Jim Anderson was one of three editors on trial for publishing OZ magazine, the now legendary psychedelic underground weekly accused in 1971 of ‘conspiracy to corrupt public morals.’ The other two, Felix Dennis and Richard Neville have died in recent years, but PKM’s David Stewart was able to reach Anderson at his home in Sydney, Australia. Anderson revisits the events surrounding the scandal, which inspired John Lennon & Yoko Ono to write songs in support and Mick Jagger to pen his own scandalous ‘Schoolboy Blues’.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most protracted and sensationalized obscenity cases in British legal history—The Oz Trial. For six weeks in 1971, Oz magazine’s editors Jim Anderson, Felix Dennis, and Richard Neville sat in London’s storied Old Bailey as Brian Leary QC, the Crown Prosecutor, adamantly tried to pass life sentences on the trio for “conspiracy to corrupt public morals and implant in the minds of the children the lustful and perverted desires.” For good measure, Leary also sought deportation back to Australia for Anderson and Neville.
Originally the site for public floggings and burnings at the stake back in the 17th century, the Old Bailey reserved its court for scrutinizing Oz issue #28: “The Schoolkids” issue. In the psychedelically drawn and colored underground magazine, a cartoon featuring the beloved British cartoon character, Rupert Bear, with a fully erect penis became the center of controversy in addition to underground comics from Gilbert Shelton (The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers) and Robert Crumb, among others.
When Jim Anderson took the stand, it was a far cry from his original pursuit of becoming a lawyer back in his native Australia.
“Some friends of mine were in trouble with the criminal law, to do with homosexuality,” he recently explained from his home in Sydney. “It was just a boyfriend happened to be in my house. My boss at the attorney general’s department was handling this matter, so we were hauled in, my partner and I, and questioned about this event. That was the tipping point, so I resigned, quickly left Australia, and moved to London.”
It was in London at the 1967 Legalize Pot Rally in Hyde Park that Jim met Richard Neville; a chance meeting that would lead to Anderson’s involvement with Oz magazine. A fellow Aussie, Richard Neville was no stranger to controversy when he founded Oz back in Sydney before bringing his operations to London.
Footage from the Legalize Marijuana Rally, Hyde Park, 1967:
“Richard was flogging a copy of Oz out of a van at Hyde Park Corner,” Jim recalls. “He asked what I was up to, and I said ‘I’m leaving tomorrow to go live in Tunisia on the Island of the Lotus Eater, the island of Djerba’, I didn’t see Richard again until 18 months later. When I arrived back in London after many adventures, I was totally broke and somebody said ‘Richard is looking for a research assistant. How about you take the job?’ I went over to Richard’s house and we got on like a house on fire. I was a natural-born editor, so I moved into his apartment with his partner, Louise, and that was it! Once you get involved with Richard in any way, you immediately get involved with Oz.”
From Neville’s and Anderson’s apartments in Notting Hill, the monthly Oz magazine was assembled. Neville’s first editorial duties were an inadvertent baptism-by-fire in terms of his run-ins with the authorities.
“The first Oz I put together was the Homosexual issue,” Anderson recalled. “In which we portrayed a naked black man and a naked white man kissing on the front cover: the issue sold out. By the time the police realized what was on the cover, they raided our apartments and seized the 25 copies that we had. Felix Dennis and I were hauled into Scotland Yard and the police basically said, ‘You boys do this again and we’ll do you!’ I asked if we could have the copies back to which they replied, ‘Get out of here! Don’t push your luck!’ That was our warning.”
The warning went unheeded when the Oz trio advertised for teenagers to contribute their drawings and articles for Issue #28. Vivian Berger’s cut-up of a horny Rupert Bear along with a satirical Danish cartoon of a girl urinating on a phallic-shaped plant didn’t deter the editors before the issue was put to bed. It wasn’t until the authorities raided the magazine headquarters on December 17, 1970, that the trio found themselves in real legal trouble.
According to Anderson, “When the Rupert Bear issue came out, the shit immediately hit the fan! Oz magazine was distributed across Britain and headmasters from all over the country complained about the cover, which became known as the ‘Naked Blue Lesbians’ cover.”
In an act of defiance, Jim, Felix, and Richard dressed up as schoolboys when they were being read their charges.
“All three of us were arrested,” said Anderson. “The magistrate let us out on bail and we were only charged with publishing obscene material; that’s all it was, a tiny charge. Richard had been busted and got out of it before, back in Australia, so we really didn’t take this charge seriously because of the way we dressed up. Unfortunately, later that year, the Labor Government lost, Prime Minister Harold Wilson was defeated and the Conservatives came in and changed their mind about what to do. They said, ‘We must do something about the Underground Press!’, so we were raided again and got caught with marijuana and they took everything. We had an office by that time and the cops took all of our back issues and raided my apartment. Fortunately, I didn’t get busted. After the raid, they decided to up the charges and the charge was a conspiracy to corrupt public morals and implant in the minds of the children the lustful and perverted desires. So, this was a very serious common law charge and everything changed from that moment on.”
A who’s-who of cultural icons—known as Friends of OZ—rushed to the defense of the Oz trio. These “friends” included BBC Radio Presenter John Peel, Marty Feldman, Germaine Greer (also from Australia and the author of the controversial The Female Eunuch), John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Lennon and Ono wrote two songs to benefit the defense (“Do the OZ” and “God Save OZ”) while Mick Jagger wrote the controversial song “Schoolboy Blues” (aka “Cocksucker Blues”). Despite the star power for the defense, it didn’t sway the conservative Leary or the judge presiding over the trial, Michael Argyle.
