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The Untold Sixties: When Hope
An Insider's Sixties On An International Scale
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Freedom of the Press in England
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Since this book has now been published, many of its chapters have been abridged, though the summary and four chapters can still be found in their entirety.
I moved back and forth between Berlin and London several times during the two years of my fellowship, and this enabled me to keep a close eye on the growing pains of IT. Looking back on the early years of England's first underground paper, I am most struck by the relative mildness and gentleness of everything connected with that time. It certainly did not seem mild or gentle while it was happening, for we had more than our share of argument, crises, arrests, trials, imprisonments, and other setbacks, but compared to the mood in either Germany or America, things were positively idyllic.
The immediate reaction to the mere existence of such a publication in England, with its blatant espousal of sex, drugs, pop culture and anarchism, was one of stunned disbelief that such a paper could appear at all. In this most establishment-oriented of all established societies, it was unthinkable that something so totally opposed to the status quo could ever come about, and thus it took some time for the upper echelons of London society to figure out sufficiently well what it was we were in order to react. It was considered jolly good fun for little boys just down from Oxford to cock the snook at establishment culture, provided this was done in the prescribed manner and clearly labeled as satire. Indeed, this had been done with impunity by generations of university men as a safe and sure way of gaining reputations and making a few pounds for themselves. But that a group of celts, colonials, and lower-class elements should imagine themselves capable of putting out a publication dealing with aspects of current culture was quite beyond belief.
Because the reaction was slow in coming, many of those connected with the paper lulled themselves into a false sense of security that there would be none. We were receiving moral support from certain sectors of the orthodox cultural world, and several publishing houses and theatre groups were holding their breath in the hope that we might be able to survive. It should be remembered that a strict system of censorship regulated publishing and the stage at that time: one publisher was locked in a prolonged suit over alleged obscenity in the English edition of Selby's Last Exit to Brooklyn, another was forced to bring out an expurgated version of Terry Southern's Candy. While in the theatre, the Lord Chamberlain ruled as supreme and almost unchallenged censor: whatever proclivities Britons may have had towards homosexuality, they could still only go to see such "daring" stage works as Tea And Sympathy in closed club productions.
This initial lull was mistaken for public acceptance by some of the editors, and I remember Miles poohpoohing my suggestion that there might be form of police restraint imposed upon us. He insisted that this sort of thing, while it might be likely in benighted America, could never happen in sophisticated, tolerant common-sensical Britain. I wasn't so sure, for although I was no worshipper of the writings of Herbert Marcuse, I had found that his definition of "repressive tolerance"which I believed to be largely specious for either American or German society, as neither was really that tolerant of cultural innovations but would react like a serpent and strike them deadsuited Britain to a tee. Here the authorities would indeed tolerate any sort of weirdness to the point of destroying its raison d'être, provided it fit within the spectrum of what they understood as permissible weirdness. The problem with our paper was that it was outside that spectrum.
The first issues of IT were scarcely radical pace-setters by any standards, indeed they were far behind the impassioned prose of their American cousinsquite measured and British in their criticisms. Yet their very choice of nameInternational Timesso seemingly staid to American ears was calculated to raise eyebrows and eventually provided the substance of a legal challenge and a forced change of name. Although most people called the paper "IT" and eventually "Eyetee," the founders had brazenly set out to cause confusion and provoke the ire of the editor of Britain's chief establishment organ by appropriating most of their name. Our logo made use of an overpushed photo of silent movie "It Girl" Theda Bara to create an even more complex multiple entendre around our name. Yet the editorial in the first issue could not have been more low-keyed and reasonable in tone:
"Every day people pour into London to find out what is happening there. They have been told attractive storiesyoung, swinging, on the move, etc.,and they're keen for a taste. Frequently they are disappointed.
"True, London is a comparatively free and happy city. But it isn't quite as switched on as our ad-men make out. Things are happening all over the city, but there is a lack of togetherness... And whatever scene you're on, with the possible exception of the pop music explosion, you're likely to discover that things aren't happening quite as they should.
"Most of the 'creative' people in the city including everyone from paunchy, old artists to vague, smiling acid heads seem agreed on the need for a change in the quality of living. But no-one seems to be doing much about it."
The next few issues were to expand this thesis into a demand for a "Twenty-Four Hour City," scarcely a radical proposal except in a country run essentially as a boy scout camp, where the worker scouts were all supposed to be in bed by midnight, and the pubs, public transit, and TV all shut down by then or even earlier to encourage the scouts to go home and sleep. But one other early piece perhaps best embodied the ideals of the British editors on our staff. It shows how incredibly English this underground paper really was and what these editors regarded as the first step in the cultural revolution for Britain. I print it here almost in its entirety:
"YOU, WHO ARE LOOKING OVER MY SHOULDER,
"PLEASE SPEAK TO ME!.
"In an effort to break down the ever-mounting walls of non-communication between human animals, we print the above headline as a public service.
"It is suggested that whenever you see someone with whom you wish to communicateparticularly in tube, bus, queue, cinema, or other crowded public place, you bring out this page and hold it up so that it inevitably catches their eye, on the inalienable principle that the news in the other person's paper is always much more interesting than the news in one's own.
"In the further pursuit of this aim, we are prepared to manufacture and retail at little or no profit, badges bearing the words, "I AM TOO BRITISH TO START A CONVERSATIONWILL YOU?" to be worn under the lapel and flashed at appropriate moments."
I have spoken of the problems the English had in getting through to each other, problems which I too in my efforts to become a surrogate Englishman had come to experience, and I think this piece expressed the situation quite perfectly. Indeed, for 1966, this was probably the most revolutionary idea going in England.
But what shocked many Londoners far more than our content, leaving them almost speechless in amazement, was the format of the paper, for no one had ever published anything quite like it in England before. This was because no one had ever imagined it possible to bring out a publication dealing with serious matters, such as art and politics, in such a frivolous combination of words and layout. A tabloid newspaperany tabloid newspaperwas not seen as a fit medium for serious discussion. It would have to be a magazine or a Sunday newspaper format if it was to be taken seriously. To this extent at least, the much debated, dictum of McLuhan was certainly trueour medium was our message, and the message we were projecting to our eagerly waiting opponents was "tabloid paper" and therefore "trash."
Rumblings began to be heard from certain highly placed Londoners, who took exception to our treatment of sex and nudityeven before we began to publish explicitly sexual articlesas well as to our overall "trashiness" of appearance. These rumblings were sufficiently loud for me to hear them even in Berlin, where I met some establishment English types passing through. But at first it was believed that we had enough supporters to protect us from our detractors. At all events I was encouraged to send in material with a sexual angle, which I was happy enough to do.
I not only submitted an article about the German sex supermarkets run by Beate Uhse, representing a slick and sensible solution to the problem of distributing contraceptives and other sexual specialties. This forthright method has still not fully caught on in the furtive, sleaze-ridden plain-brown-wrapper atmosphere of either England or America, despite supposed, strides towards sexual liberation in both countries.
My article was widely reprinted in the American underground press, as was my next piece, the first to my knowledge to use the phrase "sexual olympic, games" and to propose the establishment of such an event. This article was bought by American sex-entrepreneur Ralph Ginsberg for his Avant-Garde, though the financial confusion at IT was so great that I never saw a cent of the money. [click here to read that article]
[This chapter has been abridged pending publication...]
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