Emperor Haile Selassie on the West Pier

Haile Selassie on the West Pier, April 1938
Haile Selassie on the West Pier, April 1938

Haile Selassie was the Emperor of Ethiopa from 1930 to 1974. In 1935 Ethiopia was invaded by Italian forces, and he left the country the following year. He spent most of his exile in Bath. During this time he visited other parts of England, including a visit to Brighton in April 1938. The Brighton and Hove Herald took several photographs of Selassie’s visit, including an image of him leaving the Royal Pavilion accompanied by his family. But this solemn portrait on the West Pier was the most dramatic and carefully composed.

Press photography often uses carefully composed images with subtle hints of the wider issues they illustrate. This is a very good example. By the late 1930s, Selassie had become an iconic victim of fascism. In June 1936 he had delivered a moving speech to the League of Nations describing the brutality of the Italian invasion of his country. This led him to be named Man of the Year by the influential US magazine Time.

This photograph supports Selassie’s iconic status. His black overcoat and hat, and his sorrowful expression, suggest a man in mourning for the loss of his country. The choice of location has a double purpose. The West Pier is an obvious landmark, and immediately ties Selassie to Brighton. But his choice of seat has an extra significance: as an emperor, Selassie should be seated on a throne. Having been forced from his country, he is reduced to sitting on a deckchair: cheap furniture for working class visitors.

Haile Selassie and family at the Royal Pavilion, 30 April 1938
Haile Selassie and family at the Royal Pavilion, 30 April 1938

Selassie was returned to power in 1941 after British and Ethiopian forces took control of Ethiopia during World War Two. He reigned the country until he was deposed in a coup in 1974. He died the following year. Although an Orthodox Christian, Selassie is claimed to be an incarnation of God by members of the Rastafari religion.

Kevin Bacon
Digital Development Officer



7 Responses

  1. Heritag

    I was surprised to see this story here. I had no idea that Selassie had been in Bath or Brighton. Wonderful whispers from history.

  2. C

    The word ras . means head. Tafari means teacher.possibly leader. .. just some info that’s all. Peace x

  3. silence

    think the west pier desription is incorrect here ? i was led to believe
    he was seated on the Palace pier in this photograph if i recall the story it is said that the pier master invited him to the entertainments that evening and he declined as he could not be entertained when his homeland was at war
    just taken a relevant book of shelf says

    ‘In the years before the Second World War Britain had a guilty conscience about Ethiopia,steming from her shabby behaviour when Mussolini’s armies invaded the Country in
    1935 ‘ says M . Glover in his book an improvised War
    is this original photograph actually on show inside the museum now?

    • kevinbacon

      Hello,

      Thanks for your comment. I would have to recheck the original sources to confirm, but seem to recall that it was an accompanying record from the Herald at the time that suggested it was the West Pier. However, even if true, that does not mean the original article was correct, of course!

      The photo was used in an exhibition in Hove Museum back in 2009, and is no longer on show.

      Best,

      Kevin

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