One of the dominant figures of the British far right for the last 50 years has died two days before he was due to appear in court charged with inciting racial hatred. John Tyndall, 71, was found at his home in Hove, West Sussex, by his wife yesterday morning after he was believed to have had a heart attack. Police said there were no suspicious circumstances involved in his death.
Tyndall, the founder of the modern British National party, was known among followers and observers of the far right for his jackboots, arrogance and dedication to Nazi racial ideals. After forming the BNP in 1982, he imposed his particular brand of doctrinaire leadership, holding marches, threatening violence and promoting openly racist policies such as the compulsory repatriation of all foreigners.
“He was one of the two or three key players in the post-war era,” said Gerry Gable, the anti-fascist campaigner who was Tyndall’s foe for much of the last 40 years. “But essentially he was a loser who never managed to see a realisation of his national socialist ideals.”
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In the last few years, under the leadership of a Cambridge graduate, Nick Griffin, the BNP has striven to present an electorally viable face. But Tyndall, who did little to dispel the view of it as a neo-nazi organisation, was a constant thorn in the side of the movement as it attempted to convince the public that it had moved away from its roots.
In the run-up to the local elections last year Tyndall was banned from speaking at a meeting and told by the new leadership: “The many photographs of you in neo-nazi uniform … are a public relations handicap for the party.”
Although he was expelled from the BNP twice, first in 2003 after criticising the new leadership and again earlier this year, Tyndall always remained an important figure. A spokesman for the BNP yesterday described him as a “great fellow who knew exactly what our movement was about” and an “excellent chap with a keen analytical mind”.
Phil Edwards, the party’s spokesman, said: “It is fair to say that he was not able to carry that forward to electoral success. It is a pity he did not just stand down. He tried to criticise the current leadership, and he should not have done that.”
Mr Edwards praised Tyndall for his talent as an orator. “He was a marvellous speaker. He could hold a room and mesmerise them, but he did not have the answer to the problems.”
It was his apparent gift for incendiary public speaking, however, that threatened to put Tyndall back into jail for the fourth time in his life. He was due in court in Leeds tomorrow charged with race hate crimes which carry a maximum sentence of seven years. Tyndall was charged together with Mr Griffin following a BBC documentary, The Secret Agent, in which an undercover reporter filmed him making a speech at a social club in Burnley. During the speech he was filmed saying: “The only thing the Africans have given us is voodoo, witchcraft and Aids.”
Tyndall first showed an interest in politics in the mid-1950s when he attended the Communist Moscow world youth festival. But a few years later he switched allegiances and joined the far-right League of Empire Loyalists, an anti-semitic organisation opposed to the end of Britain’s global influence. He went on to become a leading figure in the National Front and then broke away to form the modern BNP.
While many followers supported neo-nazi ideas, Tyndall was known for his dedication to them. Colleagues tell of an occasion in the 1960s when, after crossing the German border on the way to a nationalist meeting, he stopped at a shoe shop where he kept them waiting for an hour while he chose his first pair of genuine German jackboots.
Observers of the far right said his death would have widespread implications. “He was someone that the more hardline nationalists from the party have always looked up to and rallied around,” said Nick Lowles, from the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight. “He still had a lot of support, particularly in the north-west and parts of south London. He was the one who appealed to the racist heart of the BNP and his death means that Griffin’s grip on the party is a lot stronger.”
Tyndall’s death could also hasten what many believe is an impending split in the BNP between Griffinites and followers of Tyndall’s brand of racist nationalism. Mr Lowles said: “A new group called the National Alliance has emerged, based on disgruntled activists from Yorkshire and Burnley. It may signal the way forward for core Tyndallites in light of his death.”
While Searchlight prepares a final exploration of the views of Tyndall, his followers can turn to the latest edition of Spearhead, the magazine he had edited since 1964, for a reminder of his unsavoury extremism. Just weeks before he died, he penned a typical rant against immigrants and homosexuals and questioned whether the Serbs were really responsible for the Srebrenica massacre.
Tyndall: right and wrong
1934 Born. First politically active as a young man in the right-wing pressure group League of Empire Loyalists, led by AK Chesterton.
1957 Left to form the National Labour party. The Labour party prevented the use of this name.
1960 His party merged with the White Defence League to form the old British National party (BNP). He became deputy national organiser of this party and deputy commander of a private army set up by Colin Jordan called Spearhead, based on the Nazi “Brownshirts”. The police prosecuted Jordan, Tyndall and two others for paramilitary organising.
1962 Jailed for six months for training neo-Nazis. Left the British National party to set up the National Socialist Movement, then formed the Greater Britain Movement in 1964. Spent much of the 1960s developing his ideological programme, publishing The Authoritarian State in 1962, in which he claimed that liberal democracy needed to be replaced by authoritarianism.
1966 Jailed after being caught with a gun and bullets
1967 National Front formed; he rose to chairman when AK Chesterton resigned. Internal recriminations saw Tyndall set up first the New National Front, then changed its name to the British National party in 1982.
1986 Year in jail for conspiracy to incite racial hatred.
1990 Refused entry into the United States.
1994 Polled 9% in Dagenham byelection, east London.
1996 Offered Nick Griffin the editorship of Spearhead, his extreme rightwing magazine, and encouraged the Cambridge-educated former boxing blue to become active in the BNP.
1997 Polled 2,849 votes in Poplar and Canning Town, east London.
1999 Lost the leadership of the BNP to Nick Griffin and was expelled for being a disruptive influence.
2001 Received 642 votes as candidate for Mitcham and Morden in the general election.
2003 Tyndall and Richard Edmonds, a BNP party official, fined ?100 for displaying racist recruitment posters.
2004 Arrested on suspicion of incitement to racial hatred following a BBC documentary aired in July.
April 6, 2005 charged with using words or behaviour intended or likely to stir up racial hatred. Due to appear at Leeds crown court tomorrow.
July 19, 2005 Found dead.