As a long-time reader of the work of Iain Sinclair, and an admirer of the work of novelist and filmmaker Chris Petit (his novel Robinson is one of the best London fictions out there), I have been aware of The Cardinal and the Corpse for about fifteen years, never with the opportunity to watch it. Until now, as someone has finally uploaded the whole thing to YouTube.

The fictional documentary is ostensibly about a search for a magical book that holds the key to an area of eat London (Alan Moore leads the search, fully bearded and doing his best attempt at acting), and a Sexton Blake detective novel The Cardinal and the Corpse, which may have been written by Flann O’Brien. At least that’s what I think is going on. In reality it’s Sinclair and Petit filming their mates and writers they find interesting in seductively shabby parts of a London now vanished. It’s an unfortunately (and overwhelmingly) male bunch, and there’s an odd amount of romanticising East End gangsters too, something familiar to anyone who has read Sinclair’s books. I’ll be charitable and say: it was 1992.

However, the film is of great interest as it features onscreen some writers (many deceased) whose work I love – Derek Raymond (I Was Dora Suarez), Emanuel Litvinoff (Journey Through a Small Planet), Alan Moore, Michael Moorcock – as well as interesting figures like David Seabrook (All the Devils Are Here), Brian Catling, Martin Stone and the semi-mythic (and intensely irritating) rare book dealer Driffield, who turned out to be a rather unsavoury character.

The biggest thrill for me was seeing the late Alexander Baron, who died in 1999, discussing Hackney and how even after he’d left it to move to Golders Green, he returned to walk the streets as ‘a kind of ghost haunting the whole borough’. Having been on Backlisted Podcast this year to discuss his phenomenal 1963 novel, The Lowlife, I would say he haunts Hackney still.

You can watch it here.

C4, 1992 (this rpt 25/01/1998): "Exec-produced by Keith Griffiths, producer of Radio On, The Cardinal and the Corpse marks the beginning of Petit's loose partnership with writer Iain Sinclair. There's a nod towards narrative here involving a book-search launched by graphic novelist Alan Moore and a dealer (the dapper but barking Driffield), but it's little more than an excuse to showcase a number of authors and other miscreants.


‘He reads on the brickwork: “NF FUCKS MEN”. And is not displeased.”
– Iain Sinclair, Suicide Bridge


 As readers of my work will know, I have a long-standing interest in British subcultures, especially those that sprang from the original punk and skinhead movements in London. I read a lot of literature on the subject; anyone looking for books that deal well with this stuff, I would recommend Stewart Home’s mashups of genre theory and Richard Allen-style pulp (books like Defiant Pose and Red London), John King’s novels, Human Punk and Skinheads, Robert Sproat’s title story from the collection Stunning the Punters, and the work of Laura Oldfield Ford.

Despite being published in 2010, I only heard about Max Schaefer’s novel Children of the Sun (Granta) very recently, when I was re-reading a 2013 BBC article about the notorious and feared far-right skinhead Nicky Crane. The title of the piece was, The secret double life of a gay neo-Nazi. A fascinating hypocrisy, and the core contradiction that fuels Schaefer’s intriguing, and at times brilliant, novel. To me, it’s glaringly obvious that the hyper-masculine world of far-right skinheads has a homoerotic component, but this is an idea that fascism necessarily cannot support.

Children of the Sun focuses on Tony, a closeted neo-Nazi skinhead and his life from 1970 up into the nineties – via racist attacks, prison stretches, Skrewdriver and Brutal Attack gigs, battles with AFA, and clandestine homosexual encounters in dank London toilets – and James, a middle-class gay guy in the mid-noughties fascinated by Nicky Crane and the fascist skin subculture, who gets sucked into the swamp of neo-Nazi imagery and the often bizarre occult theories running through it.

The novel spends a lot of time in dark and murky areas, and with unpleasant characters. Ian Stuart – founder of explicitly racist band Skrewdriver and the Blood & Honour group – appears frequently, as do politicians like Nick Griffin, and even Savitri Devi. Devi, for what it’s worth, is the woman who believed Hitler was an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu bringing on the Kali Yuga. Obviously.

I was aware of much of this history prior to reading the book, and am sadly all too aware of the legacy of fascist punk and skinhead bands that continues to this day. So the book isn’t for everyone, but essential for anybody interested in the hidden, violent and often strange history of the battles between the far-right and the anti-fascist movement in Britain.

For anyone interested in delving a bit deeper into this stuff, I would recommend reading Stewart Home’s analysis of the Oi! scene here:

And the deeply unpleasant Skrewdriver here:

Both are chapters from his book Cranked Up Really High: Punk Rock and Genre Theory, made available on his website.

For information on Savitri Devi and her batshit Nazi-Hindu beliefs, I’d recommend this radio documentary:

For a fascinating, fair and measured approach to skinhead culture, Don Letts’ BBC Four documentary is essential.