The Hampstead police station squatter who kissed Simon Callow and offended the Turkish prime minister

09:19 01 May 2014

Living in the former Hampstead Police Station annexe, former actor Michael Dickinson. Here holding one of his provocative collages, which landed him in trouble in Turkey. Picture: Polly Hancock

Living in the former Hampstead Police Station annexe, former actor Michael Dickinson. Here holding one of his provocative collages, which landed him in trouble in Turkey. Picture: Polly Hancock


Tom Marshall finds out more about one squatter who has taken refuge in Hampstead police station – but has been told to leave

Michael Dickinson has come a long way from kissing Simon Callow on stage to living in Hampstead’s abandoned police station.

It has been a circuitous journey from the political theatre of the 1970s, starring opposite stage star Callow in ‘Passing By’, a groundbreaking two-person show about a gay romance, via the courts of Istanbul and London – for offending the Turkish prime minister and breaking a Remembrance Day silence with anti-war chants.

The Durham-born artist and former actor, 64, was sleeping in a cardboard box next to Sainsbury’s in Camden Town when the police station squatters invited him into their crew after a chance meeting at a soup kitchen.

He continues to eat food discarded by shops and cafés, rummage through recycling bins and tell fortunes on the street to survive – but for now he has a Grade II-listed home to go back to.

Michael Dickinson (right) with Simon Callow in Passing By, by American writer Martin Sherman. It was presented by Gay Sweatshop at the Almost Free Theatre, London, in June 1975, directed by Drew GriffithsMichael Dickinson (right) with Simon Callow in Passing By, by American writer Martin Sherman. It was presented by Gay Sweatshop at the Almost Free Theatre, London, in June 1975, directed by Drew Griffiths

He has quickly transformed one of the first-floor rooms at the police station annexe, in Rosslyn Hill, into his own comfortable bedroom.

“I’m squatting because I can’t afford anything else,” he said.

“I’m very glad I met these people because the social services would not help me.

“I was money-less and homeless and the government didn’t give me any help.

“I would still be in that box were it not for them.”

Mr Dickinson has not long returned to the UK after being banned from Turkey, where he lived for the best part of three decades from the mid-1980s, working as a teacher, artist and at times telling fortunes to pay his rent.

His first encounter with the Turkish legal system came in 2006, when he exhibited a provocative collage in Istanbul that depicted national leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a dog receiving a rosette from ex-American President George W. Bush in a pet show.

That resulted in prosecution for “insulting the Prime Minister’s dignity”, in a notorious case which took four years to run its course.

He was initially cleared in 2008, but the verdict was overturned in 2010. Then, after shouting a political slogan at police in a separate incident in 2013, he was finally deported and barred from returning to Turkey for five years.

His brush with the British authorities came during a brief return in 2011.

He was arrested, handcuffed and bundled into a police van after shouting “No more war!” during a Remembrance Day silence at Parliament Square, where he was camping at the time. He was charged with a public order offence, but the case was eventually dropped.

Mr Dickinson had studied at the Manchester School of Theatre from 1969, alongside the likes of Julie Walters and Richard Griffiths, and worked as an actor – as well as his notable performance opposite Simon Callow, he was cast as Jesus in one play – before switching his focus to collage art.

He held an exhibition in Primrose Hill in 1982, which was well-received in the pages of the Ham&High where reviewer Linda Talbot said it was “wickedly adept at exposing the two-faced tendencies and follies of our leaders”.

Although the squatters face a swift eviction, he had been keen to engage with the Hampstead community, and hoped to stage an open-air play in the annexe’s front garden.

He said: “I don’t really want to move again so soon, especially when this building has not been sold yet and nothing is going to happen here.

“Why can’t we stay until they need us to move? Why do they want us on the streets again?”

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