Just the other week a discussion kicked off at a steering group meeting about which figures had influenced us as a younger generation of youth workers – a few of us are long in the tooth. This was impelled in particular as a new film about Stuart Hall, the charismatic Director of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies and thence Professor of Sociology at the Open University through the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, was just being premiered.
“Stuart Hall was kind of a rock star for us,” writes director John Akomfrah in a statement accompanying his latest essay film. “For many of my generation in the 70s… he was one of the few people of colour we saw on television who wasn’t crooning, dancing or running. His very iconic presence on this most public of platforms suggested all manner of ‘impossible possibilities’.”
In the same vein Sue Atkins of our steering group and a stalwart of youth work in Sheffield commented on Facebook:
Encounters with Stuart have punctuated my life – from 1958 on the CND march – through 59/60 at the Partisan in Soho – ( he was apparently one of the initiators and New Left Review had an office upstairs) through to 66 when he delivered a lecture at the end of my one year course at National College – which made me think why did I bother with the rest of the course THIS man has put it all into context and it was all I needed – to 67/68 the work I did for the National Committee for Commonwealth Immigrants – to ’78 when he came to the Hub in Sheffield for a conference we had organised ( probably the first genuine inter-disciplinary piece of youth work ) when he talked about, among other things, the context of black young people and the police – winning the battles was not the same as winning the war – and the blade of racism slicing through society – young people at the cutting edge – then all the work he did with the BBC and Open University creating the MOST challenging and accessible programmes on video and schools TV and of course his writings and editing – the list is endless. ONE thing that I realised whilst watching the film – we didnt have a TV till after the start of BBC2 ( April 1964) – when a friend of mine was delivering NEW 625 sets for Granada Rentals and collecting up the old sets – and one fell off the back of his van outside our back door – was that some of the early stuff I had never seen.
Funnily enough, as we laboured in our discussion to locate today’s Stuart Halls, Sue herself interjected to say that her young workers at the Youth Association South Yorkshire would probably identify Russel Brand as an icon. Personally I was perplexed. And then within days Russel meets Jeremy Paxman in a major cultural clash, headlined by Paul Mason as Worlds collide as Russell Brand predicts a revolution.
Time for me to take stock. Once again it’s necessary to propose the impossible. What do you reckon?