top of page

The Partisan Coffee House: Radical Soho and the New Left

The Partisan Coffee House returns to Soho.

Founded in 1958 by radical historian Raphael Samuel, cultural theorist Stuart Hall and others, The Partisan was located at the centre of Soho’s coffee bar scene. Promoting itself as an ‘anti-espresso bar’, the Partisan was an earnest departure from the tawdry commercialism of the coffee bars, amidst the burgeoning youth culture of Soho’s streets.

This exhibition documents and celebrates the fascinating, yet little-known moment in post-war British political and cultural history. It brings together a series of photographs by renowned documentary photographer Roger Mayne, with materials drawn from the work of renowned letterpress printer Desmond Jeffery, graphic artist Germano Facetti, and the archive of Raphael Samuel.

Being the spiritual home of the British New Left, the Partisan was closely linked with the radical journal Universities and Left Review (later New Left Review), the Partisan embraced the burning political and cultural issues of the day, from the Aldermaston anti-nuclear marches to the politics of the novel.

In its short existence, it staged debates, film screenings, art exhibitions, skiffle and folk music nights which drew in leading writers, artists and intellectuals including Doris Lessing, Raymond Williams, John Berger, Eric Hobsbawm, Karel Reisz and Lindsey Anderson.

Roger Mayne (1920–2014) Roger Mayne is a vital figure in British photography, best known for his images of West London street scenes in the 1950–60s, which captured both a way of life under threat and the emergence of the first generation to be identified as “teenagers”.

Mayne was an impassioned artist and critic of convention: an individual who refused to be bound by expectations, championing photography as a serious and liberated art practice, pushing against the strictures of the documentary form, experimenting with abstraction and injecting social realism with a subjective humanitarian perspective.

Germano Facetti (1928–2006) Born in Milan in 1928, and moved to London in 1950, Germano Facetti worked with several publishing houses, influencing the success of graphic design and publishing in England. His work as Art Director of Penguin Books changed the face of the publishing house whilst developing the best of 1960s graphic design.

Desmond Jeffery (1926 – 1974) Desmond Jeffery was a letterpress printer and typography teacher in London and Suffolk. His Marylebone Lane workshop created an array of unique publicity including invitations to the opening of the Partisan, menus, lists of paintings displayed for sale on the Partisan walls and other materials. Jeffery is now recognised as one of the foremost typographers of the last century. Mike Berlin Mike Berlin teaches the social and cultural history of London at Birkbeck, University of London.

Curated by Mike Berlin in collaboration with The Photographers’ Gallery, this exhibition will also feature original material, film clips, oral histories, and an accompanying public talks programme.

With thanks to the Mary Evans Picture Library, Katkin Tremayne, the Bishopsgate Institute Library, Four Corners Gallery, New Left Review and The Barry Amiel & Norman Melburn Trust.

Full content on:

0 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page