You think you remember Liverpool in the Eighties? All that heroin-fuelled criminality and massive unemployment, Militant Tendency and Derek "Degsy" Hatton, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and the bubble perms that inspired Harry Enfield's The Scousers?
It's a misleading picture. And it's one that the city's PR people are trying to cover up as they seek to lure tourists to its football- and Beatles-themed attractions. Peter Hooton sees both of these caricatures of the city and is concerned that the real truth will be lost. "We keep being told by the spin doctors for Liverpool, 'Forget the Eighties, it was a terrible period for Liverpool'... but I'm very proud of what Liverpool stood for in the Eighties," he says.
As the founder of The End, a photocopied bible for the clued-up "scally", Hooton – best-known as the lead singer of The Farm – knows what Liverpool was really like in that decade. The End wasn't written by art college students but by lads from the streets and football terraces with an ear for a tune and a deep-felt appreciation of training shoes. "We were aiming for people that lived on council estates and went to football matches and concerts when they could," he says.
The End inspired publications from Loaded to Viz and When Saturday Comes by its direct approach, its authentic (unashamedly working-class) voice and most of all by its desire to have a laugh. The fanzine documented the mood of Liverpool with an honesty that put the pretentiousness of early style magazines to shame.
It lampooned the advice of the London fashionistas with an "Ins and Outs" column that persuaded more gullible readers to make hats from cornflakes packets. "It was not supposed to be taken seriously," says Hooton. "Anything that was deemed as fashionable in Liverpool we immediately put in the 'out' column. The idea was to confuse everyone."
Hooton started The End in September 1981. This was an era before the internet, when tastes varied from one city to another and styles spread not by media but by word of mouth. London was less dominant and "Madchester" had not yet happened. Liverpool was a hotbed of youth culture, home to the best football team in Europe and some of Britain's finest bands.
That summer, Hooton and his friends had travelled to Paris to watch Liverpool play Real Madrid in the European Cup Final. As on previous trips to the Continent, they would spend much of the excursion hunting training shoes, by then a Liverpool cult. "Instead of looking round the Louvre or going on a trip to Versailles we ended up looking for what I now know to be a mythical Adidas centre," he says. "People in our entourage were convinced that you could find the rarest form of Adidas trainer known to man."
Paris lured him back months later when he gate-crashed a week-long series of gigs by The Clash, who took him into their entourage and allowed him to sit in on interviews, an experience that convinced him he could start a magazine. The scribbled notes and photos of Joe Strummer and Mick Jones taken on his pocket camera became an early article in The End.
The initial issues were about music, but Hooton and fellow collaborators Mick Potter and Phil Jones quickly found that the most popular content was that which dealt with everyday Liverpool issues, such as dangerous dogs (years before they became the focus of the tabloids). The End connected to readers through Potter's round-the-way cartoon characters that they could relate to, such as the outrageous bragger Billy Bull, the betting shop idler Dossa and the scam merchant Joe Wagg.
At first, Liverpool's youth was suspicious of what it assumed was a student rag mag. Potter, who did The End's artwork, would tell prospective young readers: "It's about you, it's about your life."
The magazine was soon popular with football fans at Liverpool and Everton. "By issue three or four all we had to do was go into a pub near Anfield or Goodison [Park] with a big bag of them and people would just come towards us, we'd be overwhelmed," says Hooton. Sales climbed to 5,000 an issue.
The End didn't glamourise the city, far from it. "We just attacked every sacred cow that Liverpool has ever had," says Hooton. Comedians Stan Boardman and Jimmy Tarbuck, national symbols of Liverpool humour, were not so well regarded at The End.
And despite being produced by football fans at a time when the game was sneered at by the chattering classes, The End often derided the sport, as in "The Secret World of the Amateur Footballers". It also parodied local workers, from "Construction Workers" to the "Hot Dog Man".
The End wrote to John Peel, chiding him for his love of obscure music such as Ukrainian folk. But the presenter recognised the wit in the letter and was soon inviting the boys to hang out with him at gigs in Scotland and parties in Suffolk. He described The End as his "favourite magazine" and, as a Liverpool-supporting public-school boy, publicly spoke of his wish to "be" like Hooton and Potter.
Others were similarly fascinated. The End sold well in Leeds, drawn in by the fanzine's merciless taunting of the "Fashion Crazy Yorkshireman" in sheepskin coat and fingerless gloves. Hooligan crews from the Derby Lunatic Fringe to the Lincoln Transit Elite wrote in, desperate for recognition from the savvy Scousers. "When we printed these letters we'd always ridicule them," says Hooton.
The Heysel Stadium disaster of 1985, in which 39 Juventus supporters died at a European Cup Final against Liverpool, was a great setback for The End. From three or four issues a year, publication became sporadic. Hooton, who attended the fateful match, organised a friendship party on a Mersey ferry, attended by guests from Turin, with Peel as DJ. "It was absolute mayhem, almost like the last days of the Roman Empire," says Hooton. "Things like that I'm proud of because The End was involved." The final edition was published in 1988.
To set the record straight about the Liverpool covered by The End, Hooton is planning an exhibition in the city – Reclaim the Eighties – celebrating the city's spirit during a decade when it was almost at war with the Thatcher government. Alternatively you could read all 20 copies of The End, which have been collated into a book. "That's a diary of Liverpool in the Eighties," says Hooton. "It's an insight into the city's mentality and it was not all doom and gloom. In fact, most of it is funny – we were having a good time."
'The End 30th Anniversary Edition' is available to buy at sabotagetimes.com and at selected bookshops in LiverpoolReuse content