Underground press

Underground press

The phrase underground press is most often used to refer to the independently published and distributed underground papers associated with the counterculture of the late 1960s and early 1970s. It also refers to illegal publications under oppressive governments, for example, the samizdat and bibuła.


This movement borrowed the name from previous "underground presses" such as the Dutch underground press during the Nazi occupations of the 1940s. The French resistance also published an underground press and prisoners of war (POWs) published an underground newspaper called "Pow wow". In Eastern Europe, also since approximately the 1940, underground publications were known by the name "samizdat". Those predecessors were truly "underground," meaning they were illegal, thus published and distributed covertly. While the countercultural "underground" papers frequently battled with governmental authorities, for the most part they were distributed openly through a network of street vendors, newsstands and head shops, and thus reached a wide audience.

The underground press in the 1960s and '70s existed in most countries with high GDP per capita and freedom of the press; similar publications existed in some developing countries and as part of the "samizdat" movement in the communist states, notably Czechoslovakia. Published as weeklies, monthlies, or "occasionals", and usually associated with left-wing politics, they evolved on the one hand into today's alternative weeklies and on the other into zines.

The underground press in Australia

The most prominent underground publication in Australia was a satirical magazine called "Oz" (1963 to 1969), which owed an obvious debt to the UK magazine "Private Eye". The original Australian edition appeared in 1963 and it continued sporadically until 1969. The Australian editions published after 1966 were edited by Richard Walsh, following the departure for the UK of his original co-editors Richard Neville and Martin Sharp, who founded the British edition ("London Oz") in 1967.

List of underground press in Australia

*"The Digger" (1972-75)
*"The Living Daylights" (early 1970s)
*New Dawn (magazine)
*Nexus (magazine)

The underground press in the UK

In London, Barry Miles, John Hopkins and others produced "International Times" which, following legal threats was renamed "IT".

Richard Neville arrived in London from Australia where he had edited "Oz" (1963 to 1969). He launched a British version (1967 to 1973), which was A4 (as opposed to "IT"'s broadsheet format). Very quickly, the relaunched "Oz" shed its more austere satire magazine image and became a mouthpiece of the Underground. It was the most colourful and visually adventurous of the alternative press (sometimes to the point of near-illegibility), with designers like Martin Sharp. Other publications followed, such as "Friends" (later "Frendz") , based in the Ladbroke Grove area of London, "Ink", which was more overtly political, and "Gandalf's Garden" which espoused the mystic path.

Neville published an account of the counterculture called "Playpower", in which he described most of the world's underground publications. He also listed many of the regular key topics from those publications including Vietnam, Black Power, Politics, Police Brutality, Hippies & Lifestyle Revolution, Drugs, Popular Music, New Society, Cinema, Theatre, Graphics, Cartoons etc.

The underground press offered a platform to the socially impotent and mirrored the changing way of life in the UK underground.

Police harassment of the British underground in general became commonplace, to the point that in 1967 the police seemed to focus in particular on the apparent source of agitation: the underground press. The police campaign may have had an effect contrary, however, to that which was presumably intended. If anything, according to one or two who were there at the time, it actually made the underground press stronger. "It focused attention, stiffened resolve, and tended to confirm that what we were doing was considered dangerous to the establishment." remembered Mick Farren [http://www.thanatosoft.freeserve.co.uk/undergroundfiles/interview.htm] . From April 1967, and for some while later, the police raided the offices of "International Times" to try, it was alleged, to force the paper out of business. In order to raise money for "IT" a benefit event was put together, "The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream" Alexandra Palace on 29 April, 1967.

On one occasion, however - in the wake of yet another raid on "IT" - London's alternative press, somewhat astonishingly, succeeded in pulling off what was billed as a 'reprisal attack' on the police. The paper "Black Dwarf" published a detailed floor-by-floor 'Guide to Scotland Yard,' complete with diagrams, descriptions of locks on particular doors, and snippets of overheard conversation. The anonymous author, or 'blue dwarf,' as he styled himself,' claimed to have perused archive files, and even to have sampled one or two brands of scotch in the Commissioner's office. The London "Evening Standard" headlined the incident as "Raid on the Yard". A day or two later "The Daily Telegraph" announced that the prank had resulted in all security passes to the police headquarters having to be withdrawn, and then re-issued.

By the end of the decade, community artists and bands such as Pink Floyd, (who later "went commercial"), the The Deviants, Pink Fairies, Hawkwind, Michael Moorcock and Steve Peregrin Took would arise in a symbiotic co-operation with the underground press. The underground press publicised these bands and this made it possible for them to tour and get record deals. The band members travelled around spreading the ethos and the demand for the newspapers and magazines grew and flourished for a while.

