The Indecency Trial That Destroyed Iconic Zine 'OZ' and Got a Cop Thrown in Jail
In 1970, the counterculture magazine got a load of school kids to edit an issue full of naked women and ads for sex toys, which didn't go down too well with the Met's Obscene Publication Squad.
The front cover of 'OZ' issue 15.
By 1970, after just three years on the shelves, OZ – the Sydney-founded, London-based counterculture magazine – was accused of losing touch with its younger readers. The best way to remedy that, thought the editorial team, was to place an advert in issue 26 that read:
"Some of us at OZ are feeling old and boring, so we invite any of our readers who are under 18 to come and edit the April issue... you will enjoy almost complete editorial freedom. OZ belongs to you."
Twenty secondary school students were taken on to edit the May 1970 issue, which would eventually become known as the infamous "School-kids OZ". This temporary editorial staff included 15-year-old Vivian Berger, who – in his mini-biography in the front pages of the magazine – admitted to smoking cigarettes aged nine and tripping for the first time at 11. For the issue, Berger created a Rupert Bear parody by pasting Rupert's head onto X-rated drawings by cartoonist Robert Crumb. Mary Tourtel's much-loved character now sported a huge erection, which he repeatedly tried to insert into an oddly virginal "Gipsy Grandma".
Maybe because of the combination of the "kids" title with adverts for "vibrating massagers", leather posing pouches and Swedish porn magazines, the School Kids Issue didn't sell particularly well and was quickly forgotten by the OZ team. However, two months after its release, in July of 1970, they got a reminder in the form of the Obscene Publications Squad raiding their Holland Park office. OZ's Australian founder, Richard Neville, and co-editors Jim Anderson and Felix Dennis were all charged with producing a magazine that would "debauch and corrupt the morals of children [and] arouse and implant in the minds of those young people lustful and perverted desires".
Geoffrey Robertson, then a fresh-faced Australian Rhodes Scholar, offered to help with the OZ team's defence, while John Mortimer QC – celebrated barrister and author, and father of actress Emily Mortimer – agreed to defend the magazine in court at the eleventh hour. Germaine Greer, an old friend of Neville's from Sydney, was in America publicising The Female Eunuch, but offered to fly back to help. Robertson pointed out that her testimony might not go down all that well in court, as she had recently allowed her anus to be photographed for the Amsterdam-based underground magazine Suck.
The following year, during the trial at the Old Bailey, the defence counsel Brian Leary seemed obsessed with Rupert Bear's erection. At one point he read out Jim Anderson's editorial that described Vivian Berger's work as "youthful genius". Leary described the simple process of glueing together two artists' work and asked the OZ editor, "Wherein lies the genius?" Anderson tried to explain: "Er, I think it's in the juxtaposition of two ideas, the childhood symbol of innocence..." Leary interrupted: "BY MAKING RUPERT BEAR FUCK!?"
A few days later, and still preoccupied, Leary asked the witness, academic Edward de Bono, "What do you suppose is the effect intended to be of equipping Rupert Bear with such a large-sized organ?"
"I don't know enough about bears to know their exact proportions," replied de Bono gravely. "I imagine their organs are hidden in their fur."
Presiding Judge Argyle – who, from the outset, seemed to think OZ magazine threatened the fate of Western civilisation – at one point interrupted to ask another defence witness, the jazz singer George Melly, what he meant by the word "cunnilinctus". Melly helpfully explained the meaning: "Sucking. Blowing. Or going down or gobbling. Or, as we said in my naval days, 'yodelling in the canyon'."
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Later in the trial, Leary, also having problems with some of the words in OZ, asked Neville: "The cover of the magazine portrays, does it not, a series of lesbian poses?"
"Yes, there are depicted three or four ladies enjoying themselves," Neville replied.
Leary then pointed at a phallus strapped to one of the women. "I think it's called a dildol."
"Er, I don't think so," Neville pointed out, to which Judge Argyle interrupted: "I think we'd better call it an 'imitation male penis'."
"Your Honour," Neville responded, "I think the word 'male' is unnecessary."
Richard Neville has admitted that he was rather pleased with himself for making this comment – but it's worth noting here that objectifying images of women were continually used on the cover and inside OZ. Marsha Rowe, co-founder of feminist magazine Spare Rib, who helped with the defence at the OZ trial, pointed out that women who worked on the magazine "did the office and production work rather than any editorial work". Only four of the students who worked on the "School Kids" OZ were girls, and one of them, 15 year-old Berti, featured in a pull-out "Jailbait of the month" poster.
"God Save Oz" by John Lennon, written and recorded to help fund the OZ team's defence.
After Judge Argyle had finished summing up, doing very little to hide his contempt for the defendants, the jury retired to consider their verdict. At one point they asked for the exact meaning of "indecency". Argyle replied: "If a woman takes her clothes off on a crowded beach, we think that is indecent in this country." After a total of four hours, and armed with this helpful explanation, the jury found all three defendants guilty.
"Send them down!" shouted Argyle.
A week later, the three accused – now with shaved heads courtesy of Wandsworth prison – returned for sentencing. They were all given up to 15 months imprisonment, a sentence some commentators criticised, saying you could quite easily find much harder porn in Soho than in the pages of OZ.
This kind of talk worked in the OZ team's favour. When the case went to appeal, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Widgery, gave a clerk £20 and sent him to Soho to buy the most hardcore porn he could find. The images in OZ paled in comparison to what he returned with. Because of this – and because Judge Argyle had provided "very substantial and serious misdirection" to the jury – the convictions were quashed.
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Reginald Maudling, the Conservative Home Secretary, hauled in Detective Chief Inspector George Fenwick of the Obscene Publications Squad and asked him to explain exactly why Soho's sex shops were operating with impunity while there were continuous raids on relatively innocuous "alternative" magazines. Fenwick blamed the publicity of the OZ trial but had no real answers, so the Home Secretary initiated a major corruption inquiry into the Metropolitan police.
These investigations – helped along by a new Met commissioner, Robert "Mr Clean" Mark – revealed that there was systemic corruption "on a scale that beggars description" at the heart of the London's police force, with investigators finding that many of Soho's porn merchants were making weekly payments to some of the most senior police officers in the UK. In 1976, George Fenwick was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment.
Although OZ magazine gained readers after the publicity of the trial, its popularity faded over the next 18 months, and in November of 1973, £20,000 in debt, the magazine closed down for good.
Every back issue of OZ is now available online, via the University of Wollongong.
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