Javed Iqbal, TV Repair Man
If you are looking for TV repair in the East End, I recommend you visit Master Tech in Heneage St off Brick Lane – where, not only will the job be done expertly and at a fair price, but most importantly you will have the opportunity to meet Javed Iqbal, one of Spitalfields’ most engaging raconteurs.
Although I do not even possess a TV, I was happy to spend my Saturday morning in Javed’s shop beside his workbench and surrounded by TV spare parts, as he topped up my tea cup from his thermos flask, while I perched listening to his extraordinary monologues, covering so many areas of existence with appealing levity. There is an indomitable good humour that underscores Javed’s conversation. A buoyancy which I found especially heroic when he revealed the years of overt antipathy and threats of physical violence he has withstood – just to create a modest life for himself.
One huge window gives onto Heneage St, and Javed sits upon a tall stool, level with his work bench at the centre of his shop, while the wall behind him is lined with shelves stacked with televisions waiting his attention. Upon the bench sits a large flat screen monitor with the back removed and – while exploring this labyrinth of wires and components – Javed is in his element, talking as he works.
“I came to Brick Lane from Pakistan with my father in 1960, and I went to Christ Church School across the road. On the first day, I went into the playground and I had my arm broken. I was the first Asian boy at the school.
I was seven. I came with my five year old brother Tasleem. We came in February and it was very cold indeed. It was strange, because I had never seen snow before and there was deep snow. We travelled BOAC. It was a beautiful experience. Forget the wonder of an aeroplane, I had never been in a car.
My father came in 1958. First he went to Liverpool and then came here and ran the Star Cafe on the corner, 66 Brick Lane. Once he was established, he came to fetch us. My father was very rich man thanks to the restaurant business, but he gambled it all away playing poker with Gregory Peck. He had the talent as a gambler and in those days there were few Asians, so it was a novelty for them to have one at the table.
The first house I lived in was 22 Princelet St where my father had a basement. Jews were the only people that would rents rooms to us. In those days, Irish, Jews, Blacks and Asians were known as “dogs.” When I was a little boy, the Seven Stars across the road was dominated by the Kray Brothers. Every Friday night, somebody would go out from there round all the businesses in Brick Lane and whatever you did, you had to pay.
I was allowed to watch television from four until five thirty and then my step-mother would down sticks, she had the temper of a gorilla. After school, I went to help in my father’s cafe. The Pakistanis were all coming here to Brick Lane. It was a mixed area then, the gateway for everybody basically.
When I started at the Robert Montefiore Secondary School in Deal St, it was a different headache. The pupils were divided between Christians and Jews, with two lunch sittings, kosher and non-kosher. One week the Jews ate first and the next week the Christians ate first. There was no halal in this country then, but Muslims can eat kosher so I ate with the Jews. I had one friend, Janel Singh, we were the only two Asians in the school, a Pakistani and an Indian. People looked at us in a different way.
On the first day, we were told to take our clothes off and they thought we must have TB because we were both so skinny. When we went to school, the white people used to hit us. The Turkish people were scared as well, so we got together. When we went to school, we had to go four or five of us together to be safe. The headmaster was Rhodes Boyson who became education minister for Margaret Thatcher, and he said, “What happens outside the school is not my responsibility.”
When I left school, I worked as a porter at the Royal London Hospital and I was learning TV repair after hours with a man from Mauritius who had a shop in the Roman Rd. One night, I was beaten up there by skinheads – it was sixteen to one. They beat me unconscious and, after I came round and stopped a taxi to take me to the hospital, the driver refused when he saw all the blood. He said he didn’t want to get blood on the inside of his taxi. I had a broken jaw. Later, I joined an anti-racist march here in Brick Lane after the death of Blair Peach and I was beaten up again. This time, by the police with truncheons.
Thanks to a Jewish doctor, Dr Wootliff, a good friend of my father’s, I got the biggest break of my life. He wrote me a reference and I got a job at Alba TV manufacturers in Tabernacle St. I was fitting radiograms together and I got a penny, ha’penny for each one. I thought, “Bloody Hell! This is a production line.” Most of my friends were white and they had already broken into skilled trades. I really wanted to be a TV repair man.
I went to an interview in Dagenham. They said, “Forget about the job, this area is not good for black people. Just leave now before somebody puts a knife in you.” I got a job in Canning Town for Multibroadcast where I found it bloody hard. There were many customers when they answered the door and saw you, they wouldn’t let you in the house. It was the worst place I could imagine working. The people were all dockers and they didn’t like my face. I’d park my car and when I’d return there’d be shit on it. After six months, I quit.
In the late seventies, I was working for a TV repair company called Derwent in Streatham. There was this great guy called George, an English guy. If you brought in a broken TV and put it on the bench, he’d say, “Put the kettle on!” and light a fag. Before the kettle boiled and he’d smoked the fag, the TV would be repaired. He inspired me. TV repairs were in big demand. One day I went to repair a TV and the customer’s brother was there who was also TV repairman, he worked for Visionhire. He asked me how much I earned a week, and when I told him £16, he offered me £50 a week to join his company.
I opened up my own shop here in Heneage St, Spitalfields in 1976. It used to be a sweets and paraffin shop belonging to a Mr Lewis, and I came here as a child with my father to buy sweets. It took me a year to clear out the rubbish and fix it up. I am the only Pakistani here surrounded by Bengalis. I said to them, “Fair enough, the country is divided but it’s nothing to do with me!” If God don’t give me, then the Devil will give me, and I will serve the mixed community. I started with ten shillings and I have worked here for thirty-eight years. And I am grateful to the Bengalis because I am still working and it is all through word of mouth.
I believe no country gives you anything, it’s what you can give and make that counts. I bought a house out of working in this shop. If you look back at the past, all the immigrants that made money started their own businesses. Even Marks & Spencer started here in Spitalfields in Old Montague St.
I have struggled quite a bit but with Allah’s help I have got through. I am not an Asian anymore, I am more British than the bloody British.”
“People looked at us in a different way.”
“In those days, Irish, Jews, Blacks and Asians were known as ‘dogs.’”
“If God don’t give me, then the Devil will give me …”
“With Allah’s help, I have got through …”
Master Tech, 1 Heneage St, Spitalfields, E1 5LJ 0207 247 7703 07956549599