The flaunting of sexuality within the underground press provoked prosecution. "IT" was taken to court for publishing small ads for homosexuals, despite the legalisation of homosexuality between consenting adults in private. The "Oz" "School Kids" issue, brought charges against the three "Oz" editors who were convicted and given jail sentences. This was the first time the Obscene Publications Act 1959 was combined with a moral conspiracy charge. The convictions were, however, overturned on appeal.

List of underground press in the United Kingdom

* "Peace News"
* "International Times" (also "IT")
* "Oz"
* "Gandalf's Garden"
* "Heatwave"
* "Black Dwarf"
* "Idiot International"
* "Friends" (later "Frendz")
* "Gay News"
* "Spare Rib"
* "The Fanatic"
* "Ink"
* " Running Man

The underground press in the United States and Canada

The North American countercultural press of the 1960s drew inspiration from predecessors that had begun in the 1950s, such as the "Village Voice" and Paul Krassner's satirical paper "The Realist." Arguably, the first underground newspaper of the 1960s was the "Los Angeles Free Press", founded in 1964 and first published under that name in 1965. By 1967, the cooperative Underground Press Syndicate (UPS) was formed at the instigation of the publisher of another early paper, the "East Village Other". The UPS allowed member papers to freely reprint content from any of the other member papers. Other prominent underground papers included the "San Francisco Oracle," the "Berkeley Barb" and "Berkeley Tribe" (Berkeley, California); "Fifth Estate" (Detroit), "Other Scenes" (dispatched from various locations around the world by John Wilcox); "The Helix" (Seattle); The "Chicago Seed"; "The Great Speckled Bird" (Atlanta); "The Rag" (Austin, Texas); Space City News (later Space City!) (Houston) "Rat Subterranean News" (later "Women's LibeRATion") (New York City), "The Spectator" (Bloomington, Indiana); "The Inquisition" (Charlotte, North Carolina), and in Canada, "The Georgia Straight" (Vancouver, BC). By 1969, virtually every sizeable city or college town in North America boasted at least one underground newspaper.

The underground press phenomenon proved short-lived. By 1973, many underground papers had folded, at which point the Underground Press Syndicate acknowledged the passing of the undergrounds and renamed itself the Alternative Press Syndicate. That organization soon collapsed, to be supplanted by the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies.

During the 1960s and 1970s, there were also a number of left political periodicals with some of the same concerns of the underground press. Some of these periodicals joined the Underground Press Syndicate to gain services such as microfilming, advertising, and the free exchange of articles and newspapers. Examples include "The Black Panther" (the paper of the Black Panther Party, Oakland, California), and the "Guardian", New York City; both of which had national distribution. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) conducted surveillance and disruption activities on the underground press in the United States, including a campaign to destroy the alternative agency Liberation News Service. As part of its COINTELPRO designed to discredit and infiltrate radical New Left groups, the FBI also launched phony underground newspapers such as the "Armageddon News" at Indiana University Bloomington, "The Longhorn Tale" at the University of Texas at Austin, and the "Rational Observer" at American University in Washington, D.C. The FBI also ran the Pacific International News Service in San Francisco, the Chicago Midwest News, and the New York Press Service.

"The Georgia Straight" outlived the underground movement, evolving into an alternative weekly still published today; "Fifth Estate" survives as an anarchist magazine. Most others died with the era. Given the nature of alternative journalism as a subculture, some staff members from underground newspapers became staff on the newer alternative weeklies, even though there was seldom institutional continuity with management or ownership. An example is the transition in Denver from the underground "Chinook", to "Straight Creek Journal", to "Westword" [http://www.westword.com] , an alternative weekly still in publication. Some underground and alternative reporters, cartoonists, and artists moved on to work in corporate media or in academia.

List of underground press in the United States

* "Amazing Grace" - Tallahassee
* "Berkeley Barb" - Berkeley, California
* "Berkeley Tribe" (splintered from the Berkeley Barb)
* "The Black Panther" - Oakland, California
* "The Chicago Seed"
* "East Village Other"
* "Fifth Estate" - Detroit"
* "The Great Speckled Bird" - Atlanta
* "The Guardian" - New York City
* "Good Times (magazine)" - SF, Ca
* "The Helix" - Seattle
* "Kudzu" - Mississippi
* "The Inquisition" - Charlotte, North Carolina
* "Liberated Guardian" - New York
* "Liberation News Service"
* "The Last Times" - San Francisco, California Charles Plymell, 1967.
* "Los Angeles Free Press" - Los Angeles, California
* "Los Angeles Staff" (splintered from Los Angeles Free Press)
* "Mt. Nebo Flash" - Buffalo, NY
* "New Age" - Athens, Ohio
* "New Age 1971 first issued" - Buffalo, NY
* "Old Mole" - Cambridge, Massachusetts
* "Other Scenes" (dispatched from various locations around the world)
* "The Phoenix" - Boston, Ma
* "Rat Subterranean News" (later "Women's LibeRATion") - New York City
* "The San Diego Door"
* "San Francisco Oracle"
* "San Francisco Express Times"
* "The Spectator" - Bloomington, Indiana
* "The Spectrum" - Buffalo, NY
* "The Rag" - Austin, Texas
* "The Realist"
* "Record - political" - Sytate Uni. Buffalo, NY
* "Space City News (later Space City!) - Houston*
* "Together" - Buffalo, NY* "Undercurrent" - Buffalo, NY
* "Underground Press Syndicate" - (UPS)
* "Village Voice"
* "Chinook (Denver weekly)" - Denver
* "Women's LibeRATion" - New York City

