Laurie Elks on getting banned from the Kings Head, playing Robin the Rich and editing Hackney Society anniversary book

Laurie Elks. Picture: Emma Bartholomew

Laurie Elks. Picture: Emma Bartholomew - Credit: Emma Bartholomew

Emma Bartholomew

Laurie Elks. Picture: Emma Bartholomew

Laurie Elks. Picture: Emma Bartholomew - Credit: Emma Bartholomew

Despite being a leftie at heart, Laurie Elks claims it was the Tories who brought him to Hackney in 1972.

His Jewish parents had been born here, but moved to Golders Green before he came along.

After graduating with a degree in history in 1970, and a stint with Voluntary Service Overseas in Nigeria, Laurie returned to the UK aged 23 with “not the faintest idea what to do”.

But he heard about a job going at the Hackney Task Force – an organisation getting young people to volunteer helping out old people – funded by a Conservative party grant. He got the job and ended up spending a lot of time in the King’s Head pub in Kingsland Road, before he was barred “for lounging around in my bare feet”.

Laurie trained as a lawyer with dreams of promoting leftist causes. After tax planning for aristocrats he decided it wasn’t his cup of tea and “bailed” in 1995. He feels lucky to have landed a job on the Criminal Cases Review Commission and has since written a book about miscarriages of justice.

Over the years Laurie has thrown himself into all aspects of life in Hackney, and would volunteer at Chat’s Palace where his “sole foray into acting” saw him playing Robin the Rich in one of its legendary pantos.

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The father-of-three and magistrate who lives in the “bourgeois enclave” of Victoria Park, remembers how he used to trespass on the reservoirs to watch the birds in the evening. Unimpressed by the Lea Valley Regional Park Authority’s plan to build leisure centres in the nature reserve, he helped set up the Lea Valley Association to unite opposition and persuade them to change course.

Laurie, 68, now helps maintain the medieval St Augustine’s Tower as a trustee of the Hackney Historical Buildings Trust.

Editing the book about the Hackney Society’s 50 year anniversary is “one of the best things he’s done in his life”. Laurie chose 50 authors to write 50 chapters, taking a different topic for each year.

“Someone else would have written it differently,” he said. “So many people in Hackney have done things because they believe in it, not for themselves, and that’s one of the great things about Hackney.

“I realised as I went on that my heroes were the fighters, the community workers, the people who don’t give up. The patron saints of lost causes.”