Underground Press

The Underground Press didn't say what you thought, but it did somehow express what you felt.

The UK underground press was launched in October 1966 with the first edition of International Times (International Times later changed its name to IT after objections by The Times newspaper); February 1967 saw the UK launch of Oz magazine.

These underground publications were the expression of an emerging UK counterculture. They were produced by independent insiders who reported on changing lifestyles and attitudes with an authentically radical voice. They both mirrored and helped to define the image and identity of the prevailing counterculture.

The term underground press was borrowed from secret presses produced during the Second World War. During Nazi occupations in Holland and France, resistance groups published underground newspapers as alternatives to official propagandist news sources. In German camps, prisoners of war produced the publication Pow Wow, an acronym for Prisoners of War Waiting On Winning. Pow Wow was a daily bulletin containing news about the war gathered from smuggled newspapers and radios. The publication helped to keep prisoners informed about the world outside the camps. These publications were illegal, and were produced, distributed and read at enormous risk. Editions of Pow Wow carried the message: to be read silently, quickly and in groups of three.

The 1960s underground press emerged in very different social circumstances. It became known as underground because it rejected the dominant culture, expressing counter cultural beliefs and using alternative forms publication and distribution. Independent distribution happened partly by design and partly out of necessity; International Times was first published out of the basement of the Indica Bookshop. Run by one of the International Times editors, the Indica was an emerging alternative outlet and command centre for the London underground scene. When mainstream news outlets refused to stock the controversial paper, IT found hip young people to sell it on the streets.

Cool credentials also helped to popularise International Times, and to ensure word of mouth circulation among its target audience. International Times was launched in October 1966 with an all night Pop/Op/Costume/Masque/Fantasy-Loon/Blowout/Drag Ball at the Roundhouse in London. Pink Floyd, Soft Machine and Yoko Ono performed at the launch. International Times also became linked to the popular UFO (United Freak Out) club; another focus of the London counterculture.

The underground status of IT and OZ was also reinforced by the authorities. Both faced regular police raids and both were prosecuted on charges of obscenity and conspiracy to corrupt public morals. In fact the infamous 14-Hour Technicolour Dream at Alexandra Palace, that took place between 28 - 30 April 1967, was staged to raise money for International Times after a campaign of police raids and seizures at the paper's offices threatened to close it down.

The rhetorical and informal language used in IT and OZ was itself highly provocative in relation to accepted ideas of journalistic prose. Their multilayered, many-coloured, often illegible page layouts also subverted ideas of good formatting, and screamed their connection to the counterculture. Cheap offset litho printing allowed designers the freedom to express the ethos of experimentation, mind-expansion and subversion, using metallic foils and fluorescent inks to layer image over text.

The Magic Theatre issue of Oz in 1969 was made up entirely of graphic montage; different visual threads and comic strips competed on the same page and ran over several pages making it necessary to follow several stories at once.


Public morals

Reporting scenes and blasting off?