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The Untold Sixties: When Hope Was Born

An Insider's Sixties On An International Scale

NOTE: The material in this section was written
during the early and mid-Seventies when it was still quite
fresh in the author's mind and is also based upon
his large collection of Sixties documents. For
further information, see the book outline by clicking here.

Some Major English Leaders
London, 1967—68

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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.

When Ilene and I next returned to England in the autumn of 1967, the climate surrounding I.T. had altered considerably, though its situation was just as perilous in a different way, During the two months we remained in London, I was to become more deeply involved with the paper than ever before. My own influence among the editors had grown substantially as a result of the reports I had been writing on the Berlin student scene. Our first editor, Tom McGrath, had quit for a variety of reasons, some personal, some endemic to the English ambience.

First of all, though writing of a new age and a new consciousness where all men would be provided with the necessities of life without strife, Tom had never been able to find himself an affordable flat in central London. He had been living with friends in distant Bermondsey through most of his editorship, which meant, with the tube closing down at midnight, that he often had to meet deadlines by sleeping over in our frigid office.

There was also another problem: during a previous visit to London he had contracted a drug habit. Although this was perfectly legal in Britain at the time, he had done every thing he could to kick this habit, and had finally succeeded during a period he spent back in Glasgow. But now that he was once again in London, he was concerned that he might be yielding to the old temptation once more. This was particularly tragic and ironic in view of the fine, balanced articles he was writing about the uses and the misuses of drugs, in one of which he took Tim Leary to task for suggesting that everyone ought to turn on to acid.

A third factor in his departure may have been the growing confrontation between the Americans and the Britons on the paper. Not everyone among either the Americans or the British took predictable sides in this conflict, and I myself frequently opposed the American faction and sided with the English. But feelings would occasionally run high. At one point, while I was in Berlin, Tom ran an editorial talking about how much more commonsensical the English were than other people. I for one had never found "common sense" to be very common anywhere, and I rose to the occasion by writing a "letter to the editor" offering ironical examples from English history and showing how this common sense had worked out in practice. The letter was never printed, but I later learned that it was a hot item during one of the more inflamed periods of this controversy.

The legal problems of I.T. had been solved through the intervention of some of London's more notable liberals, a process which had been begun by Michael Kustow the previous spring in my flat. The police had finally come in a truck and returned all the confiscated papers, and it looked as though peace had been declared. But it was an extremely uneasy peace, and Michael warned me that the Home Secretary might take further steps against the paper at any time if the editors were not a bit careful in handling certain issues. Through me he offered his own counsel in helping to orient the new American editor, Bill Levy, in the Byzantine intricacies of the British system of placating one's opponent while simultaneously attacking him. I told him I would do my best to set up a meeting between him and Bill, where we could all talk the situation over informally.

Actually, Bill was the second new editor. During the emergency precipitated by Tom McGrath's flight back to Glasgow, Jack Henry Moore had stepped in for two or three issues. He wrote me a letter in which he gloated slightly over having been made editor, as he imagined I was coveting the position from Berlin, since I had been fairly emphatic to several people about certain mistakes I thought the previous editors had been making. What he did not know was that I could not have accepted the editorship even if it had been offered me, and I was later to turn down just such an offer. Although Ilene and I had sometimes speculated together on what sort of paper we could put out together if the opportunity arose—with myself handling the words and Ilene the graphics and layout—we both realized we were not up to the grueling effort and incessant politicking such a project would require. A little bit of politics or free-lance work was fun and games, but we knew that doing it full time would soon take the fun out of it.

Jack lasted only a brief time as editor, as was foreseeable enough for he was simply too erratic for the mundane task of ordering sentences one after the other in a coherent manner, and the job of inspiring others to write for him was beyond his limited abilities at diplomacy. Bill Levy, who had been working as an assistant editor for some time, was called in to fill the gap. Bill and I had a good deal in common—like myself, he was a relatively scholarly type with a great love of poetry. My main objection to him was that he was still on an Ezra Pound kick, something I had outgrown in the 'fifties. Once started on his hobby horse, he sounded like any number of academics in the poetry field as he explicated the hidden meanings in Pound's Cantos. He was sure that these meanings must be directly relevant to everything that was happening in England or anywhere in the world at that very moment.

