John Henley Jasper Heathcote Williams the radical poet, political activist, anarchist visionary, pamphleteer, esteemed playwright, actor and polymathic English genius, he was also an intermittent painter, sculptor and long time conjurer, I have been notfied by text by an old acquaintance that he has sadly died at the age of 75. He had been ill for some time and died yesterday in Oxford.
Heathcote the son of an Old Bailey barrister, Harold Heathcote Williams, and his wife, Julian (nee Henley), was born in Helsby, Cheshire, and was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, where he studied law but did not take his degree as he was already researching his first book, about the postwar soap-box orators in Hyde Park. In the mid-60s he became a pin-up of the underground press and a talismanic, though always elusive, figure in the counter-culture of the day.After his schooldays at Eton, he hacksawed his surname's double-barrel to become Heathcote Williams, a moniker more in keeping perhaps with his new-found persona. .
His first book, The Speakers, was published in 1964. A portrait of the orators at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park, it was greeted with critical acclaim.He went on to author many polemical poems, written over four decades in a unique documentary style. They included works about the devastation being wrought on the natural environment – Sacred Elephant, Whale Nation,which in 1988 became "the most powerful argument for the newly instigated worldwide ban on whaling and Falling For a Dolphin – and Autogeddon, a grim and majestic attack on the car. I have posted several here over the years, his investigative, documentary style of writing a huge influence on me. His muse was fuelled by a witty and beautiful anger.
His last volume of poetry about Trump, American Porn, was published in January.Williams wrote that Trump’s real name - Drumpf - “suggests dumbness, even the passing of wind/ As well as the merciful transience of fame.”
In March Williams held a talk at Blackwell's Bookshop to discuss his latest book, which focused on Home Secretary Boris Johnson and Brexit, .The Blond Beast of Brexit: a Study in Depravity a pamphlet in the radical, Swiftean tradition of pamphleteering a 20,000-word collage of the most maniacal, hypocritical, and cruel things the former mayor has ever said or done.
The many influences on his own writing included ; Gerard Winstanley, William Blake, Percy Shelley, Wiliam Burroughs, Harold Pinter, William Burroughs, George Orwell, Emma Goldman, Bakunin, Kropotkin, and the world he saw around him.
Heathcote's first full length play, AC/DC, won a hat-trick of prestigious awards. His other plays include The Local Stigmatic, The Immortalist and Hancock's Last Half Hour. More recent works: Badshah Khan: Islamic Peace Warrior (Thin Man Press), a play about Christopher Marlowe, Killing Kit, due to be staged at the Cockpit, and a play about squatting and the homeless.
Williams was a leading activist in the London squatting scene in the 1970s and ran a squatters 'estate agency' called the 'Ruff Tuff Cream Puff'. In 1977 he and a couple of hundred fellow squatters established the 'state' of Frestonia in Notting Hill and declared independence from Britain. Then Shadow Chancellor, Geoffrey Howe wrote to express his support and Williams was appointed UK Ambassador. Frestonia lasted almost a decade and had its own institutions and postage stamps.Before Banksy, Heathcote was spray painting the walls of Buckingham Palace and Notting Hill's low rent district with protest graffiti and social messages.
Williams was also for a time associate editor of the literary journal Transatlantic Review as well as being one of those responsible for the notorious alternative sex paper Suck. He was a frequent contributor to the London underground paper International Times during the 1970s, to the radical vegetarian magazine Seed and to The Fanatic, issues of which would appear sporadically and provocatively in different formats and various countries of Western Europe. In 1974, he launched his own mimeographed underground newspaper, The Sunday Head. It was published from his home in Notting Hill Gate, London at the time when he was also the impresario for Albion Free State’s Meat Roxy, a series of music, dance and poetry events held in a squatted, redundant bingo hall near the Portobello market.
An anthology of his tracts and manifestos from this period, , was announced by his then publisher but, to the disappointment of his fans, for some reason never actually appeared. A sampling did appear in a bi-lingual, limited edition titled Manifestoes from the Rotterdam-based Cold Turkey Press as well as in the Manchester literary magazine Wordworks in 1975. He also wrote extensively for the radio and the television
As an actor his film performances included Prospero in Derek Jarman's version of The Tempest (1979), Wish you Were Here (1987) and Sally Potter's Orlando (1992).
A very self-effacing man, a romantic at heart, Heathcote spent much of his time in rural Oxforshire. As a keen naturalist he even discovered a new species of honey-producing wasp on an expedition into the Amazon jungle.
