A new book claiming to offer the definitive history of the Notting Hill Carnival has been launched ahead of this year’s festivities.
Written by prominent Black-British publisher Margaret Busby and campaigning documentary filmmaker Ishmahil Blagrove Jr, the book tells the story of how Notting Hill Carnival developed from a local street fête in one of London’s most deprived and racially tense areas into Europe’s largest and most celebrated street festival.
“There are so many conflicting narratives about the Notting Hill Carnival,” said co-author Ishmahil Blagrove. “We’ve spent the last two years doing extensive research to find out how the Carnival really began.”
The book, which he describes as a ‘photographic testimonial history’ uses a mixture of photographs and interviews with many of the original organisers to tell the complex history of the carnival.
Contrary to what has become the prevailing history - that Carnival was started by a Trinidadian born journalist and political activist called Claudia Jones in 1959 - the book shows how the modern carnival dates from the mid 1960s.
It also says how Carnival was the brainchild of an East End born social worker called Rhaune Laslett.
Rhaune Laslett, who was of native American and Russian descent, took an active part in addressing the racial tension which was prevalent in Notting Hill at the time and helped run a number of community projects in the area.
The idea to set up a carnival, Mr Blagrove said, came to Laslett ‘in a vision — a ‘hamblecha’, as it is known among Native Americans — in which she saw people of all races dancing together in the streets.”
Ms Laslett was supported by a number of people who helped the first carnival take place, including well-known Trinidadian musician Russell Henderson whose band was the first to play the steel pipes at Carnival.
As well as interviews with many of the people who helped set up Carnival, the book also features dozens of photographs from the very first Notting Hill Carnivals.
Many of these were provided by Mr Blagrove’s father, Allan ‘Capitan’ Thornehill who played an active part in early Carnivals.
He worked as a security guard and protected various international celebrities who attended, including Mohammed Ali, Nina Simone and Malcolm X.
“At the same time as he was working for them, he always had his camera with him because he was something of a budding photographer,” Mr Blagrove said.
He believes the book’s mixture of authentic photographs and testimony by the early organisers of the carnival offers the most comprehensive history of the carnival, but says it could not have happened without the joint work of many people.
“This book was done by the community. I just coordinated it . The community allowed it to happen”, he added.