> Part II

by Roger Hutchinson
IT, (International Times) No.147, February 9th 1973, pp.17-20.


It was the first obscenity trial of a comic book in British history, and the only trial that the underground press can remember winning. The Times reported that it cost the taxpayer 15,000, and The Guardian reported that it cost the taxpayer 3,200. In the face of such controversy, what else can we do but present in glorious monocolour, the Inside Dope on those eight days at the Old Bailey...

Judge Alan King-Hamilton: I cannot resist asking a question out of sheer curiosity. Are Rainbow and Comic Cuts still published?

Roger Martin Collier (newsagent): They are not.

Judge Alan King-Hamilton: (amid laughter) What a pity.
The jury was out for four hours thirty-four minutes in all. They were initially instructed to return with a unanimous verdict, and when after three hours they returned to say that no unanimous decision could be reached, the defence camp began to cheer up. At least, we reasoned there was now the possibility of a hung jury, a jury which could not reach even a majority decision, which would have necessitated either a retrial or (and this not only seemed the most likely course of action but it also was all that we dared hope for) the case would be dismissed and the charges dropped. It was also possible, of course, that the hippy in the jury was holding out alone against a Guilty verdict, and that his stand would be overruled when the judge asked for a majority verdict of 11-1 or 10-2.

Which, at 2.15 on the 25th January, the judge did, and the jury filed out court into their ante-room for the second time, the public gallery stood for the judge for the thirty-second time, and the defendants returned to the Old Bailey Restaurant - a gross mixture of candelabrad kitsch and Fortes functionalism. By 3.15 it seemed reasonable to assume that a hung jury was more than a crazedly optimistic concept. Half an hour later the jury returned to court and the Nasty Tales trials proceedings were re-assembled for the last time.

The hippy juror, who had unwittingly served as a defence barometer for the last eight days, looked excessively glum. The foreman of the jury nodded his quiff on being asked if his associates had reached a majority decision. No hung jury. With extreme lack of grace and what seemed to be total insensitivity to the courtroom reactions which his statements were making, he pronounced the defendants Bloom Publications Ltd, Joy Elaine Farren, Michael Anthony Farren, Paul Lewis, and John Edward Barker Not Guilty of the charge of possessing an obscene article for gain, namely 275 copies of Nasty Tales No 1.

The four defendants: 

Top left, Paul Lewis; top right, Mick Farren; bottom left, Edward Barker; bottom right, Joy Farren.

"How are we to know any better?"

In Which Mick has a Good Idea, and Joy Receives a Writ

Between the years 1968 and 1969 IT's circulation peaked at 45,000 copies per fortnight. There was a full-time staff of 15 people, paid between 15 and 30 a week. It was an unusual, chaotic era, a time for growth and hope which IT was reflecting more accurately than any other media form. At the turn of the decade occurred a time for re-assessment. Western capitalism, far from being on its knees, seemed actually to be gaining revenue from the movement-Columbia Records and the Foulks Brothers were running the revolution at 10% and copyright.

Ideas conceived in genuinely revolutionary minds were being assimilated and co-opted in establishment organisations from Kinney to IBM, and the obvious necessity of the movement's maintaining both its financial and moral life-flow led more agile minds into other fields. The two most effective intelligences on IT in early 1970 were those of Edward Barker, cartoonist, and Mick Farren, media-theorist extraordinaire. Their bizarre, post-McCluhan production style was keeping IT at a uniquely viable sales level while underground papers the world over plummetted to insolvent ends; and leading them personally into an awareness of the UK market possibilities of the highly successful West Coast freak comic books. Before Hodder & Stoughton got hip to the same possibilities, Mick'n'Ed did it.

Nasty Tales, it was called, and its first issue contained 30% original material and 70% syndicated American work. One of the cartoons in Nasty Tales No.1: Robert Crumb's Grand Opening Of The Great Intercontinental Fuck-in and Orgy Riot had previously been published in IT, without prosecution, and it consequently seemed that the obscenity laws posed a minimal threat to this branch of radical media.


