The V&A celebrates 50 years of the revolutionary Oz magazine

in Inspiration / Art

The V&A has announced that it has acquired the Felix Dennis Oz Archive, marking 50 years since the first UK publication of the revolutionary magazine, Oz.

Felix Dennis was co-editor of the underground magazine published between 1967 and 1973, which sought to challenge the establishment and encapsulated the spirit of 1960s and '70s counter-culture. His archive not only recounts Oz’s kaleidoscopic history across its 48 issues, but chronicles one of the most politically and socially revolutionary periods in world history.

The Archive, purchased with Art Fund support, joins the V&A’s world-renowned Theatre and Performance collections alongside the archives of the Royal Court Theatre, Hapshash and the Coloured Coat and Glastonbury Festival. It is currently being catalogued and digitised by the V&A, and highlights will feature in a forthcoming display tracing a history of British censorship, opening in summer 2018.

Tackling subjects from gay rights to racism, the environment, feminism, sex, the pill, acid, rock music and the Vietnam War, Oz is one of the most important records of 20th century counter-cultural revolution. Produced in a basement flat in London’s Notting Hill Gate by three editors, Richard Neville, Jim Anderson and Felix Dennis, the magazine was renowned for its psychedelic covers by pop artist Martin Sharp, cartoons by Robert Crumb, radical feminist thought by Germaine Greer and provocative articles that called into question established norms of the period.

In the early 1970s, Oz became the subject of the longest obscenity trial in British history after it was raided by the obscene publications division of the Metropolitan Police in 1970. Dennis, Neville and Anderson were charged with conspiring to corrupt the morals of the young for Oz #28, an issue created entirely by school children, which included a sexually explicit parody of the Rupert Bear cartoon strip.

In response, the Friends of Oz campaign group was formed and a publicity campaign launched in support of the editors. Posters, flyers and stickers were produced; the Elastic Oz Band was formed and released 'God Save Us' featuring John Lennon and Yoko Ono; celebrities agreed to give evidence at trial and an Independence Day Carnival was staged to support the defendants and protest against the Misuse of Drugs Bill, censorship laws and the growing climate of government repression. The three editors were eventually acquitted of the conspiracy charge, but jailed for two other minor offences. However, all three eventually won their appeals and were released.

Geoffrey Marsh, Director of the Department of Theatre and Performance, V&A, said: "Oz was one of the leading magazines of the underground press in 1960s and 70s. Fifty years on, it forms an important time-capsule of revolutionary ideas of the period.

"This material deserves to be preserved at the V&A because the magazine and eventual legal battle over Oz represented a much broader and fundamental shift in British society in the 1960s. It raised the question: should, or even, could ‘The Establishment’ dictate what ordinary people saw, read and thought, or would the public be left alone to make up its own mind?

"Through a wealth of visual material, the archive chronicles this key turning point in British culture and offers a reminder that the powerful never relinquish control without a struggle."

Watch this space for further announcements on the forthcoming exhibition.

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