Just saw the news that the legendary Harry Belafonte has died. He was the subject of one of my favourite stories I was told while researching my last book. It’s fucking hilarious. It also reveals the extent to which he was a progressive activist as well as a gifted singer. I shall be eternally in Ian Clayton’s debt after he shared with me not only the story, but also the means of verifying it.
American singer Harry Belafonte wrote to Arthur Scargill to say that he was coming to England and would like to meet up. Arthur invited Harry and his wife to come and stay with him and Ann Scargill. Before he arrived, Arthur went to the Swaithe Working Men’s Club in Monkspring, near Barnsley, to ask if the Concert Secretary would like to have Harry Belafonte sing a few songs. The Concert Secretary thought for a bit and said, “Ooh! I’m not sure about that Arthur. I’ve got plenty of top turns booked up well in advance. I can’t just make exceptions at the drop of a hat. Arrabella who, did tha say?”
There’s only one question in my mind the first time Ian Clayton tells me this story. I think you can guess what it is. How the hell did Harry Belafonte know Arthur Scargill, and why did he want to come and stay with him?
“The Scargills were guests of Fidel Castro at the 11th World Festival of Youth and Students in Cuba in 1978, explains Ian. “While they were there Arthur sat with the dignitaries; Joshua Nkomo, Yasser Arafat, who was carrying a silver pistol, and Harry Belafonte, who was there as some sort of cultural ambassador. Ann went swimming with Belafonte and his wife every morning. Arthur tells a brilliant story about how at the closing ceremony they were all sat close together on a podium. He leaned over to Belafonte and said ‘It’s to be hoped if any snipers are thinking of having a pot at Fidel today, that they’re a good shot!’”
The paperback of Clubland is published on 8th June.