On 28th March 1980, a queue of mostly black people queueing to see a film outside the Odeon cinema in Woolwich, south-east London, were attacked by around 100 British Movement skinheads.
The skinhead gang had marched in military formation down the High Street clutching iron bars, knives, staves, pickaxe handles and clubs, having spent two days planning their attack.
The British Movement was an openly nazi organisation which concentrated in street violence, and racist attacks. The British Movement “unit” involved in the Woolwich attack had already acquired a reputation for brutal racist violence thanks to its charismatic young local organiser, Nicky Crane. 6ft 2in tall, covered with Nazi tattoos, Crane was to become a leading light of far-right politics in London throughout the 1980s.
The Woolwich Odeon attack of 1980 was described by a prosecutor at the Old Bailey as a “serious, organised and premeditated riot”. After their intended victims fled inside, the skinheads drilled by Crane began smashing the cinema’s doors and windows, the court was told. A Pakistani man was knocked unconscious in the melee and the windows of a nearby pub were shattered with a pickaxe handle.
In 1981 Crane was given a suspended sentence for this attack. But it was only one of a series of racist attacks locally Crane had been involved with. Later in 1981 he was jailed for four years for his part in an ambush on black youths at Woolwich Arsenal station. Crane and other British Movement activists had waited at Woolwich Arsenal train station and attacked a train of black passengers as it arrived, killing two of them. As the judge handed down the sentence, an acolyte standing alongside Crane stiffened his arm into a Nazi salute and shouted “sieg heil” from the dock.
After his release, Crane soon began providing security for the white power skinhead band Skrewdriver, and remained associated with the band and its leader, Ian Stuart Donaldson, for the rest of the decade, designing two of the band’s album covers and writing the lyrics for the song “Justice” on the LP Hail the New Dawn. He was jailed again in 1986 for six months following a fight on an Underground train. In 1987, he was instrumental in setting up the neo-Nazi network Blood and Honour with Donaldson.
However, Crane was hiding a secret life from his nazi mates – he was gay, and was leading a double life in the London gay scene, even serving as a steward at the London gay pride march in 1986. He was a regular at London gay clubs such as Heaven, Bolts and the Bell pub. At various times, Crane had worked as a bin man, bicycle courier, and a doorman at an S&M club. He worked for a protection agency, and shrugged off any connection with the London gay scene as just part of his security work (or beat the shit out of anyone who raised the issue). He also appeared in the video Unclean for contraversialist wankers Psychic TV, and in amateur gay porn films while still a neo-Nazi activist. In January 1990, Crane was given a hiding and pushed under a bus by anti-fascists in Kilburn, when he was spotted hanging around near a Troops Out Bloody Sunday march (an event regularly threatened by Nazis at that time). (Sadly your past tense correspondent only turned up in time to see him carted off in an ambulance). Three AFA activists were jailed for 3-4 years each for this attack. This may well have marked the end of Crane’s involvement with the far right, as there is little record of any activity after this… The conflict between his sexuality and his politics seems to have been getting to him…
In July 1992, Crane admitted his homosexuality on the Channel 4 programme Out. He was immediately disowned by his Nazi associates, including Ian Stuart Donaldson, who said he felt “betrayed”. The same month, the UK newspaper The Sun ran an article on him entitled ‘Nazi Nick is a Panzi’, and included a picture of Crane with his face snarling at camera, head shaved bald, braces worn over his bare torso, faded jeans, white-laced boots and brandishing an axe. Some 18 months later, Crane was dead from AIDS.
There is a lot more on Nicky Crane at: http://antifascistarchive.org/tag/blood-honour/
An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online