It underground newspaper
I wasn't born yet when International Times was launched in 1966, but – like many others – I felt its impact.
The counter-culture paper, which was published throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, helped launch the careers of Germaine Greer, Jeff Nuttall, Heathcote Williams and John Peel, among others. There were original stories from writers such as Norman Mailer, William Burroughs, Alexander Trocchi and Allen Ginsberg. It mixed radical politics with news and features on literature, drugs and sex. And it covered the spread of alternative culture across the globe, from the May 1968 protests in Paris to the Black Panthers to the anti-Vietnam war movement.
It also had a great sense of provocative, playful humour, visible in cover lines such as 1967's "Impeach the home secretary", May 1971's "Super free cut out Jesus mask" and the numerous headlines spoofing the News of the World, such as 1969's "London bobby turns into a girl". "Holy cow! It's another dirty commie smut rag!" Captain America tells readers on the cover of a March 1971 issue.
More importantly, it provided a model for the alternative press. It was almost certainly an influence on Tony Elliott's decision to launch Time Out magazine, whose first issue looks almost identical to IT's "What's Happening" listings section. IT's design (a mixture of hand-drawn illustrations, typeset text and cutout photographs), arresting covers and striking logo helped set the graphic tone of its era. It championed cartoonist Robert Crumb and underground comic strips such as the Furry Freak Brothers. And it's hard to imagine the fanzine revolution of the late 1970s, led by Mark Perry's Sniffin' Glue, without the "do it yourself" aesthetic of IT.
The fortnightly paper also helped spark the development of the music press in the UK; its launch was partly born out of frustration with mainstream titles' lack of coverage of underground music. Indeed, it launched in October 1966 at London's Roundhouse with a gig headlined by Pink Ployd. In his blog The Wired Jester, journalist Alex Watson quotes IT co-counder Barry Miles on the motives that spurred the launch of the paper:
The idea of anyone from our community writing for the Guardian or the Times was inconceivable. None of the papers had any popular music coverage in those days. Our group of people needed somewhere to express themselves, so in early 1966, Hoppy [John Hopkins] and I started to put it together. We got the guy who'd been editor of Peace Times for CND [Tom McGrath], to help, too. He'd gotten freaked out and left London and gone to live in the countryside, but we got him to come back.
Miles went on to discuss the paper's writing and distribution:
IT wasn't properly edited. It depended a lot on people bringing stuff in. It was the same with distribution – anyone could come in a grab 50 copies, and we just trusted them to bring the money back, and then they could get some more copies. By 1969, IT's height, we were printing about 44, 000 copies, and it was going out every two weeks or so, unless we'd been busted or something.
Commercial pressures were clearly always a factor, and the paper had to hold regular benefit nights in order to stay in print. One of these, 1967's "14-Hour Technicolour Dream" at London's Alexandra Palace, featured a stellar lineup including Pink Floyd, Yoko Ono, Arthur Brown, Soft Machine and others. Having heavyweight supporters clearly didn't hurt either – Watson quotes Miles:
The first few issues had a lot of serious articles by William Burroughs about the overthrow of the state. He used it as his platform to work out his ideas. And there was Ginsberg too. All the usual suspects. When we were running out of money, I was talking to Paul McCartney about it, and he said, 'Well, you should interview me, then you'll get ads from the record companies.' And I thought, 'Hey, he might be on to something.' So I interviewed him, and then George Harrison, and then the next week Mick Jagger called up, demanding to be interviewed too. And Paul was right, we got ads from the record companies.
The interview Miles is describing ran in January 1967, and from later that year EMI ran ads for bands such as the Beatles and Pink Floyd. In late 1969, the paper introduced its own regular music supplement, MusicIT.
However, the commercial pressures continued: in February 1972, it announced that it had decided to move away from the tabloid format and start life again as a 52-page Rolling Stone-style magazine with a glossy cover. It explained that while it had started as "the one lone voice in the wilderness of off-Fleet Street journalism", "there are now four radical tabloid newspapers fighting for your custom". It would therefore be focusing mainly on the "general culture" rather than politics. However, this change lasted only for some half dozen issues, and the paper soon went back to its radical tabloid format.
Like fellow underground title Oz, whose editors (including Richard Neville, Jim Anderson and future magazine mogul Felix Dennis) faced notorious obscenity trials, IT experienced continual harassment from the authorities. The paper's offices were raided for the first time in March 1967, when 8, 000 copies were seized on grounds of obscenity. The charges were later dropped. In 1970 it charged with conspiracy to corrupt public morals by printing gay contact ads in its back pages. It was convicted in 1972 and temporarily closed down.
Meanwhile, Hopkins, described by a judge as "a pest to society", was jailed for allowing cannabis to be smoked in his Bayswater flat. Miles helped organise a full-page advert in the Times in July 1967, funded by McCartney, that stated the law on marijuana was "immoral in principle and unworkable in practice". It was signed by the Beatles, David Dimbleby, RD Laing, Graham Greene, Jonathan Aitken, doctors and MPs.
The paper stuttered to a halt in August 1974; in June 1975, it was revived when underground paper Maya adopted the IT masthead and the two titles merged. It continued into its 10th birthday and the punk explosion, and was published regularly up to about 1978.
IT was relaunched for a few issues in the early 1980s. I first bought it in 1986, when it had been revived by comedian and writer Tony Allen and Chris Brook, in Camden alternative bookshop Compendium. IT struggled on with various one-offs into the 1990s.
Until now, it has been hard to get a look at copies of the paper. Original 1960s issues, often produced in small print runs, have become collector's items. But now, backed by Miles and Hopkins, all the issues are available to view in an online archive.
It seems fitting, given the ethos of the paper, that it lives on as an internet resource: in a sense, the "community" that it once served has now moved online.
Full Of It: The Birth, Death, and Life of an Underground Newspaper
Book (Undie Press c/o Tim Hall)
This Peter Fonda Chopper Kit poster, 18 x 22 inches, created, created and signed by Dennis Harper (dennisharper.com) and Jay Gaulding, appeared in the Dallas Hooka Notes underground paper during the eary 70s. Hooka Notes (Humanitarian Order of Kosmic Awareness) was a biweekly underground newspaper published in Dallas, Texas in the early 70s. It was edited by J. R. Compton (jrcompton.com). This is the heavy-paper ORIGINAL art. You should know that the orthochromatic press cameras used at that time to reproduce line art (no intermediate tonalities) for offset presses were equally sensitive to red and black. And not at all sensitive to "nonreproducible blue" (actually a light cyan). So the red areas in this original art reproduced as black. The streaks and spots of liquid paper were used to block out red or black lines. The strip appeared as high contrast black and white, with only crosshatching to show tonality. If you don't fully grasp all the nuances in the story, read it again. Some are subtle, some overt. With a blend of New Left political activism, hippie/drug counterculture, and underground comix and graphics, the paper developed a growing citywide and regional readership.
Art and Craft Supply (Dennis Harper)