Notorious page 50 - like a chocolate ad
It is true to the perverse irony of these situations that Joy Farren should have been the only staff member in the office on the 21st June 1971. While the rest of the staff was either cavorting at Glastonbury Fayre or assembling for the first day of the OZ trial, Joy found herself entertaining two officers from the Metropolitan Vice Squad equipped with a search warrant and an insatiable appetite for all things unusual. All copies of Nasty Tales No.1 were removed - 275 all told, including two from the mail-out tray - plus several ITs and a few bootleg albums. Joy who had been a mainstay of IT since Pterodactyls wheeled over Southampton Row, was peremptorily asked by Detective Sergeant Wright and PC Chamberlain if she was 'the secretary round here'. With a sarcasm that was to prove difficult to justify at the Old Bailey, Joy replied that she was 'only helping out'. Had they asked about her involvement in the production of those glossy comic books which were being so determinedly bundled out of the office, 'only helping out' would have been an understatement. Joy's first and foremost love was IT; Mick'n'Ed's crazy peripheral inspirations were outside her time and ken - another truth which the Court later accepted with extreme reluctance.
 
2
This calls for Vengince.
We don't know who Mrs Wooley is, or what makes her tick. We do know that she's a social worker of some kind, and that she has an eight year old boy. We also know that her eight year old boy at some time in the late spring of 1971 entered the news agency of Roger Collier and bought from the children's comic rack of the news agency one copy of Nasty tales No.1, which he tucked beneath his pre-pubescent arm and carried fondly home.

We don't know what punishment Mrs Wooley meted out upon her son for cultivating so decadent a taste, but we do know what she did to the magazine. She shredded it. Now, Nasty Tales No.1 ain't no telephone directory, and tearing it up wouldn't prove too difficult for anybody with two arms and opposing thumbs, but Mrs Wooley really went to town. And when she got the thing into small enough pieces to control, she took it down to the local police station and lodged a complaint. Let's say it now, because it won't be said again: Thank You, Mrs Wooley, where-ever and whatever you are. You probably don't realise it, but you've done radical publishing in this country quite a sizeable service. Because your local police station passed on your new-look perforated Nasty Tales to the Director of Public Prosecutions along with your complaint, and the DPP doesn't have to tear things up when they upset him. He takes them to court. He sends policemen down to registered offices where they may ask rude questions and carry things off, and then he indicts a reasonable number of people to appear in court and answer charges.

In this instance he indicted Bloom (Publications) Ltd, and the Individuals Mick Farren (company director), Edward Barker (company director), Paul Lewis (company director and IT copy editor), and Joy Farren (company secretary) to appear at Marlborough Street Magistrates Court in the winter of 1971 charged with possession of obscene material for gain under the Obscene Publications Act. The five defendants elected to be tried by jury, and over a year later were again indicted to appear in court, this time at the Old Bailey-which makes for a Very Important Trial, Mrs Wooley, and we're all very happy that it occurred. Just the same don't do it again. You can't stop your son reading what he wants to read for the rest of his life. 

3
Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here
Being tried at the Old Bailey constitutes a unique privilege. The effect that that ferocious old building has on a prospective defendant is a matter for some speculation. It's antique structure smacks of years of class injustice: the oft-proven ability of grand decor, Gothic costume, and legal shibboleth to intimidate the common person. Editors of the underground press, hardly individuals noted for their respect for establishment pomp, have now appeared at the Bailey on two occasions. The OZ trial last year was conceived as a circus, a courtroom lampoon; gestated into an inter-generation satire; and emerged as a crusade for legal reform. The gross seriousness of the Old Bailey is inescapable, and that's something which the Nasty Tales defendants were each able to accept, but for a long time not something they seemed able to come to terms with.

Paul, Mick and Edward had left IT in the spring of 1972. Paul had since had minimal contact either with the paper or his co-defendants. Mick'n'Ed had set up a media co-operative and continued to edit further issues of Nasty Tales for IT out of interest and for small financial reward. Joy was still maintaining IT's cash-flow with commendable efficiency and writing articles at home. The Nasty Tales Defence Group had been operating from IT for a year before the final indictment to the Old Bailey appeared, and found itself suddenly faced with the unenviable task of raising both the public interest and funds in support of an obscenity charge already more than twelve months old, whose defendants seemed almost incapable of staying in the same room with each other for more than five consecutive minutes. Far from the urgent flurry of flamboyant activity which emanated from the offices of OZ and confederates in the weeks before their armageddon, the IT staff was more concerned with gathering one or two last minute witnesses and raising enough money to keep the defendants comfortable for the duration of the proceedings. The press were alerted - insufficiently as it turned out - by means of two or three phone calls to friendly names; and last minute badges and T-shirts hurriedly issued. The Pink Fairies once again manifested their own unique and invaluable style of support by donating the proceeds of their Xmas Party to the fund, a sum of money which would have been quite considerable had it not been creamed off by the sharks from the Roundhouse Trust. Ian Knight and Huw Price, may you rot in hell. The Edgar Broughton Band also rowed in to do a last minute benefit at St. Pancras Town Hall: for which many thanks, lads.

