History is a fickle beast, its long and winding road littered with "what ifs" and "if onlys".

As William Joyce sat in his cell on death row, carving a Swastika into the wall, he must have considered the wreckage of his life.

Joyce, better known as Lord Haw-Haw, was a leading member of the British Union of Fascists (BUF), second-in-command to leader Oswald Mosley, who formed the Blackshirts on October 1, 1932.

They were heady days, driven by the success of Hitler and the Nazis in Germany.

Thousands of people across the country joined the Blackshirts and Worthing became a fascist stronghold with scores of members. The BUF had headquarters at various locations around the town centre, in Marine Parade, Ann Street and Warwick Street, and for a time they threatened to become a major political force.

The fascists were represented on the local council by Captain C H Bentinck Budd, who caused uproar by wearing his black shirt to meetings.

But the movement was dogged by bitter street violence, which culminated in the infamous Battle of South Street on the night of October 9, 1934.

At the start of that year, Mosley was booked to address a meeting at the Pier Pavilion but was forced to pull out at the 11th hour due to illness.

His place was taken by Joyce, who had a scar running down the right side of his face from earlobe to mouth, the legacy of a fight with anti-fascists some years previously.

Joyce was said to be an impatient, bad-tempered man, always willing to use his fists but he was also an excellent public speaker.

Despite Mosley's absence, 900 people packed into the theatre to hear a two-and-a-half hour speech laced with anti-Semitic diatribe. As the audience went into the Pavilion, they were handed anti-fascist leaflets by Worthing Labour Party.

There was some heckling by opponents of Joyce in the auditorium as Blackshirt stewards lurked menacingly in the background. Joyce said the objectives of the BUF included world peace, a classless society, abolition of the House of Lords to be replaced by a senate, a shorter working day and better education.

He said: "A fascist dictatorship is not a tyranny. Whatever your opinions on Mussolini and Hitler, you must admit that they rule by the overwhelming enthusiasm of the vast majority of their people.

"The English are great people but they are lacking a leader."

His speech was followed by an hour-long question and answer session, which was generally well received. Joyce even hinted at the possibility of standing as a candidate in Worthing at the next general election, threatening the position of Tory MP Earl Winterton.

The BUF had a degree of respectability in Worthing, holding a dinner dance at the Pavilion and an "At Home", attended by Mosley's mother Maud, at Mitchell's Cafe, a Blackshirt meeting place in The Arcade.

But people were becoming increasingly concerned by reports of Nazi brutality, sparking a Socialist backlash.

A Mr A E Armstrong, of 149 Pavilion Road, wrote at the time: "Fascism simply manufactures robots in black shirts."

Matters came to a violent head on October 9, following a meeting attended by Mosley at the Pavilion. A huge crowd gathered on the seafront as Mosley addressed his supporters inside.

Earlier, anti-fascist slogans had been daubed in black paint on the walls of the town hall and the Blackshirt headquarters in Warwick Street.

As Mosley walked on stage, he was greeted by a forest of arms giving the Nazi salute.

He gave his speech to a background noise of singing, chanting and fireworks let off by opponents outside.

After the meeting, Mosley emerged on to the steps surrounded by his bodyguard of handpicked thugs.

Fist fights erupted, with Mosley seen to thrown a few punches himself.

The fascists fought their way to Mitchell's Cafe and barricaded themselves inside as opponents smashed windows and threw tomatoes. As midnight loomed, they broke out and marched along South Street to Warwick Street.

One woman bystander was punched in the face in what witnesses described as "guerrilla warfare". There were casualties on both sides as a "seething, struggling mass of howling people" became engaged in running battles.

People in nightclothes watched in amazement from bedroom windows overlooking the scene. Mosley was later charged with riotous assembly and assault but the charges were dropped just two days into the trial at Lewes for lack of evidence.

But as the threat from Hitler's Third Reich became more apparent and world war loomed, the BUF lost ground in the popularity stakes.

A week before Britain declared war on the Nazis, Joyce fled to Berlin, fearing internment. Even Mosley, himself interned, later denounced him as a traitor.

Joyce, 33, started broadcasting from Germany and was nicknamed Lord Haw Haw for his aristocratic nasal drawl, the result of a broken nose in his youth.

Transmissions began with a trademark "Germany calling, Germany calling", before going on to denounce the Allied war effort.

In the first few years, Joyce must have revelled in his notoriety but as the war turned against the Nazis, despite being awarded the Iron Cross by Hitler, he turned increasingly to drink as his marriage broke down.

Lord Haw Haw must have realised he was living on borrowed time when he made his final broadcast on April 30, 1945, rounding off with a defiant "Heil Hitler".

Joyce went on the run but was soon captured after being shot in the leg. He was brought back to Britain and incarcerated in Wandsworth Prison, London.

Joyce remained aloof to the end, refusing to acknowledge millions of people had been killed in Nazi death camps.

He went to the gallows on January 3, aged 39, and was buried in an unmarked grave in the prison grounds.

Mosley, who fought against the Germans in the Great War, died of old age in 1980.

But what if Germany had won the Battle of Britain and invaded England? If Hitler had decided not to attack the Soviet Union . . ?

Joyce might have become prime minister, in charge of a Nazi satellite state.