city back in the 1980s and how it impacted the night clubs. The Coventry boxer Errol Christie in particular told me in great detail about the racism he encountered at clubs where it was impossible for him to enter the premises. In effect, he was confronted with a de facto colour bar.

The book I co-authored with Errol about his life – No Place To Hide – gives a raw and uncompromising account of Errol’s night-time escapades in central Coventry. Turning up with this brothers, all kitted out in sta-prest jeans and white T-shirts, and then told to get lost by the club bouncers. Given that Errol was already on track to be a national boxing sensation, this was really galling. He still gritted his teeth as he fumed at the treatment he received from some of these thugs on the doors.

On one night he did get in to Tiffany’s, a big club in town. As he grooved on the dance floor, Errol noticed that four bouncers were closing in on him. This put his boxing skills to good use though four against one was hardly the Queensbury Rules. In the end, he kind of allowed himself to be ejected from the venue. And another night of bitter resentment was notched up.

I also co-wrote the biography of Neville Staple of The Specials – a book titled Original Rude Boy – and Nev, though he did bump up against some racist attitudes, by and large had a better time clubbing in Coventry than Errol. He won’t mind me saying he was slightly older than Errol and possibly the early 1970s was a more joyous time to club than later on in that decade.

DISCOVER: Shocking racism in the 1980s

Colour bar in 1980s night clubs

I know from my own experience of clubbing in the 1980s that there were plenty of venues where you never saw a black or Asian face. And I’d say that was the situation well into the 1990s. Of course there was legislation to stop this happening – but its enforcement was patchy. And some club operators took umbrage at attempts to make them stop operating a colour bar!

As early as 1978 the Birmingham night club Pollyanna’s was ordered by the Commission for Racial Equality to stop restricting black and Chinese people from attending its functions. Unbelievably the club not only admitted what it did but tried to justify it. Their argument was that in the interests of “a happy situation”, racial quotas had to be imposed. This included telling a university lecturer not to bring in a group of Chinese students!

Ironically, the aforementioned Pollyanna’s did become a meeting place for Brummie punks and skinheads including a certain Ranking Roger, later of The Beat….who was black.

Pollyanna's in trouble
Pollyanna’s in trouble

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