Witnesses were proving a problem. While the OZ Trial had proven that hordes of qualified liberals standing up day after day and insisting on the innocuousness of the magazine in question served merely to bore the jury, it was apparent that some people were necessary to testify to Nasty Tales' artistic, literary and social merit, and that a child psychiatrist may have been needed to point out that seeing pictures of tits at an early age does not necessarily turn a child into a confirmed rapist or cult-killer. The one psychiatrist that we lured into the office to discuss the case looked slowly through the comic and meekly suggested that he couldn't see what all the fuss was about. But he wasn't a child expert, and, no, he didn't have a friend who was. Mick Farren devoted some time and considerable initiative in gathering last minute witnesses for the artistic and social merit, as well as preparing (in the Grand Tradition of the British civil liberties trials) to present his own defence.

"You see,"
said Mick in one of the two pre-trial meetings, "we honestly don't know what they consider to be obscene. We're members of a sub-culture publishing for that sub-culture. How are we to know any better?"

4
You May Be Shocked
"When they publish articles which are allegedly obscene, they are acting in limbo. We don't know what is considered to deprave and corrupt." Mr Roger Davies, counsel for Edward Barker, was a subdued, academic-looking man he was speaking to a jury which had been formed after the judge had taken what The Times called 'the unusual step of dismissing the ten members of the all-male jury sworn in the previous day.' It's true. They herded in forty-nine potential jurors, and each one with hair touching his ears was scooped out by the Crown, while the defence got rid of the stiff upper lips. By the end of Monday afternoon everybody was getting extremely bored, and what was more unique the Old Bailey jury pool had run out of jurors. So the judge dismissed the ten personifications of mediocrity that had got through the sieve and called a fresh lot. And one of the fresh lot had, difficult as it was for everybody concerned to credit, hair down to some inches above his waist. He beamed calmly at the court and answered to the name of Rodney. The others were young, between 25 and 40, and they were all men.

"Each comic reflects the attitude of its generation. You are trying a generation. The producers of this magazine are representative of their generation..." Roger Davies' was the last of the defence opening speeches. Behind him sat the four defendants, still casting querulous glances at the jury. "...consider this magazine in the context of the times and the defendants and the titter from the public gallery - they are the people who are likely to read this magazine. For want of a better word: hippies." The jurors glanced up at the public gallery. They didn't seem too impressed.

The prosecution witnesses were brief and to the point. Roger Collier, the unfortunate newsagent, testified that he'd sold IT on several occasions, but hadn't heard of Nasty Tales, which had arrived early one morning with a bunch of other magazines, and which he had consequently put on his children's' comic rack. It didn't overly surprise him that an eight-year old had then paid 20p for it. "Children," he said, "have a lot of money these days." PC Chamberlain's evidence was rather more surprising:

Mick Farren: You probably noticed that Berwick Street is an open street market impassable to traffic?

Chamberlain: Yes.

MF: You would have to walk a considerable distance to get to the offices of Bloom Publications?

C:50 to 75 yards

MF: In which journey you would have passed a number of bookshops selling hard or soft core pornography?

C:To my knowledge, none.

PC Chamberlain later admitted that he had served 2 1/2 years in the Obscene Publications Squad. Some homework to be done here. Detective Sergeant Wright, in the stand after Chamberlain, claimed that he had no idea of the origin of this particular complaint, but was merely "assisting PC Chamberlain in his search." Joy, he maintained, had lied to them in stating that she was 'only helping out', when in reality she was an officer of the company. "If meeting a young woman when I walk into an office," he insisted, "the natural thing to say is 'Are you the secretary?'."

