How I (accidentally) helped put the Oz team behind bars

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The Independent Online

As a London schoolboy growing up in the 1960s, I spent my adolescence pressing my nose against the window of hippie counter-culture fascinated, delighted, disgusted and inspired by the churnings of the underground but always on the outside, too young to take part, condemned merely to gawp.

So when the editors of my favourite magazine put a notice in Oz saying they felt tired and old (none of them was over 30) and inviting interested children to take over for an issue, nothing would have stopped me from turning up. I had just turned 18 and, as editor of our school magazine The Latymerian, had tried with my co-editors, Deyan Sudjc and Colin Thomas, to inject something of the underground into its sedate pages. We quickly ran into the objections of the grey school establishment. The cool men at Oz would surely let us run amok?

We turned up at Richard Neville's basement flat on the Kensington side of Notting Hill Gate at the appointed time one spring evening in 1970. Richard, his fellow Australian Jim Anderson and Felix Dennis did their best to make the shy, pimply, uncertain gang of us feel at home.

Thanks to his magazine, Richard was already pretty famous and had more of the rock-star charisma than any journalist before or since, with his shoulder-length hair and Afghan coat, his silver Porsche and beautiful hippie girlfriend, Louise. In fact he WAS a rock star, who just happened to do magazines instead of music. Whatever he brushed against he made hip. Spoken languidly by him, for example, "Strine" lost its sad, Earl's Court bedsitting room aura and became the true freak twang. And here he was among us, grinning, chatting, possibly regretting the whole idea but gamely trying to find what we might bring to Oz. If we were lost for words, it was hardly surprising.

Charles Shaar Murray saved the day, being precociously articulate and already strongly focused on becoming a rock journalist. He was in the right place and he knew it, and did he himself proud, both in the meeting and in the magazine we went on to produce. The rest of us slowly emerged from our shells. The most obvious thing we could bring to the Oz mix was schoolkid rage against the education machine, and smut. The rage always looked really fake we were practically all quite privileged children and it showed but Viv Berger and one or two others finally came up with some pretty stunning smut. If Richard, Jim and Felix had wanted anything from us, it was an authentic voice from the teens and Rupert Bear with a vast erection was about as authentic as it got.

We became friends with the editors over the following weeks, with Jim, in particular, being curious about us and kindly. The magazine came out and I don't think we appreciated at the time how lame it was - well below Oz's phantasmagorical best. Nor did we guess that it would end up putting all three of its editors in jail an impressive start to a journalistic career which I have often dined out on since.

I remember going round to the Oz office a few days after publication and finding Felix in the entrance, stunned, with all copies of the magazine removed by the police and the editors served with a summons.

It slowly sank in that the Obscene Publications Squad was bent on making an example of this fizzy, irreverent, anarchic but mostly harmless magazine. We had innocently served up just what they needed to do it.

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