As an archive of International Times launches online, Dugald Baird
looks at the lasting influence of the underground paper
by Dugald Baird
17 July 2009
I wasn't born yet when International Times was launched in 1966, but
like many others I felt its impact.
The counter-culture paper, which was published throughout the 1970s
and into the 1980s, helped launch the careers of Germaine Greer, Jeff
Nuttall, Heathcote Williams and John Peel, among others. There were
original stories from writers such as Norman Mailer, William
Burroughs, Alexander Trocchi and Allen Ginsberg. It mixed radical
politics with news and features on literature, drugs and sex. And it
covered the spread of alternative culture across the globe, from the
May 1968 protests in Paris to the Black Panthers to the anti-Vietnam
It also had a great sense of provocative, playful humour, visible in
cover lines such as 1967's "Impeach the home secretary", May 1971's
"Super free cut out Jesus mask" and the numerous headlines spoofing
the News of the World, such as 1969's "London bobby turns into a
girl". "Holy cow! It's another dirty commie smut rag!" Captain
America tells readers on the cover of a March 1971 issue.
More importantly, it provided a model for the alternative press. It
was almost certainly an influence on Tony Elliott's decision to
launch Time Out magazine, whose first issue looks almost identical to
IT's "What's Happening" listings section. IT's design (a mixture of
hand-drawn illustrations, typeset text and cutout photographs),
arresting covers and striking logo helped set the graphic tone of its
era. It championed cartoonist Robert Crumb and underground comic
strips such as the Furry Freak Brothers. And it's hard to imagine the
fanzine revolution of the late 1970s, led by Mark Perry's Sniffin'
Glue, without the "do it yourself" aesthetic of IT.
The fortnightly paper also helped spark the development of the music
press in the UK; its launch was partly born out of frustration with
mainstream titles' lack of coverage of underground music. Indeed, it
launched in October 1966 at London's Roundhouse with a gig headlined
by Pink Ployd. In his blog The Wired Jester, journalist Alex Watson
quotes IT co-counder Barry Miles on the motives that spurred the
launch of the paper:
"The idea of anyone from our community writing for the Guardian or
the Times was inconceivable. None of the papers had any popular music
coverage in those days. Our group of people needed somewhere to
express themselves, so in early 1966, Hoppy [John Hopkins] and I
started to put it together. We got the guy who'd been editor of Peace
Times for CND [Tom McGrath], to help, too. He'd gotten freaked out
and left London and gone to live in the countryside, but we got him
to come back."
Miles went on to discuss the paper's writing and distribution:
"IT wasn't properly edited. It depended a lot on people bringing
stuff in. It was the same with distribution anyone could come in a
grab 50 copies, and we just trusted them to bring the money back, and
then they could get some more copies. By 1969, IT's height, we were
printing about 44,000 copies, and it was going out every two weeks or
so, unless we'd been busted or something."
Commercial pressures were clearly always a factor, and the paper had
to hold regular benefit nights in order to stay in print. One of
these, 1967's "14-Hour Technicolour Dream" at London's Alexandra
Palace, featured a stellar lineup including Pink Floyd, Yoko Ono,
Arthur Brown, Soft Machine and others. Having heavyweight supporters
clearly didn't hurt either Watson quotes Miles:
"The first few issues had a lot of serious articles by William
Burroughs about the overthrow of the state. He used it as his
platform to work out his ideas. And there was Ginsberg too. All the
usual suspects. When we were running out of money, I was talking to
Paul McCartney about it, and he said, 'Well, you should interview me,
then you'll get ads from the record companies.' And I thought, 'Hey,
he might be on to something.' So I interviewed him, and then George
Harrison, and then the next week Mick Jagger called up, demanding to
be interviewed too. And Paul was right, we got ads from the record companies."
The interview Miles is describing ran in January 1967, and from later
that year EMI ran ads for bands such as the Beatles and Pink Floyd.
In late 1969, the paper introduced its own regular music supplement, MusicIT.
However, the commercial pressures continued: in February 1972, it
announced that it had decided to move away from the tabloid format
and start life again as a 52-page Rolling Stone-style magazine with a
glossy cover. It explained that while it had started as "the one lone
voice in the wilderness of off-Fleet Street journalism", "there are
now four radical tabloid newspapers fighting for your custom". It
would therefore be focusing mainly on the "general culture" rather
than politics. However, this change lasted only for some half dozen
issues, and the paper soon went back to its radical tabloid format.
Like fellow underground title Oz, whose editors (including Richard
Neville, Jim Anderson and future magazine mogul Felix Dennis) faced
notorious obscenity trials, IT experienced continual harassment from
the authorities. The paper's offices were raided for the first time
in March 1967, when 8,000 copies were seized on grounds of obscenity.
The charges were later dropped. In 1970 it charged with conspiracy to
corrupt public morals by printing gay contact ads in its back pages.
It was convicted in 1972 and temporarily closed down.
Meanwhile, Hopkins, described by a judge as "a pest to society", was
jailed for allowing cannabis to be smoked in his Bayswater flat.
Miles helped organise a full-page advert in the Times in July 1967,
funded by McCartney, that stated the law on marijuana was "immoral in
principle and unworkable in practice". It was signed by the Beatles,
David Dimbleby, RD Laing, Graham Greene, Jonathan Aitken, doctors and MPs.
The paper stuttered to a halt in August 1974; in June 1975, it was
revived when underground paper Maya adopted the IT masthead and the
two titles merged. It continued into its 10th birthday and the punk
explosion, and was published regularly up to about 1978.
IT was relaunched for a few issues in the early 1980s. I first bought
it in 1986, when it had been revived by comedian and writer Tony
Allen and Chris Brook, in Camden alternative bookshop Compendium. IT
struggled on with various one-offs into the 1990s.
Until now, it has been hard to get a look at copies of the paper.
Original 1960s issues, often produced in small print runs, have
become collector's items. But now, backed by Miles and Hopkins, all
the issues are available to view in an online archive.
It seems fitting, given the ethos of the paper, that it lives on as
an internet resource: in a sense, the "community" that it once served
has now moved online.
But do you remember International Times in its heyday? Do the covers
in our picture gallery bring any back any memories? Let us know below.
In pictures: International Times covers