He is survived by Diana and their two daughters, China and Lily, three grandchildren, Freya, Albie and Wilf; Charlie Gilmour, his son with the novelist Polly Samson; and his younger sister, Prue.
A truly literary original who embodied the outsider rebel spirit. So long Heathcote, thank you for the inspiration. R.I.P
From Revolution - Heathcote Williams
Nonviolent direct action requires no-one’s permission
And, for dealing with capitalism’s beds of nails –
The spikes that are everywhere to deter rough sleepers –
Cans of concrete mix and the strategy fails.
Outside Foxtons, the upmarket Estate Agents,
There are rows of spikes to deter sleepers
So squatters delight in taking over Foxtons’ properties
To proclaim triumphantly, ‘Finders Keepers’.
In the nineteenth century the Rebecca rioters
Objected to tollgates “confining the rabble”.
They distracted the constables standing guard with a play
While they turned the tollgates into rubble.
Likewise the Luddites sneaked under the radar,
Disguising themselves in female dress,
They then took hammers to the mechanical looms
That were sacrificing them to ‘progress.’
In 1871 the Paris Commune declared Paris
To be the site of a “permanent festival”.
With their autonomous liberated city still haunted by the guillotine
This was considered more preferable.
In 1968 the revolutionary festival spirit broke out once more,
Enhanced by the Situationists’ declaration
That it was the revolution’s job to serve poetry
Not the job of poetry to serve the revolution.
And now interconnected activists
Tuned to a global brain
Can operate horizontally, without leaders,
To derail the hierarchical train
That drives a system dominated by oligarchs –
The corporate oligarchs of the one per cent –
Whose wealth spawns the tent-cities of the homeless
And who rule with no one’s consent.
And where property prices guarantee that the poor
Find themselves economically cleansed;
Where the disabled are deliberately disconnected
And the animal kingdom’s condemned.
The idea of revolution is essentially poetic,
Coming out of the soul like a rocket,
From something within that’s barbaric and wild –
To make the most exciting thing on the planet.
Like poetry, revolution gives you permission
To live on a higher level
And its reward is the sensation of challenging
The world, the flesh and the devil.
Stop Wars - Heathcote Williams
War’s devastation lets landscapes go to ruin. Air is defiled by dust and rank adrenalin. Stop Wars by Heathcote Williams. Narration & video by Alan Cox.Source: International Times
All war is a symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal.”
– John Steinbeck
One in eight babies is born in a war zone,
Its consciousness seized by toxic shock.
First made aware of life by an act of love
The flow of love, due to war, is blocked.
A mother’s milk dries up through anxiety.
Farmland fought over leads to famine.
War’s devastation lets landscapes go to ruin.
Air is defiled by dust and rank adrenalin.
With no haven in war’s psychotic maelstroms,
People are shot at random to see them fall.
It’s forbidden to kill yet war issues permission
Like an evil clown grinning, ‘Death’s a ball!’
War has been obsolete for thousands of years,
Yet the irrational still promote the deadly addiction
For state bullyboys with their territorial imperatives,
Spurning co-operation for low-minded competition.
‘Give me that. You can’t play with that. That’s mine.
‘I won’t be your friend if you don’t do what I want.’
Such playground motives lurk beneath realpolitik
As warmongers pretend self-interest’s irrelevant.
With serpentine hypocrisy they’re ‘humanitarians’
And it’s due to their ‘humanitarian’ instincts
That they vaporize babies with Brimstone missiles,
And that their enemies are swatted like insects.
Both Blue and Red Tories and the Yellow Lib Dems
Believe murder’s permissible in a ‘just war’.
They lack the moral imagination with which to see
It’s unjustified to bury human beings in gore.
In the words of Sun Tzu, “the supreme act of war
“Is to subdue the enemy without fighting” –
Since most wars end with each side’s negotiating
War itself may be substituted for talking.
And just as it’s a contradiction to have a civil war,
Since war is essentially uncivil,
The notion of a just war is equally specious
For war hands over justice to the devil.
Anarchy - 'NAMELESS WILDNESS' by Heathcote Williams.
Some earlier posts :-
The Citizen's Arrest of War Criminal Tony Blair - Heathcote Williams
Royal Babylon by Heathcote Williams (rough cut)
An Iraqi child asks Tony Blair and George Bush: Are you happy now? - Heathcote Williams
IHow the ISIS theatre of murder was born - Heathcote Williams
International Times Archives:-