Bill was extremely soft-spoken and reserved, which ought to have helped him get on with the English, but somehow his softness and theirs were never to mesh. His real fault was that he had no deep desire to deal with other people. He preferred to bring out the paper from his own apartment, making only such phone calls as were absolutely urgent, and leaving the house only in case of an absolute emergency. Needless to say, there were certain built-in problems for the paper in this modus operandi. During that time the paper was without any proper offices, having outgrown its premises at Indica, though the editorial board was busy looking for the right space.  It was around this time that Bill commissioned Ilene to do a cover for the Christmas issue of 1967 as well as several smaller illustrations, just before we went back to Berlin.

Although I.T. was beginning to show a profit of sorts. our political enemies had seen to it that we could not find a printer in London. Our material was considered so hot that no local printer would touch us, as under English law it is the printer—rather than the editor—who is open to arrest for obscenity or libel. The only web offset presses in London turned out to be owned by Michael Foot, a Labour member of Parliament with radical pretensions who nonetheless objected to the content of our paper and would not print it. We had to go almost to the Scottish border to find a printer in Carlisle, and Bill had no choice but to spend three days out of every two weeks there to see the paper through the presses.

I told Bill of Michael's offer to clue him into the inner workings of London's cultural politics. At that time I was working quite closely with Bill on a few issues as associate editor, and he agreed to my making an appointment with Michael for the two of them to meet. I did this, inviting both Bill and Michael to my place for dinner. Michael was extremely pleased to hear that he would be meeting Bill, for he had heard rumors of yet direr moves planned against the paper. When the appointed evening arrived, Michael came, which was not easy for him, as he was very busy in between his rehearsals of Theatre-Go-Round and various other projects, but Bill failed to show. When after some time I called Bill to find out what had happened to him, he replied in an off-hand way that he was too busy tonight, and I must set up another appointment for another time.

If Michael was angry, he did not show it. He was in fact very full of himself for another reason—he had just been appointed the new director of something called the Institute of Contemporary Arts, familiarly known as the ICA, which had a reputation for sponsoring adventurous and avant-garde events in theatre and the arts. Although the premises of the ICA were moving onto establishment turf, just down the Mall from Buckingham Palace, Michael felt confident that he would be able to use his new position to encourage all kinds of hip new events, thus forging a link between the underground and orthodox cultures. This was indeed important news and may have explained Michael's ebullient lack of concern for Bill's failure to show up. He swore us to secrecy about his appointment, pending a formal announcement, and solicited our ideas on what sort of events the ICA should sponsor. We gave him such thoughts as we had, though we were really not sure if Michael was the right person to "hippify" London.

As I had agreed to keep his secret, I was not able to tell Bill Levy of this potentially favorable new development for us, and although I hinted of it to him, Bill still put off meeting with Michael. Only several weeks later, when the appointment was announced in the press did Bill get my point, but by then Michael had taken slow but sure offence at Bill's hesitancy, and it was too late.

Our paper was only moderately insecure at that time. Our circulation was slowly growing, but we were very poorly coordinated, and the relations between those striving to work together were close to chaotic. As I have said, the paper was brought out entirely from Bill's flat, or rather from the fashionable Chelsea mews apartment which Bill had somehow scrounged from our main protector of the moment, a young member of the English-Jewish aristocracy, Nigel Samuels. Nigel, who was Lord Samuels' son, was another of those young men just down from Oxford who thought that the entire world depended on them. And in England it still did to a great extent.

Nigel was still in his heretical cock-snooking period which allowed him to enjoy the idea of supporting an anti-establishment newspaper despite—or perhaps partly because of—the opposition from his parents and social peers. It was fairly evident to me and everyone else with any perspicacity that Nigel, for all his patrician charm, was simply going through a phase, and when it was over the newspaper might be over as well. Actually to do Nigel justice, he could be rather sweet and remained faithful to the paper for almost a year in the face of considerable pressure from his family. He undoubtedly performed a vital service at that time, despite his disconcerting habit of asking visitors to the paper's home-cum-office such questions as "I say, what's your trade?"

[This chapter has been abridged pending publication...]


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This book excerpt is Copyright © 2000
by Alexander Gross. It may be
reproduced for individuals and for
educational purposes only. It may
not be used for any commercial (i.e.,
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All Rights Reserved.

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