John Lennon – Do The Oz
John Lennon – God Save Oz
Jim Anderson’s time on the stand was short, yet it wasn’t what he said that left a lasting impact on him; it was what he couldn’t say in court.
“It had been agreed before the trial, between the prosecution and the defense, that my homosexuality would not be mentioned because with the prejudices of homosexuality back then, and the fact that children were involved putting together Issue #28 would have been gunpowder for the prosecution. I did fine for a while on the stand, but then Mr. Leary, who behaved like a Victorian housewife flouncing his robes all the time, said ‘Mr. Anderson, do you find the male penis interesting?’ Then, Richard called out ‘There’s no need for ‘male’, Mr. Leary!’ The judge told Richard to be quiet. I said, ‘It’s a perfectly okay part of the male anatomy, Mr. Leary.’ Afterward, Mr. Leary just stroked his chin and went “Hmmm……”-and that sort of unsettled me. I mean, I was out and about in London at that time marching down Oxford St. with placards supporting Gay Liberation, but from that point on I realized that I was never really quite as out as I thought I was and I became unsettled.”
As the OZ trio had their sentences read, a large-scale demonstration led by John Lennon and Yoko Ono was held outside the Old Bailey.
“We appealed. We were sent to Wormwood Scrubs and there was a huge demonstration led by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Not just about OZ magazine, but just about everything that was going on at that moment in London, and to calm things down, they let us out. Normally in British justice, you stay in jail until your appeal was heard, but they let us out immediately. Three months later, the Court of Appeals judge said, ‘Quash the convictions’ and castigated Judge Argyle for five major errors of law and 72 errors of fact that he was sent back to the Country Circuit. (laughs)”
Despite the star power for the defense, it didn’t sway the conservative Leary or the judge presiding over the trial, Michael Argyle.
After OZ ceased publication in 1973, Anderson found himself wrestling with depression and paranoia to the point of considering suicide after signing a book deal.
“Frankly, I was going to take the money and run,” he says now. “There was no way I could write; I was physically debilitated, losing my balance, going paranoid, the problem was that I didn’t tell anybody. Ninety-nine percent of my life was concealing what had happened to me. So, it’s no wonder why I was exhausted. I was going to run away to Africa and die on Lamu, an island in Kenya. I got a call from my Yippie friend, Adam Lisowski, who told me to go to Ghana to take up Primal Scream therapy. I did all these naked screaming therapies on a beautiful beach in Western Ghana- just a little tiny fishing village that happened to have this old hotel that had a skeleton staff. So that was the beginning of my cure.”
Lennon and Ono wrote two songs to benefit the defense (“Do the OZ” and “God Save OZ”) while Mick Jagger wrote the controversial song “Schoolboy Blues” (aka “Cocksucker Blues”)
By 1975, Anderson made his way to Bolinas, California, to finish writing about his life and what happened during the OZ trial. What he didn’t expect was his editor’s untimely death.
“I sent my monograph [tentatively titles Assholes on your Pad, Mr. Leary?] to my editor, Tony Godwin. I got a call from this distraught secretary screaming, ‘Mr. Anderson! Mr. Anderson! Mr. Godwin is dead! He’s had an asthma attack and is lying on the floor!’ Three weeks later, I got a letter from the publisher (Harcourt Brace & Jovanovich) canceling my book. By that time, I was sick of the book.”
As the hippie solitude of Northern California gave way to the financial changes brought on by Silicon Valley and the rise of the tech boom, Anderson moved back to Sydney where he wrote the acclaimed novels Billarooby and Chipman’s African Adventure.
He is the last surviving defendant of the OZ trial. Richard Neville, who would pen the Swinging’ Sixties memoir Hippie Hippie Shake, died in 2016. Felix Dennis became the multimillionaire publisher of Maxim, Blender, and Stuff magazines before passing away in 2014. Today, Jim continues to write and draw, with no signs of slowing down at 83.
Fifty years after the OZ trial, the issue of free speech remains a hotly contested one, even while the Second Impeachment trial of Donald Trump loomed over our conversation like an orange albatross.
“We live in a different society now; it’s much more conservative,” Anderson surmises. “Trumpism isn’t gone, but there are certain responsibilities about freedom of speech. You can’t just have freedom of speech to say anything, like ‘Fire!’ in a cinema, which was very clear back in the Sixties. Getting rid of Victorian moralities had to change, such was the case for Lady Chatterley’s Lover [by D.H. Lawrence]. These illustrations in OZ were clearly not okay to show or talk about, but it’s much more complicated than that now. For example, the question of responsibility. You can’t incite violence, you have to censor that, I think…You hate being censorious, but you have to find the dividing line and make these wise decisions about where that dividing line is: what’s possible and what’s not. The blanket argument of freedom of speech is sort of nonsense.”
Before our conversation came to an end, Jim was optimistic about the transfer of power here in the United States.
“Despite what’s happening now, I love America and the rich American culture. I didn’t want to leave it but it was inevitable that I did. I feel sorry for America and what it has endured. Joe Biden’s a wonderful old guy and he’s got a terrible job ahead of him. America needed a shake-up, but they got Mr. Trump instead. It wasn’t the shake-up America needed, but Joe’s got to deal with that and I wish him the best.”
The Trials of OZ (1991)-BBC Productions, a dramatization with Hugh Grant, Simon Callow, Leslie Phillips, Nigel Hawthorne. The opening 11-minute segment on the history of OZ magazine is excellent: