John Sperni was mayor of the St Pancras municipal Borough during the 1930s. He began life as an impoverished Italian immigrant, but slowly worked his way up through the construction industry until he was eventually elected mayor. The year was fairly successful but after only a short while cracks began to appear. Sperni came to odds with the members of his party (the Conservatives) and became viewed with suspicion as holding fascists views.
Robin Woolven recounts the context in which Sperni lived and worked in local politics. Part of his source material is the diary of Anthony Heap who, himself, had fascist leanings (although he was never a member). Heap recorded many of the encounters with Sperni and the views of other councillors. Another source is a large file held by MI5 on Sperni revealing early concerns that he could be a problem. Not only was he Italian born and a potential fascist, but accusations were rife about corruption both when he had worked in the construction industry and as his time as Mayer. During the Second World War, Sperni was arrested as a potential undesirable alien. After 21 months internment, Sperni won his freedom, but the Advisary committee were far from convinced by any of the claims that he had made in his defence. Sperni’s attempt to place all the blame on his son, for example – who had since escaped to Rome – failed when it was shown that he did in fact have contact with him (something which Sperni had denied). This podcast is a look, then, at the brief career of John Sperni and the wider context of British concerns about alien nationals within London.