5
Tears and Tribulations
Ronald Grey, the counsel for Joy Farren, is one of those quintessentially Victorian legal figures, visually more suited to the pages of Nicholas Nickleby than to the defence of an underground comic book in 1973. He adjusted his half-moon spectacles, nodded benignly to the judge, and introduced Joy to the jury:

"She is somebody who is concerned not only with the spiritual but the physical welfare of people in this universe. She is interested in ecology. She writes book reviews for IT. Mrs Farren not only had no part whatever in the publication of Nasty Tales, she had no knowledge of its contents..."
Joy, small, blonde and nervous, took the witness box:
"I prefer any sort of book which is likely to expand human consciousness. My duties at IT included coming in to the office for an hour or two in the morning, collecting the post and taking any money to the bank. I wrote regular articles at home and organised the small ads section. I remember the morning when the police arrived. I looked up and said 'Good morning' and PC Chamberlain said, 'Are you the secretary?' I was rather cross because it is an instinctive reaction of people to assume that a woman sitting in an office is a typist, and that is one thing I get cross about-the automatic assumption that a woman is always a servant. So I replied that I was only helping out...I never even thought about things like being company secretary."
Michael Coombe is a large man. As Queen's Counsel for the prosecution it was his duty to find Joy Farren guilty of depraving and corrupting other members of society.
Coombe: Why did all four of you not join in Nasty Tales?

Joy: I have absolutely no interests in comics. I have always dealt with my own interests, and that was my function in the paper.

C: If the new venture was successful it would increase the income of the company?

J: Possibly.

C: Then you would have got more money?

J: No, we would have employed more people.

C: Did you think Nasty Tales was going to be a comic in the sense of Beano orDandy ?

J: No, I thought it was going to an underground comic book.
Alan King-Hamilton QC is a small man. As judge at the Nasty Tales trial it was his right to ask any questions he felt like asking...
Judge: What is meant by an 'underground comic'?

Joy: Comics which are directed towards young people, who you might call hippies. Alternative comics is a better description. Encouraging people to live off the land, to have a better diet, to be better human beings.
...and to make any jokes that he felt like making...
Judge: How can you live off the land underground?
Michael Coombe, refreshed, took up the story. 'Underground', by his logic, equals 'sex', equals 'filth'; and therefore Mrs Farren knew full what the comic would be about. "Group sex" he slavered, "does the underground recommend that?" "Certainly not" replied Joy, slightly offended, I don't like group sex." A copy of IT containing a vintage sex aid ad was waved before the court.
Coombe: Were you aware that this sort of ad was going into the paper?

Joy: Yes: It was not part of a deliberate plan to advertise pornography.

C: Did it appear with your full approval?

J: Not necessarily. I don't like pornography.

On the back page of Nasty Tales No. 1 is an ad for IT, It describes the paper as a 'fortnightly mind fuck' and (ah Mick'n'Ed: the joys of sensationalist advertising), recommends IT for 'searing, pungent reportage' and 'dirty small ads'. The judge swooped:

Judge: 'Please look at the back page of Nasty Tales No. 1. How do you reconcile that with 'I don't like pornography?'
Joy is not Mick or Ed. She has not their understanding of nor sympathy for the use of outrageous, mocking, comic hyperbole. In no way is she qualified to answer for it. She didn't. When Coombe asked for her opinion of 'dirty small ads'; she answered that she had never to her knowledge seen a 'dirty small ad', and did what she'd always predicted she'd do under prosecution pressure: she broke down in tears and the court was adjourned for ten minutes. On Joy's return, the prosecution continued with its attempt to establish her iniquity. The front cover of Nasty Tales bears the legend: 'Meep Comix'. Michael Coombe, with unprecedented ingenuity, suggested to Joy that the letters M.E.E.P. represented the initials of all the defendants - an M for Mick, E for Edward, P for Paul... and the extra E? Well, Joy's middle name is Elaine. Cute, huh? Joy's counsel pointed out to the court that the expression 'meep' is one commonly used by a cartoon character conceived by Edward Barker, namely: the Largactilites. Coombe took the point, and dropped that line of questioning. Joy's counsel closed her evidence, after five hours in the witness box:
Counsel: What sort of occupation do you consider to be important?

Joy: For me? Writing. And trying to help people

C: Would you regard helping people as more or less important than occupying the office of 'company secretary'?

J: Of course it is more important.

> Part II