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Photographic memories of East End clubbers

A chance discovery has spawned an exhibition of Brady images

    Drinks in the Brady canteen in 1968
    Drinks in the Brady canteen in 1968

    The discovery in a Clerkenwell attic of more than 1,000 pictures documenting the life of the former Brady Club in London’s East End piqued the interest of ex-member Mike Yershon.

    Along with other Brady veterans, he set about showcasing the find in an exhibition which opened this week in Aldgate.

    Featuring around 250 exhibits of photography and memorabilia from the 1940s to the 1970s, it tells the story of the youth club that defined East End Jewry.

    Brady members will act as guides for the free exhibition.

    “We were invited by Susan Andrews of the London Metropolitan University, who discovered the pictures, to go through them and we saw ourselves in them,” Mr Yershon explained.

    Among those shown in the pictorial treasure trove is Brian Gevelb — who formed a skiffle band, The Lumberjacks, during his Brady days.

    The 75-year-old said the photos had brought memories flooding back. The club had played a significant role in the development of young people and provided a diversion from the austerity of the era.

    “You can’t appreciate it unless you experienced it,” he recalled. “It was our escape. It built our confidence. It sounds cliché to say but kids today don’t have the same opportunity.”

    Carol Levene, 72, grew up in the centre as her father Yogi Mayer was its long-time youth director.

    “Because my father was a leader I got to know many people over a period of about 20 years,” she reminisced.

    “So it was easy for me to pick out people in the photos [around 70 per cent of those in the images were identified].

    “Most of the pictures are post-war.The earliest is from 1943 and they go up to 1979.

    “My father really encouraged photographs to be taken as they decorated the club.”

    Mr Gevelb said he and his clubmates were supported by Mr Mayer in their musical activities.

    “We were messing around playing tunes one day and he said we should be a band. He said he had entered us for the skiffle world championships.

    “We thought ‘what on earth is this guy doing’? We were just kids playing around — we didn’t have a clue.

    “But we came up with a name and we competed. We ended up in the final which was broadcast on BBC and we only went and won it.”

    The boys’ section dates back to 1896. A girls’ club was formed in the 1920s at which point Brady moved to premises in Hanbury Street, which were officially opened by the Duchess of York (latterly the Queen Mother).

    By the 1950s, the club was offering a wide range of services to different ages with a crèche and sections for parents, senior citizens and old boys.

    Judith Usiskin, 84, who became the girls’ club leader in 1958, believes the exhibition should serve as a “call for the revival of youth services in this country”.

    Ms Levene agrees, saying: “The value of youth services in the ‘60s was huge. It gave us our friends and our confidence. A big concern today is that young people don’t have something to belong to.

    “There is rising youth violence and gang culture.”

    Ms Usiskin recalled that “when we were in the East End it was a slum area. Brady is an example of how you can grow a community.

    “We went on to succeed. We left the area; we are doing OK.”

    At the time, the establishment of the girls’ club raised some eyebrows but most people were pleased by its introduction.

    “I wasn’t complaining,” Mr Gevelb said. “We married half of them.”

     

    The exhibition is at Calcutta House, London Metropolitan University (near Aldgate East station) until May 18

     

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