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Popular Politics and Popular Culture in the Age of the Masses

Studies in Lancashire and the North West of England, 1880s to 1930s


Jeffrey Hill

The book is a selection of essays from the author’s work since the early 1980s. It presents an analysis of political and cultural trends based upon a series of case studies drawn from the North West of England, covering mainly the years between the Third Reform Act (1884) and the outbreak of the Second World War. The region was a heavily industrialized one, seen by many as in the vanguard of changes that gave rise to what is often referred to as ‘modern’ society. In politics the emergence in North West England of a new labour consciousness is plainly evident, but so too is the survival and adaptation of older political allegiances, notably popular Toryism. The region is also renowned in cultural terms for the emergence of modern sport, examined here in relation to both association football and cricket. Keenly aware of the general political, social and cultural developments in Britain and elsewhere during these years, the author is also alert to their impact in particular localities. The theme of locality has been a recurring one in the author’s research, and the composition of this book reflects his changing approaches to it and to other, related issues of identity.
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Chapter Eight: A Hero in the Text: Race, Class and Gender Narratives in the Life of Learie Constantine


← 178 | 179 → CHAPTER EIGHT

The Trinidadian cricketer Learie Constantine started out as a national hero in the diverse and fragmented society of the colonial West Indies in the 1920s. In the 1930s he acquired hero status in Nelson, Lancashire. After the Second World War, when his career as a player had ended, he became a representative figure for an idea of racial harmony and integration that was closely associated with the new Commonwealth and the move towards independence in the colonies. After a brief spell in politics in Trinidad in the 1950s he returned to England in 1962 as his country’s High Commissioner, an appointment which served as the prelude to a succession of public honours bestowed on him during the course of the decade. It culminated in the award of a life peerage in 1969, a couple of years before his death.1 By this time Constantine had, over some forty years, bridged several worlds: colonial and metropolitan, local and national, working class and middle ← 179 | 180 → class, black and white. In contrast to most black people of his era, many of them well-loved sportsmen, Constantine’s success in a climate of racial prejudice and hostility, seems both exceptional and praiseworthy. How might it be explained?

‘The movements of Constantine in the field are strange, almost primitive, in their pouncing voracity and unconscious beauty, a dynamic beauty, not one of smooth curves and relaxations.’2 It was Neville Cardus, a writer ever alert to the mythic dimension of...

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