The International Times, or IT as it was known, was an underground newspaper launched in London in 1966 with a gig headlined by Pink Floyd. Founded by John Hoppy Hopkins, Barry Miles, Jim Haynes, playwright Tom McGrath and others, IT soon became the voice of the 1960s and early 1970s British underground. IT mixed radical politics with news and features on literature, drugs and sex. International Times is a remarkable barometer of the 1960s and 1970s British underground political debates, musical creativity, theatrical avant-garde tendencies and psychedelic experiences. The archives of IT are now available online.
In the mid-1960s, London was home to a significant community of writers, artists, musicians and political activists expressing themselves in alternative or underground magazines such as OZ, first published in Australia before moving to the UK, INK, Frendz or International Times (IT). Launched in 1966 with a gig headlined by Pink Floyd, and founded by John Hoppy Hopkins, Barry Miles, Jim Haynes and playwright Tom McGarth, International Times is a remarkable barometer of the 1960s and 1970s British underground political debates, musical creativity, avant-garde theatre and psychedelic experiences. With its famous logo featuring the 1920s American silent film star vamp Theda Bara, IT dominated the British underground press until the mid-1970s.
Underground press, dissenters and rule breakers
The IT offices were located in the basement of the Indica bookshop on Southampton row, the acme of swinging London, the happening place for contemporary artists in the sixties. As Barry Miles recollects in his book London Calling, the 1960s underground London scene was largely a West End phenomenon. Notting Hill was a very different place then, with squats, head shops and “free Schools” to the fore rather than coffee, chains designer stores and upscale restaurants. West end London was the focus of alternative and underground embracing “hippies, beats, mystics, madmen, freaks, yippies, crazies, crackpots, communards and anyone who rejects rigid political ideology, and believes that once you have blown your own mind, the Bastille will blow up itself”. IT was right in the middle of this vibrant, festive and outrageously vivid community living between the pioneering psychedelic club UFO on Tottenham Road, the Cochrane Theatre in Holborn, the London film-makers Co-op and the Arts Lab on Drury Lane among other now famous places of London West End. International Times was modelled on the East Village Other (EVO), the underground paper of East Village in New York founded in the mid-1960s and characterised by montages, non-sequitur headlines and the use of comic strips [Seedy Bee in Physiddelics by Jeff Nutall (IT, #6, 1967) and, below, Gilbert Shelton’s Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers strip (IT, # 74, 1970)].
The first issue of IT was dated October 14, 1966. “Every day people pour into London to find out what is happening there” (#1 – Editorial, 1966) and IT made a point to display what was going on around in London from Yoko Ono woman show of “instruction paintings”, to the price of drugs in various cities, outing known undercover cops in a startling column entitled “Interpot”, via the classifieds for those who were looking for transportation, flats and soulmates. As Peter Stansill recalls,
“The first 10 issues focused on avant-garde art, music, happenings, theatre, film and literature, with occasional
forays into censorship, personal freedom, the Vietnam War, student protests, and LSD and cannabis price trends in Notting Hill”.
IT was unremittingly anti-establishment. At its peak, the journal was selling 50,000 copies and its admirers found articles that appeared nowhere else in the newspapers published on Fleet Street.
Flavour of the times – International Poetry, Sex and Flying saucers
IT is certainly an interesting cultural hub when it comes to understand the 1960s post-Beat poetry reading and art-oriented groups that emerged in England. Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Jeff Nuttall and their hippie hedonist sense of life enjoyed a prominent place in its pages and the journal echoed all the new poetic vibes mixing romanticism, mysticism and provocation that were so very often censored elsewhere on the grounds of obscenity. The 17th issue of IT released during the 1967 summer of love featured a photo of the poet Allen Ginsberg on the cover with a series of provocative headlines: “consciousness is addictive”, “dead centre” followed by “all politics is pigshit. Cannabis can cure Acne” and a final “Poems … the whole works” (IT, #17, 1967). IT is also a rather interesting spot for an exploration of the difficult introduction of French Situationist (‘the Sits’) into British counter-culture. If the first issue of IT featured an obituary of Andre Breton by the French artist and poet Jean-Jac
ques Lebel (IT, #1, 1966) , the disdain for what was largely perceived as French “intellectualism” can be seen in a book review published in IT in 1978 (IT, vol.1, #4, 1978: 26). Until the end of the 1960s, ecstasy, poetry, Soho strip guides and flying saucers were more common in the journal that political commentary and analysis.
