Veteran actor John Hurt told today how he believed former British politician Enoch Powell’s views on immigration were misunderstood.
Powell caused a storm in the 1960s with his famous “rivers of blood” speech in which he warned of racial tensions in the UK.
But in an interview published in Radio Times, Hurt – famed for films such as Alien and The Elephant Man – said he did not believe the politician was being “racist”.
Hurt is soon to be seen in a BBC4 production of The Alan Clark Diaries playing the eponymous MP who also had colourful views on immigration – he once said immigrants should be sent back to “bongo bongo land”.
The actor – who calls himself a “new liberal” – said both politicians stuck to their own views rather than blindly pursuing ideas which would appeal to the majority of the public.
Hurt told the magazine: “I’ve been hauled over the coals for supporting Enoch. He was another very bright man and I don’t think he was being racist about immigrants.
“I think he was just, at the time, saying ‘we can’t afford to have any more’.
“Anyway, we’ve had a heck of a lot more and in many ways we’ve handled it badly, but the minute you say something like that, people are ready to jump on you.
Powell’s initial speech in 1968 shocked the establishment and saw him banished from the Conservative shadow cabinet.
He had called from the flow of immigrants to be reduced to “negligible proportions” and called for repatriation.
His comments brought condemnation from the church and politicians, while students marched and went on strike. However, some trade unionists marched in support of his views.
Hurt told Radio Times: “I am not a Powellist – I just think people’s understanding of Powell was too glib and that people with half his intelligence were accusing him.”