Source: The Guardian
Richard Neville, editor, writer and broadcaster, publisher of the iconic magazine Oz.
Using humour to mock the conservative nature of Australian society and show up the hypocrisy of its sexual mores, that first issue kicked off with a piece on the history of the chastity belt, as well as a long feature by Richard exposing the dangers of back-street abortion – at a time when abortion was not only illegal, but a taboo subject. Later issues would focus on censorship, homosexuality, police brutality and the “White Australia” policies of the Australian government.
Oz immediately attracted the ire of the establishment. Shortly after the third issue appeared, the three editors were charged with bringing out an indecent and obscene publication. Advised, wrongly, that they would get off if they pleaded guilty, they did so, but were duly charged and fined.
In March 1964, they were again accused of obscenity, for issue No 6, which carried a cover photograph of Richard and two mates pretending to urinate into a wall fountain, on the side of the new P&O building in Sydney, which had recently been opened by the prime minister, Robert Menzies. This time the editors pleaded not guilty. They were tried and convicted, and given prison sentences of between three and six months with hard labour. They eventually won on appeal, on the basis that the magistrate had misdirected the jury, but the case dragged on for two years.
By now Richard was ready to travel. In 1966 he and Sharp took the overland route through Asia to London, where Richard met up with his girlfriend, Louise Ferrier, who had left Sydney the year before. There he found the lure of starting a London Oz irresistible. He recruited writers and artists, and brought out the first issue in February 1967. Aided by the visual brilliance of Sharp and the flexibility of offset litho printing to experiment with colour, Oz became the iconic magazine for that loose set of attitudes known as the counterculture.
Energised by the optimism of the era, Richard gave Oz an eclectic, imaginative breadth, with a pioneering internationalism and an opposition to prejudice, and subjects ranging from American Yippies to student activists, from mystical dreamers to new age ecologists, which meant the magazine was only sometimes as superficial as the sloganeering banner of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll suggested.
He had an Australian knack of brushing aside the systemic barriers of British class. He published New Left writers but disagreed with their revolutionary politics, declaring himself against all “isms” and abhorring any ideology backed by violence. Yet by 1970 he acknowledged that violence had erupted on the edges of the alternative society.
To address this, Richard was preparing his “End of an Era” issue of the magazine when, in 1971, he had to endure the notorious Oz obscenity trial in the UK for No 28 (May 1970), put together by schoolchildren, who had responded to an ad in Oz to create their own issue. Linked to an additional charge of conspiring to corrupt public morals, for which the penalty had no limits, the trial went on for a nerve-racking six weeks.
John Mortimer QC defended Richard’s UK co-editors, Jim Anderson and Felix Dennis, while Richard defended himself, displaying oratorical skill. Humorous exchanges during the case related, for example, to the Rupert Bear comic strip: one of the schoolboy contributors had collaged Rupert on to a Robert Crumb cartoon. A pop single, God Save Oz, by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, contributed to the Oz defence fund.
Public outrage at the long prison sentences handed down to the editors ignited after they emerged from remand with their hippy locks shorn. After rigorous further work by Geoffrey Robertson, junior counsel to the defence, the case was won on appeal, again on the basis that the judge had misdirected the jury.
In the same year, Richard co-founded the newspaper Ink, to bridge the gap between the underground and the mainstream press. It folded in February 1972. Exhausted by the trial, he shed the editor’s mantle. The final issue of Oz was published in November 1973.
Richard was born in Sydney, an interesting place to grow up in the postwar years. Despised as a cultural nowheresville by Britain, but valued by migrants from war-torn Europe, it was a city of equality, promise and low unemployment. But in Australia the Indigenous population had no vote, and there was stifling censorship of the arts, widespread police corruption, and a prime minister who showed his support for the US invasion of Vietnam by reintroducing conscription in the form of a birthday ballot.
Richard was the youngest of three children of Betty (nee MacKnight) and Clive Neville. His father was a bookkeeper who had commanded an infantry battalion in the second world war – earning the nickname Colonel – and then became managing director of Country Life newspaper. Richard was sent as a boarder to Knox grammar school in Wahroonga and, following a period working in advertising, enrolled for an arts degree at the University of New South Wales, Sydney.
There he found his metier as editor of the student newspaper, Tharunka, turning it into a platform for student pranks. He met Walsh, a Sydney University student also involved in journalism, who became a sparring companion with a wit to match his own and, on a road trip to a student editors’ conference in Adelaide, the idea to launch a magazine of dissent was born.
Richard Neville on Climate v the Rich
Richard applied his charm and enthusiasm to the co-editorship of Oz as well as flair, originality and a steadfast loyalty to its values of tolerance and freedom. I first met him when I went to work as the magazine’s secretary in 1964. I observed his wide smile, his generous brown eyes and dark hair, already longer than the norm, and responded to his humour by making a joke of my own, which surprised me. He was a man who inspired others; he was a catalyst and innovator, who displayed a charisma that was sometimes the envy of others.
