EXTRAORDINARILY, his appearance in Southampton warranted neither front page consideration nor the presence of a staff photographer.
In fact, a report into his controversial rally was buried on page two under an advert for steamer cruises and alongside the announcement of the autumn programme for the Southampton Hippodrome.
Yet the appearance of Sir Oswald Mosley, founder of the British Union of Fascists, brought a remarkable crowd of more than 10,000 people to the Common in 1937, naturally not all sharing the same political views, sparking violence in what the Echo euphemistically called “exciting scenes”.
Accompanied by his notorious Blackshirt paramilitary stewards, the anti-Jewish and anti-Communist Mosley was ushered up a ladder to stand on a blue van to speak to the crowd through a loudspeaker, steadfastly ignoring the constant chorus of booing and catcalls.
His vitriolic opponents maintained a chant and hurled missiles at him, which only ceased when police arrived. He had been speaking for about 15 minutes when one man tried to clamber up the ladder to get at him, only to be pulled down.
Mosley descended for a moment but then again mounted the van before police reinforcements were called to form a cordon around him.
For a few tense moments it seemed he was trapped, but eventually the way was cleared and he was led to The Avenue, followed by a surging mob, where he was placed in an empty tram for his own safety.
Within seconds, the front window was smashed and the tram was immediately driven away, taking him to Holy Rood Church before he was taken to the South Western Hotel for refuge.
Police made five arrests, and the following week the quintet, aged between 17 and 22, appeared before the magistrates, charged with either a breach of the peace under the pioneering Public Order Act or discharging a missile to the danger of the public. Each case was heard separately.
Addressing the magistrates, prosecutor Robert Hughes underlined Britain’s respect for freedom of speech. “It is quite obvious that however much people do not want to hear certain views expressed on political or other platforms, it is part of our democracy on which we pride ourselves that we give them the right of that freedom.”
One defendant, an off-duty serviceman, was accused of trying to grab Mosley, and two were alleged to have been armed with stones. Another was said to have jumped on the front buffer of the tram.
The three who denied the charges were acquitted. The two who pleaded guilty were fined.
It was the only time Mosley addressed a major political rally in Southampton.