Controversial Magazine of the 60s Now Online!
It was 1967: birth of the Summer of Love as well as a magazine that would become the icon – and the enfant terrible – of the underground press. Produced in a basement flat off Notting Hill Gate, Oz was soon renowned for psychedelic covers by pop artist Martin Sharp, cartoons by Robert Crumb, radical feminist manifestos by Germaine Greer, and anything else that would send the establishment apoplectic. By August 1971, it had been the subject of the longest obscenity trial in British history. It doesn’t get more 60s than that.
Until now, Oz’s kaleidoscopic history – 48 issues and who knows how many police raids – has remained just that: the stuff of 60s nostalgia and accounts of a decade we never tire of remembering. Back copies remain rare, both of the British version and the original Australian edition launched by Richard Neville in Sydney in 1963. I spotted a copy of issue six of Oz London (containing features on John Peel, Greek prisons, and RD Laing) going on eBay for £100, despite being “slightly dog-eared, with hippy candle wax on the cover”.
Now anyone can flick through a virtual copy of the magazine that wrote the decade. The University of Wollongong, after releasing the digital archive of Oz Sydney two years ago, has followed up by making every issue of Oz London available. In true hippy spirit, it’s free. “No one else was doing it,” Michael Organ, a library manager at the university, says. “Oz was one of the leading magazines of the underground press. Fifty years later, it’s important as a capsule of the times, but also as a work of art.”
The archive has been made available “for historical and research importance”. And, presumably, for anyone who wants to have a nosy at the infamous Schoolkids issue, which was edited by 20 teenagers and features a Rupert Bear montage that resulted in Oz’s editors – Neville, Jim Anderson and Felix Dennis – being charged with “conspiracy to corrupt public morals”. The six-week trial became the biggest culture war of the time. “The 60s probably ended with the Oz trial,” says Anderson, then Oz’s art director. “Ted Heath had come in. We’d gone through 1968 in Paris, the death of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.” All of which is contained in the colourful pages of the magazine (colourful apart from when they were broke and had to publish in black and white). “To see it online from beginning to end is to see everything the 60s produced – gay liberation, feminism, sex, the pill, acid, rock music, Vietnam,” Anderson says. “Everything the establishment hated was in Oz.”
As Organ puts it: “Oz is a record of the cultural revolution. Many of the issues it raised, such as the environment, sexuality and drug use, are no longer contentious. In fact, they have now become mainstream.”
After the trial (the sentences of up to 15 months’ imprisonment were quashed on appeal), sales hit 100,000, the magazine moved to swanky offices off Tottenham Court Road and Anderson became disillusioned. “Oz lost its revolutionary feel,” he says. “It became a bit upmarket.” And how does he feel now it’s back again for a new generation? “It’s absolutely wonderful,” he enthuses. “It’s good to have it out there in all its glory.”
View the archive at ro.uow.edu.au/ozlondon