In the years following the end of Oz, Richard wrote freelance pieces from an alternative perspective for several newspapers. In 1974 he met Julie Clarke, a writer and journalist, and they moved to New York and then to Sydney, where they married in 1980. Together they wrote a biography of Charles Sobhraj (1979), who murdered young backpackers travelling in Asia in the 1970s. It was a harrowing experience for Richard, who felt he had come face to face with the antithesis of the counterculture.
At the end of the 60s, he had posed the tricky question: out of the alternative society, what exactly had “the greatest relevance for the future”? In his book Playpower (1970), he had predicted the rise of computer technology and envisaged more leisure, hence the need to develop the “politics of play”. But in the digital world of the 21st century, he asked: what if “the promise of free time turns out to be stealing our time?” In these later years, as writer, journalist, television presenter and speaker, he sought to trace the footprints of the future, framing the urgent questions as a “race between self-discovery and self-destruction”.
In the 1980s, Richard appeared on the Australian TV programme The Midday Show as a cultural commentator, and then created and hosted his own show, Extra Dimensions, in which he explored the subject of sustainability, searching for promising alternative projects and offbeat ventures, although his penchant for being the entertainer occasionally took centre stage.
His life changed again after a serious car accident in the mid-90s, which damaged Julie’s spine. Richard became the sole breadwinner and home carer. He continued to write articles and books, including Hippie Hippie Shake (1995), a memoir of the 60s, and in 1997 he co-launched the Australian Futures Foundation, to help organisations plan for the future and engage traditional businesses and environmentalists in dialogue. For more than a decade he wrote a blog underlining the enviromental as well as the human cost of militarism and war.
He is survived by Julie and their daughters, Lucy and Angelica.
Geoffrey Robertson writes: Richard Neville reached the pinnacle of his influence in the summer of 1971, on his release from prison on bail after an Oz trial that had produced more letters to the Times than the Suez crisis. His trademark hippy hair newly cut by the prison barber, he was rushed to the BBC studios and accorded an overly respectful interview by David Dimbleby, agog for further details of his “alternative society” condemned by the prosecution as involving “dope, rock’n’roll and fucking in the streets”. It turned out to be a commitment to sexual equality, rock’n’roll and human rights. One of his aphorisms was picked up by Tony Blair, 25 years later, for his New Labour election campaign: “As Richard Neville said, there is only an inch of difference between us and the Conservatives, but it is an inch worth living in.”
Oz (with a nod to the Wizard) was a late 60s counterculture magazine with specific issues directed to arguing for the rights of oppressed groups – women, black people, gay people and schoolchildren. It was the last of these that gave Scotland Yard the opportunity to pounce, when bright teenagers were given the chance to edit a Schoolkids Oz. They railed against paedophile teachers and mischievously depicted Rupert Bear with a truly bear-sized erection.
Neville was arraigned at the Old Bailey on a charge of “conspiracy to produce a magazine with intent thereby to debauch and corrupt the morals of young persons within the realm”. It carried a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
After a trial lasting six weeks and testimony to the public benefit of Oz from experts including the psychiatrist Hans Eysenck, the creative thinker Edward de Bono, the jurisprudence professor Ronald Dworkin and the comedian Marty Feldman, the jury acquitted on the conspiracy charge. But the judge directed them to bring back a verdict of guilty on an obscenity charge, whereupon he ordered the defendants to be detained in prison for psychiatric examination.
As they were stark staring sane, and this was what was happening to dissidents in Russia, there was an uproar in parliament, led by Tony Benn and Michael Foot. Neville was jailed for 18 months by Judge Michael Argyle and ordered to be deported (to Botany Bay, presumably) – a fate the Australian could only avoid by marrying an Englishwoman. The young Anna Wintour offered her hand, although the court of appeal made nuptials unnecessary by quashing the convictions. Neville’s charisma survived his haircut – in my BBC television drama The Trials of Oz (1991), he was played by Hugh Grant.
Neville was no street revolutionary. Violence shocked and actually frightened him. The revolution he sought was in the mind and he was always willing to change his, if the evidence demanded. (He discarded his youthful belief that soft drugs were conducive to peace when he researched the killings of Vietnamese civilians by GIs high on cannabis.) He was a provocateur, an adventurer and a journalist.
Those who knew him will never forget his delight in new ideas, his ability to enthuse his friends to think about future prospects and perils of a technological and interconnected society, and his endless curiosity about what lay beneath the emperor’s newest clothes.
Neville tired of London but not of life, which he rediscovered with Julie Clarke. Their marriage was a joyous ceremony beside a waterfall at Happy Daze, his family property in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney.
His books remain essential reading for those interested in decoding the 60s, from Playpower (a mischievous sub-Marcusean manifesto) to Hippie Hippie Shake, a slightly rueful, but very funny, look back in languor. Those of us privileged to have played against power alongside him will remember the warmest and most generous of friends, a man with a deep moral vision and, when it came to the crunch, the courage of his convictions.
The complete archive of the London Oz is available here…