Redefining Rachman

A different side to Peter Rachman is revealed

 

Whenever the name Rachman is mentioned, the first things that come to mind are greed, extortion and intimidation. The word is so engrained in such that “Rachmanism” now features in the dictionary, defined as:

 

“The exploitation of tenants of slum properties by unscrupulous landlords.”

 

“Notorious slum landlord” Peter Rachman (1920 – 1962)

Perec “Peter” Rachman (1920 – 1962) was born in Poland and the son of a Jewish dentist. He is best known for having built up a property empire of over 100 mansion blocks in London’s Westbourne Grove and Notting Hill areas in the 1950s where he evicted longstanding sitting tenants and replaced them with prostitutes and immigrants from the West Indies. Due to the relaxation of rent controls by the Conservative government in 1957 and as no other landlord was prepared to take them, he was able to charge these unfortunates whatever he wished.

 

Rachman came to public attention after the Labour MP for Paddington North, Ben Parkin (1906 – 1969), became vocal about the poor housing conditions of his tenants. Parkin coined the phrase “Rachnamism” in his quest to put a stop to the activities of “rent racketeers” and highlighted him as someone who used violence to maintain control of “his manor.” The MP even went as far as to suggest that Peter Rachman’s death was merely a ploy to distract from his activities and the result was to leave the public engrained with a belief that this landlord was a “manipulative, grasping Jew” who symbolised the moral decay of Great Britain.

 

Ben Parkin MP (1906 – 1969) on a CND march

A Radio 4 programme this week, however, highlighted an entirely different side to Rachman. In The Real Rachman – Lord of the Slums, a “barrister turned investigative reporter” named Joshua Levine suggested that those who believe Peter Rachman just to be a sordid intimidator fail to see the true persona of the man.

 

Levine’s witnesses, who number former tenants and Rachman’s biographer Shirley Green, do describe him as a “chancer” who was prepared to use the system to make money, but they also portray another side of this supposed “figure of evil’s” character.

 

Nicholas van Hoogstraten (born 1945)

One immigrant tenant stated: “He was the only one who ever did anything for us” whilst others added that Rachman was “well-liked” and “too soft to be a landlord.” He was a “benefactor” and “jolly” commented others who’d rented from him and a truly notorious modern-day landlord, Nicholas van Hoogstraten, failed to see the opportunist in Rachman at all: “It’s laughable. He had no wealth. It’s an invented moral [mission].” Rachman, equally, was defined as a man “affected” by his imprisonment in a Soviet labour camp in the Second World War by his former lover Mandy Rice-Davis and as someone who suffered true sorrow over the deaths of his family there.

 

Levine’s examination recounts how Rachman, who drove a navy blue Rolls-Royce with a white interior, was built into a symbol of corruption and moral decay. Rachman, like so many other mythical scapegoats, it turns out only died with only one conviction: parking without lights. The truth, indeed, is often stranger than fiction.

 

Listen to BBC Radio 4’s The Real Rachman – Lord of the Slums at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01ng4h3

 

Follow Joshua Levine on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/Joshua_Levine

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