On the 16th of October 1971, the Irish Solidarity Campaign organised a demonstration march in the centre of Glasgow from Blythswood Square to North Frederick Street. The demonstration was arranged officially and was supported by members throughout Scotland of different left-wing organisations, such as International Socialism and the International Marxist Group.
There were about 250 people demonstrating that day against internment and the use of British troops in Northern Ireland. The marchers gathered around lunchtime. At this time, the Rev. Jack Glass (Pastor Jack Glass, as he was known in Glasgow), of the Twentieth-Century Reformation movement in Glasgow, arrived at Blythswood Square with about 40 of his supporters to stage a counter-demonstration.
Trouble began before the Irish Solidarity supporters left Blythswood Square. Counter-demonstrators were shouting angrily at them and when a tricolour flag was raised, a man dashed out to grab the flag but the police stopped him. Then Mr. Glass went behind the ranks of the Irish sympathisers, pulled the flag free and ran off to the loud cheers of his followers.
As Mr. Glass and his supporters made their way through the streets following the Irish Solidarity demonstration, other like-minded Protestants joined them. Their numbers swelled to that of double the Irish march.
On Sauchiehall Street a volatile situation arose when the two demonstrations clashed, despite the police efforts to stop both marches following each other. Mr. Glass and his followers were marching on the pavement alongside the Irish sympathisers and ended up in front of them, while singing loyalist songs and the National Anthem and shouting anti-IRA slogans. They walked only 100 yards when the police began to edge them off the road back on to the pavement. There were more than 50 police officers on duty, who had to call for reinforcements twice.
As the march entered Renfield Street, James Cook (16, Glasgow), who was carrying one pole of a banner bearing IRA slogans, was slashed in the neck with an open razor by Brian Stewart (17, Glasgow), an apprentice electrician. Stewart was seen to draw the open razor from his pocket and severely injure Cook, causing a seven-inch wound which exposed the jugular vein.
Plain clothed Detective Inspector George Johnston (44), who was in the front of the Irish sympathisers’ march, saw what had happened and went after Brian Stewart, who had tried to run away. In the end, he caught Stewart but Johnston himself was slashed as well during a struggle in which the youth brought the razor down on the right side of D.I. Johnston’s face. The wound was four-and-a-half inches long and needed 2 stitches.
Both, James Cook and Inspector George Johnston, attended Glasgow Royal Infirmary for treatment to their injuries. Cook received 17 stitches in his neck wound and was later allowed home. D.I. Johnston’s wound wasn’t so severe and he was also discharged after treatment.
When the Irish march reached its end in North Frederick Street, the demonstrators then moved to John Street hoping to enter Strathclyde University Student Union to give their speeches but they were not heard as the police refused them entry. Further trouble came as police tried to block the Protestant’s demonstration from following the Irish one. After several minutes, police succeeded in moving Rev. Glass and his followers down John Street to the Back of the City Chambers.
Once the march was over the pro-Irish marchers dispersed, however, most of the Protestants continued with a demonstration at Glasgow’s Central Police Station to protest against the arrest of various members.
Two days after the incidents, on the 18th of October 1971, 30 men (approximately) were to appear at Glasgow Sheriff Court surrounded by the strictest security measures the building had ever seen at that date. Among them was Brian Stewart, the youth who attacked James Cook and Detective Inspector Johnston with the cut-throat razor. The rest were charge with breach of the peace.
On the 14th of December 1971, Stewart was sent to a young offender’s institution for eight years by the High Court in Glasgow. Mr. Donald Macaulay, counsel for Brian Stewart, claimed that the youth was a Protestant, that he had found the razor in Sauchiehall Street and that, as D.I. Johnston had been wearing plain clothes, Stewart thought that he was a member of the Irish demonstration.
Mr. W. Cowie, Advocate Depute, said that the incident could not be disputed as a press photographer (Ernest McLintock) had taken photos of what had happened.
The astonishing picture was taken by Scottish Daily Express photographer Ernest McLintock (25), who was working a casual shift for the Sunday Express on that Saturday. The paper could not use the photograph because the law would not permit this until the accused had been sentenced. However, The Scotsman did use two photographs taken on the day of the incident by another photographer, Allan Milligan – these photographs were published on Monday the 18th of October 1971, one photograph of the two demonstrations side by side and the other one of Constables Archie Cornes and Andrew McCulloch arresting Brian Stewart.
So it was the day after Brian Stewart received his eight-year sentence that the Scottish Daily Express published the picture of Stewart slashing at D.I. Johnston. The picture was praised at the High Court of Glasgow and described as “remarkable”, “a unique piece of instinctive professional photography”, “a pretty spectacular piece of work”. It was of much assistance both to the Crown and the public; Mr. Macaulay said: “it provided me with one of the most damming pieces of evidence any defence counsel has ever had to face in determing what action to take”, with Stewart then pleading guilty to two charges of assault.
Photographer Ernest ‘Ernie’ McLinctock, described the photo as his “best ever picture”. He also told the story of how he had captured it: “The incident happened in a flash. I saw some action among the crowd 30 yards away and focused my telephoto lens camera. Then changing lenses as I ran, made to the pavement in Renfield Street where the youth had been brought down by two uniformed constables. I was only a few feet away and again started taking pictures by the dozen, capturing all the drama of the arrest.”
Detective Inspector Johnston said: “It is thanks to the photographer’s professional skill that the exact moment of the attack was recorded. In all my time as a policeman I have never been more frightened. I was being struck with such force that my hands might have been chopped off. And I didn’t even have my baton to defend myself”.
Allan Milligan, photographer for The Scotsman, took a very similar photo to McLintock’s one – this is the photo we usually see. Some of the readers might remember having seen it in an article in a issue of ‘Skinhead Times’, as the cover of the book ‘Such Bad Company’ ( P. Harris Pub, 3 May 1982) or all over the internet.
An image caught in time synonymous with Glasgow’s ‘No Mean City’ past.
A noticeable point discovered whilst researching for this post was that none of the Scottish press state that Brian Stewart was a skinhead. This is surprising due to the time period (1971) and the attire that Stewart was wearing on the day of the incident. He was undeniably a Glasgow skinhead.
Sources: Daily Record, Scottish Daily Express, The Scotsman, Evening Times, The Herald, Glasgow Police Museum, ‘Such Bad Company’.
The Ballroom Blitz does not condone violence of any sort, it only wanted to tell the story of a very famous photograph.