‘Natural troublemaker' – filmmaker and poet, Tom Joseph

Wednesday, 26th August 2015

Published: 26 August, 2015

FILM maker and poet Tom Joseph was a “natural troublemaker” and once a well known face of Camden’s counter-culture scene.

Described as a “radical provocateur”, he died on June 27 aged 71. But many say he is lucky to have survived as long he did.

A big drinker and the notorious “life and soul of the party”, he was banned from nearly every pub in Camden.

Also, no stranger to near-death experiences, he once jumped out of a window, a human fireball, after he set fire to his room after falling asleep drunk with a cigarette.

He was born in Richmond on November 27 1943 into a political family. 

Both his parents were journalists. His father, Noel Joseph, worked for the News Chronicle and his mother Tish, a Communist, for The Times.

Tom’s sister Anthea Joseph was part of the folk world of the 1960s, running the Troubadour club, and acting as a minder to Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and later Nick Drake.

He struggled to walk as a child after developing polio, but made up for it by walking everywhere after his recovery.

Friends say Tom had “the most incredible brain”. Countless hours spent in libraries meant he always knew the story behind the story and could tell you the alternative history behind most establishment wealth in London. 

His biggest project revolved around exposing the secrets of the gun, slave and drugs trade. He made a promo documentary called A Gentleman’s Trade exploring the story of the East India Trading Company and the opium trade. 

Tom was well respected in art and literary circles. He worked for some time as a book runner for bookseller Ben Weinreb and later ran a stall inherited from him, dealing in many rare first edition books. 

He had an amazing knowledge of music and street culture from the 1960s to the 1990s and often helped others do well in academia. Despite often joking about his third class degree from Swansea, he was mostly self-taught.

He was invited to address the Black Panthers at the invitation of civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael during the Congress of the Dialectics of Liberation at the Camden Roundhouse in 1967.

Despite his natural abilities and others’ will for him to succeed, Tom, who lived in Mornington Terrace, would “self-sabotage” whenever opportunity came along. Described as “remarkable person”, many say he was his own worst enemy. One friend said: “He was a notorious face around Camden, picking up waifs and strays and taking them under his wing.”

His stepson Joe Hanson said many people had tried to “save” Tom over the years, such as Joe’s mother Anna, but he “made this impossible”. And though he was “fearless,” with a mind like no other, he was also “reckless”. 

There were many stories about Tom’s antics, such as when he tried, unsuccessfully, to perform a citizen’s arrest on Chile’s dictator Augusto Pinochet while he was in London, and that he was once friends with Jimi Hendrix. 

His stepson also recalled another piece of Thomas Joseph legend, when he was arrested by armed police officers in Camden Town while drunkenly brandishing an air pistol, practising a scene from an IRA documentary he wanted to make.

A Japanese artist named Fuji has recently published a photographic book of Tom, capturing his personality and striking look, among friends around Camden. He leaves behind three children. 

His friendships and collaborations influenced many now successful entrepreneurs, artists and academics who attended his funeral.


Related Articles