State Oppression: Memories of the Cambridge Garden House Riot

Wormwood Scrubs Prison10:08 Friday 25th March 2011
Mid-Morning Show BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: We are talking about the protest march against the cuts tomorrow, and if you think it’s really worth protesting. We’ve been talking about it all morning. Is it worth putting on your fur-lined sheepskin jacket and your red beret? (MUSIC-CITIZEN SMITH) Joining me is Rod Caird, who did just that as a young undergraduate 40 years ago. He went from Cambridge University to Wormwood Scrubs, after taking part in a student demo that got way out of hand. And, Rod, it affected the rest of your life, didn’t it?
ROD CAIRD: Yes it did, and I wasn’t wearing trainers or a red beret or a fur-lined jacket.
PAUL STAINTON: (LAUGHS) .. What were you demonstrating against?
ROD CAIRD: It was a demonstration against the miliotary dictatorship in Greece.
PAUL STAINTON: Not many people will remember that, will they, the junta that was in charge?
ROD CAIRD: No they won’t.
PAUL STAINTON: Give us a bit of a history lesson.
ROD CAIRD: There was a thankfully fairly short-lived takeover of Greece by what became known as the Greek Colonels, who ran an extremely hostile intolerant repressive regime for four or five years, in the late ’60s, early ’70s. It was a cause celebre around the time. And the particular reason for protests in Cambridge was that in an act of stupifying insensitivity, the local travel agent, with the support of the Greek embassy, ran something called Greek Week, to encourage tourism in Greece. And in the late ’60s, when students were in any event very sensitive to international politics, apartheid was at its height in South Africa, the Vietnam War was on, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, to encourage tourism to what was at that point one of the nastiest places on the planet, was just an absurd thing to do. And we ran, I say we, I use the term loosely, the students ran a series of pieces of publicity and protest throughout that week.
PAUL STAINTON: Now you Rod took part in what became infamously known as The Garden House Riot.
ROD CAIRD: Yes that’s right. The word riot is tricky really, because it was labelled as a riot because we were charged with riotous assembly. So it was one of those circular arguments. Yes, the culmination of Greek Week was a dinner at the Garden House Hotel.
PAUL STAINTON: Which is, for people that don’t know Cambridge, just explain.
ROD CAIRD: It’s very nice actually, a very nice hotel on the river near Queens where I was a student.
ROD CAIRD: It’s different now. It was burnt down very sadly. But ..
PAUL STAINTON: You sound sad.
ROD CAIRD: It was very sad. It was burnt down in a different incident obviously. A very nice hotel indeed. The Tourist Authority organised a dinner at the hotel to promote holidays in Greece. And Cambridge society was invited. And we went along to protest, and make our feelings known, and explain the situation about the repression in Greece, and the abuses of human rights etcetera, etcetera. And as you say, and I think the phrase “the demonstrating got out of hand” is quite a good one, because the demonstration did get completely out of hand.
PAUL STAINTON: You were arrested.
ROD CAIRD: I was arrested on the night.
PAUL STAINTON: And then jailed. And you went to Wormwood Scrubs.
PAUL STAINTON: And this was the beginning of a complete change in your life, wasn’t it?
ROD CAIRD: Yes it was. Yes. That wasn’t the plan. I was in my last year at Cambridge at the time, and I had ideas about what I might be doing with my life. But none of them included going to jail for a year.
PAUL STAINTON: And did any of them include playing the bagpipes?
ROD CAIRD: Yes, that’s been a long-running subplot in my life. You weren’t allowed them in jail, unfortunately.
PAUL STAINTON: So how did your life change then? You were in Wormwood Scrubs. Did you have an epiphany?
ROD CAIRD: No I didn’t. It’s an odd thing, because at the time I suppose I was fairly blase about it. Obviously we were all angry at what happened, and we felt that we hadn’t done anything nearly as wrong as that, nearly as bad as to justify being sent to jail for it. And there is a separate debate to be had about that. We didn’t feel that the system had treated us right, that way.
PAUL STAINTON: So at what point did your life change?
ROD CAIRD: Well it does close down a lot of things to you.
PAUL STAINON: Going to jail?
ROD CAIRD: Yes. It really does. I did Arabic at university, and my plan originally was to go into journalism abroad. But you can’t very well start applying to the traineeships at Reuters and places like that, and when it gets to the part “where have you been for the last year” and you say “well actually I’ve been in jail”, it doesn’t really work. That does not work.
PAUL STAINTON: So what did you do?
ROD CAIRD: I wrote a book about it, that was the first thing that I did. And then I started doing freelance writing, and freelance TV work. And then I got a job at Granada TV, in about 1977 was when I first started a full-time job there. I’ve had an absolutely terrific career in television and journalism, and have enjoyed myself and done a lot of very interesting things that I feel very comfortable about. But, it remains the case that it kicks a hole in your life, doing something like that. And it’s not just about your career, and professional life, and all that sort of stuff. It had a very big effect indeed on my parents, who were not expecting this to be happening at all. And that’s something that I still feel very unconfortable about.
ROD CAIRD: On a personal level yes, because the level of shock that that presented to them was probably beyond anything that was reasonable. I think that’s a very tricky thing to deal with.
PAUL STAINTON: Is it a strange juxtaposition for you though, that you feel guilty on one hand, but you’re still pleased that you did what you did?
ROD CAIRD: Oh yes. I feel completely comfortable about that. I feel completely confortable about going to the demonstration and taking part in the demonstration. The cause was right. It was a completely justifiable protest. It wasn’t a masterpiece of organisation, that is absolutely clear. And people did get a bit carried away, and there were a lot of stupid things done. But a rap on the knuckles, fair enough.
PAUL STAINTON: Would you still encourage other people to demonstrate, like tomorrow, the TUC march?
ROD CAIRD: Yes. Because if you don’t make your voice heard, nothing ever happens. I think it’s essential to make your voice heard. I think there are loads of causes that you simply must not keep quiet about. That’s all absolutely fine. And I think there’s a very interesting area as well, which is where people say, well you’re entitled to demonstrate, but of course you’ve got to stay on the right side of the law. And we expect people to behave properly. True, but bear in mind always that the law is a very interesting animal, and it’s not necessarily a black and white situation as to whether you’re on the right side of the law or thewrong side of the law.
PAUL STAINTON: And you never know which way it’s going to go.
ROD CAIRD: Well you don’t really know which wasy it’s going to go, and you don’t know that people are going to pop up withg a new charge. We didn’t know about riotous assembly, or unlawful assembly. Those pieces of law had not been used for years and years and years, until they were used against us. So what you might think might be within the law, isn’t always necessarily within the law.
PAUL STAINTON: So if you are going to demonstrate, be careful, know the pitfalls.
ROD CAIRD: (LAUGHS) Think about it.
PAUL STAINTON: You might end up with a great job in television, playing the bagpipes like you.
ROD CAIRD: Yes. Absolutely.
PAUL STAINTON: After a spell in Wormwood Scrubs.
ROD CAIRD: Absolutely.
PAUL STAINTON: Rod, lovely to talk to you this morning.
ROD CAIRD: And you.
PAUL STAINTON: Really interesting. Rod Caird, who as a young undergraduate 40 years ago took part in a demo against the Greek Junta, and ended up going to Worwood Scrubs, and then a great job in TV, and playing the bagpipes. Protest completely changed his life.

Rod Caird is the Bealings Bagpiper.