Politicos – Saigon, Paris, Berlin and Belfast
IT works as an interesting barometer of the new left debates. Politics entered IT with the student protests that were sparking in Paris and Berlin. Issue 29, released in May 1968, featured a translation of an interview with Rudi Dutschke which appeared a couple of months before in the German leftist magazine Konkret (#29, 1968) and, following the London anti-Vietnam rally which turned into a pitched battle with police, a rather hostile open-letter to Mr Tariq Ali written by John Hopkins. Hopkins was inviting Tariq Ali, the rally’s organiser, to read a little bit more on the subject of street fighting and urban guerrilla warfare “or else cop out and start thinking. That’s all you have to do” (#29, 1968). The issue 32 released in May 31, 1968 was entitled “Special rush: Paris Alternative Society Now. UK: 1/6, Paris: Free” and included an interview with a member of “the March 22 Movement” from the University of Nanterre (#32, 1968). In the issue of September 1969, IT offered a double page “special report on Ulster”:
“The Protestants of Ulster regard themselves as WASPS (and if you don’t know what that means, baby, you’d better stop reading just here.) And they treat the Catholics of Ulster with the same mixture of humanitarian liberalism and open-handed kindness that a South Carolina tobacco farmer metes out to his spade workers. When an Ulster Protestant wants to insult somebody he calls him a “Fenian”, or a “Papist” or a “Pope-head” .The insults are mediaeval, as is the way of life. Unlike England Ulster has never devalued words and names” (#65, 1969).
If politics was flooding into IT at that time, it was not consistent and without a clear-cut political line. By the end of the 1960s, however, the editorial policy of the journal seems to have been more in the hands of radical personnel than the hedonist poets who were in charge of the first issues. From 1970, readers could more regularly find politicised articles in IT on the squatter movement for instance (#85, 1970) or on Francoist Spain, the Gay or Women’s liberation movement (#95, 1971) and the death of Ulrike Meinhof in Germany (#6, 1977). Despite the introduction of a more political tone and some interest in issues of sexual liberation, IT was hardly the most hard-edged political underground journal when it comes to gay rights, racial equality and women liberation movement.
IT is an extremely precious underground magazine when it comes to understanding the long sixties, a time of a huge revolution in living standards, relationships and attitudes. IT was creative, liberating and impertinent. With the vampish Theda Bara on its front cover, IT was certainly one of the iconic British underground newspapers. IT was famous but not necessarily for the inherent and in-depth quality of its articles and perhaps much more for its last page featuring “what’s happening”, the list of all the places, concerts and events-to-be. IT, could have been anything from “Intergalactic Times” (headline of IT #6, 1967: “intergalactic times # a cosmic link # information is common property”) to “Intravenous Times” but it showed two fingers to the British polite society, an outrageous newspaper at a time when London was not entirely delivered from its post WWII Calvinist boring habits. But IT was also irremediably male-centred and rather sexist.
Contrary to IT, Time Out magazine that emerged during the same period in the late 1960s, took rapidly a non-conformist stance on homosexual issues and, in many ways, sealed the 1960s underground paper’s fate. Spare Rib, a magazine that emerged in the 1970s within the women’s liberation movement became the debating chamber of feminism in the UK.
By the mid-1970s IT was financially crippled and closed after 164 issues in 1973. During the 1970s and until the mid-1990s, the famous IT logo reappeared episodically but IT as a journal disappeared entirely in the 1980s at a time when the London underground was literally falling apart. Time Out and Spare Rib were less underground and definitively more political. They took over IT. They gave great testimony to how the 1970s are not to be lampooned and despised as a non-decade.
. Nelson, Elizabeth, Liz Reed. The British counter-culture, 1966-73: a study of the underground press. Macmillan, 1989
. Miles, Barry. London calling: a countercultural history of London since 1945. Atlantic Books Ltd, 2010
. Rycroft, Simon. Swinging city: a cultural geography of London, 1950-1974. Ashgate Publishing, 2011.
. Neville, Richard, Play Power, London, Cape, 1970, p.18
. Dickinson, Margaret. Rogue reels: oppositional film making in Britain, 1945-90. British Film Inst, 1999.
. Stansill, Peter. “Life and death of Internatonal Times.” British Journalism Review 17, no. 4 (2006): 72
. Fountain, N. (1988). Underground: the London alternative press, 1966-74. Taylor & Francis