List of FBI COINTELPRO "underground" news operations

* "The Armageddon News" - Indiana University Bloomington (FBI-run underground newspaper)
* "The Chicago Midwest News" (FBI-run underground news serivce)
* "The Longhorn Tale" - University of Texas at Austin (FBI-run underground newspaper)
* "The New York Press Service" - (FBI-run underground news serivce)
* "The Rational Observer" - American University, Washington, D.C. (FBI-run underground news service)
* "The Pacific International News Service" - San Francisco (FBI-run underground news service)

List of underground press in Canada

* [http://members.gillamnet.com/mjaxon@gillamnet.com/website/ The Underground Press - Snow Lake, Manitoba]
* "The Georgia Straight" - Vancouver, Canada

ee also

* Alternative press (U.S. political left)
* Alternative press (U.S. political right)
* Alternative media
* News agency (alternative)
* UK Underground
* French resistance
* Underground culture


* [http://www.thanatosoft.freeserve.co.uk/undergroundfiles/interview.htm Funtopia] Retrieved Aug. 8, 2004
* [http://www.azenphonypress.com/books/voices1_tcontent.html "Voices from the Underground (Vol. 1): Insider Histories of the Vietnam Era Underground Press"]
* [http://www.azenphonypress.com/books/voices2.html "Voices from the Underground (Vol. 2): A Directory of Resources and Sources on the Vietnam Era Underground Press"]
*Abe Peck. "Uncovering the Sixties:The Life and Times of the Underground Press" (New York: Citadel) 1991.
* [http://www.nuevoanden.com/rag/newmedia.html Dreyer, Thorne and Victoria Smith (1969), "The Movement and the New Media," Liberation News Service.]

Further reading

* Leamer, Lawrence. "The Paper Revolutionaries". New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1972.
* Lewes, James. "Protest and Survive: Underground GI Newspapers during the Vietnam War". Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2003. ISBN 0-275-97861-3.
* Mungo, Raymond. "Famous Long Ago: My Life and Hard Times With the Liberation News Service". Boston: Beacon Press, 1970.
* Peck, Abe. "Uncovering the Sixties". New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 1985.
* Wachsberger, Ken, editor. "Voices From the Underground". Tempe, AZ: Mica Press, 1993.

External links

* [http://www.international-times.org.uk International Times]
* [http://www.nexusmagazine.com Nexus Magazine (Australia)]
* [http://ozit.org ozit.org] scans of OZ Magazine (archived site)
* [http://www.lib.uconn.edu/online/research/speclib/ASC/exhibits/voices/ "Voices from the Underground," an exhibition of the North American underground press of the 1960s; includes a substantial gallery of color images.]
* [http://www.nuevoanden.com/rag/ A digitally scanned archive of the first twelve issues (1966-67) of "The Rag," from Austin, Texas]
* [http://www.trussel.com/lyman/avatar/avatar.htm Examples of the Boston underground newspaper "Avatar"] [(While "The Avatar" shared its design approach and many social concerns with other underground papers of the time, in one important respect it was completely atypical: it served as a platform for self-proclaimed "world saviour" Mel Lyman, leader of a communal cult.)]
* A number of libraries have extensive microfilm collections of underground newspapers. For example, the University of Oregon library has a collection that consists of mostly, but not exclusively North American) underground papers. [http://libweb.uoregon.edu/govdocs/micro/uginv.htm]
* [http://pers-www.wlv.ac.uk/~fa1871/ozit.html Counter Cultures: Cultural Politics and the Underground Press]
* [http://www.merkki.com/powwow.htm Pow wow in the 1940s]
* [http://www.sirnosir.com The website for the film "Sir! No Sir!"] has an extensive collection of primary source materials from the GI underground press
* [http://www.scarletdukes.com/st/tmhou_press3.html A collection of covers of Space City News (Space City!)] by underground artist Bill Narum.

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