Keable Bill

Bill Keable

William George Keable was born in 1903 in Limehouse East London, the eldest child of six of a father who was a postman and a mother who was a shirt-maker. His grandmother had been a suffragette.

He won a scholarship to grammar school but had to leave on his fourteenth birthday owing to family poverty. Perhaps to compensate for the cessation of learning he began studying Esperanto in 1917, going to his first night school class on the subject in 1926. (Esperanto is the still moderately-widely spoken international language, invented in 1887, the name of which derives from the words for “one who hopes”. The language has often been associated with support for peace and international understanding.)

The young Bill now worked in a cigar factory and a grocer's shop before obtaining a position as a shorthand-typist and clerk in a City merchant's office, which he kept for thirteen years.

In this period, he began involvement in the trade union and socialist movements. Subsequently, as Limehouse Labour Party Ward Chairman and a member of General Management Committee, he represented Limehouse and moved its resolutions at the national Labour Party Conference in Margate in 1926.

He was also a member of the Independent Labour Party’s Limehouse Branch and its delegate to the ILP East London federation.  Bill Keable initiated and produced the ‘Limehouse Labour Record’ and became a public speaker on street corners. He regularly attended both ILP and Labour Party Summer Schools in the 1920s.

But Bill Keable joined the Communist Party in February 1928, becoming a member in the Stepney branch. A candidate in the Borough Council elections in his own ward later that year, he obtained 84 votes. Two of Bill Keable's sisters – Mabel (O'Farrell) and Jessie (Ritman) followed him into the Party in the thirties and became well known in their own fields – Mabel as full-time Party worker.

Bill Keable became a Branch Secretary of the National Union of Clerks (later APEX, now part of GMB) in 1929 and was later the Chair of the Central London Branch. He represented NUC on the Walthamstow, Shoreditch and the London Trades Councils.

He was made redundant from his job in the City a year after the 1929 slump began. A short spell in unemployment saw him become active in the National Unemployed Workers Movement when he joined the Communist Party. He was briefly employed as a book-keeper until he was invited to join the staff of the Daily Worker in 1934. He was responsible for the Advertisement Department until the outbreak of war in 1939, except for a short spell as a cashier. He was director of Keable (Press) Ltd, publisher of the Daily Worker, a device to divert legal challenges away from the Party.

He married Gladys (see separate entry for Gladys Keable) in June 1930, having met her at the ILP Summer School in 1927, when she was only 17 years old and still a student at Art School.  The fact that Gladys was fluent in Esperanto and already knew the major activists in the British Esperanto movement, having begun to learn it when she was 13 years old, no doubt aided the flowering of a romance. The couple developed what Bill called a “fruitful political partnership” over the next four decades, with most of their Party activities being carried out in close association.

The couple became leaders of the pre-war British Labour Esperanto Association (BLEA). Bill was Editor of its journal, Ruga Esperantisto (Red Esperantist), and chief theoretician and Gladys was National Organiser. They were foundation members of the International of Proletarian Esperantists at a Berlin Congress in 1932; later Gladys became the IPE International Secretary. In its short existence the BLEA membership reached about four hundred, 90% of whom were manual  workers, builders, miners, railwaymen, tailors, furniture workers, and so on.

Bill was Organiser for the Tottenham Communist Party Branch, two years later moving to Shoreditch Branch. On becoming well-known in London as a "Party speaker", he also taught speakers' classes and wrote the Notes for Communist Speakers Classes. Like many younger Communists in the 1930s, he was active in street meetings against the Blackshirts.

In 1939, he was appointed London & Southern Counties Organiser of the Daily Worker Readers’ Leagues. 

This job went to one side once he was called up in 1941 to serve in the National Fire Service, during the course of which he became a Branch Chair of the Fire Brigades Union. He formed a Party group in his own fire station and gave lectures on the Soviet Union at fire stations in blitz-torn London under an official discussion groups’ scheme. Injured in the line of duty, Keable was discharged after six months’ sick leave and allowed to return to the Daily Worker Advertisements Department.

After a short period, he went into a war industry, working in production engineering where he formed a Party branch and was active in the AEU. He was a member of the Joint Organising Committee of the three Hackney AEU branches and AEU delegate to Hackney Trades Council.

He became a member of The National Society of Operative Printers and Assistants (NATSOPA) when a Daily Worker Chapel was formed.

The couple had three boys together, all of whom were politically involved at some point.

In 1947 the Keables jointly led a tenants’ Strike of Stoke Newington Council Tenants, and in 1952 a school strike at Debden, Loughton, which resulted in a concession to build a school on the new estate one year ahead of schedule.

Bill was employed for a period by Hackney Borough Council and joined NUPE but in his later years he worked as a free-lance salesman and agent.

Bill kept up and developed active connections with leading Esperantists in East European socialist states and, in 1972, this culminated in a personal invitation from the Central Committee of the  Bulgarian Esperantist  Association  to  attend their  38th Annual  Congress. The event involved over a thousand delegates and the proceedings were conducted entirely in  Esperanto. 

An article he wrote for the Party’s weekly journal, Comment, led to  report to the Party EC and the establishment of a Party Esperantist group, which produced a dozen issues of a bulletin from 1972 to 1980.

Bill Keable died in 1994.

Source: Bill Keable undated typescript in CP History Group Archives; CP Esperanto group bulletins.

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