SUNDAY 19  MAY 2024


Three anarchic hippies who created Rupert bare

John Lennon and Yoko lead protests at the Rupert porn trial in 1970

EVEN today, the Rupert Bear cartoon strip that shocked people 50 years ago, would shock them now. Our beloved Daily Express bear born in 1920 who took a generation through magical adventures in the forest near his home, was seen performing sex acts with his mighty organ at full mast on top of the lower body of a large, unconscious woman in the satire magazine Oz. And it was a magazine’s schoolkids’ edition, put together by 20 high school students in the UK.

And so began the longest porn trial in British legal history. In July 1970 the Obscene Publications squad raided the magazine’s London office, seized its materials, and charged the three hippy editors with conspiracy to “corrupt the morals of young children, creating an obscene article, selling it for profit, and sending it through the mail”. Rupert didn’t know what hit him. Would Bill Badger get him out of this now?

Richard Neville and his two co-editors were confined for psychiatric evaluation and five charges brought against them with the possibility of being jailed. Rightly so? Many didn’t think so, including artist David Hockney who created a drawing in protest and Beatle John Lennon who cut a demo record with the theme: ‘Let us fight for Rupert Bear/Let us fight for freedom’. And it appeared a lot of the public were on their side too, after all this was the era of free love and flower power. Jazz singer George Melly even spoke for the defence and explained to the judge what the word ‘cunnilingus’ meant.

The times they were a changin’,  the Beatles had split up; drugs and pop festivals flourished and hippies marched against the Vietnam War.

A pressure group was set up called The Friends of Oz, and T-shirts, fliers and posters were the symbol of a long hot summer. Even the Pope was dragged into the argument and told of England’s moral pollution. It was all good copy, and the Express of course had the inside story.

All this helped the editors win an acquittal on conspiracy. But they were convicted of obscenity, had their long hair chopped and jailed briefly. They were finally cleared at the end of the year on appeal.

Poor old Rupert, eh? Personally, I found the cartoon degrading for women and obscene but the thing that got to me most was that the Sydney-founded anti-culture magazine, had been accused of losing touch with its younger readers … so it had placed an advert saying:

“Some of us at Oz are feeling old and boring, so we invite any of our readers who are under 18 to come and edit the April issue, you will enjoy almost complete editorial freedom. OZ belongs to you.” They did.

The temporary editorial staff included 15-year-old Vivian Berger, who said he started smoking at nine and went on drug trips at 11. He pasted Rupert’s head on to porn drawings by a cartoonist named Robert Crumb.

Illustrator Mary Tourtel, who created boy bear Rupert in 1920, would be turning in her grave if she had known he meta-morphed into sporting a huge erection, which he repeatedly tried to insert into a character named Gipsy Grandma. Oz magazine even carried adverts for vibrators; posing pouches and Swedish porn magazines alongside.

Happily the magazine’s sales didn’t go well and eventually it went to the wall in November 1973. But Rupert never completely escaped back into his magical woodland surroundings. Every issue of Oz is online now with him in issue 28 for all to see.

Piano salesman who tuned into the Express

ONE of the strangest stories of people being appointed editor of an Express title, and there are many bizarre tales, is that of Beverley Baxter. Who, might you ask?

He was appointed to the Daily chair in 1929 after R D Blumenfeld was ‘kicked upstairs’ as we say. And so, the curtain came up on the Max and Bax show. It was to be a weird partnership, if you ask me, but of course, no one has.

But, I mean, who would have thought that this man Beaverbrook (Max Aitken) appointed to one of the top newspaper jobs in the country, was a supporter of appeasement and Neville Chamberlain as war clouds gathered. It just doesn’t fit the Express patriotic mould.

Canadian Baxter had a long list of ambitions in early life, he wanted to be an orchestra conductor, an actor, a cartoonist, a pianist, a singer or a playwright and author, although out of 56 stories he wrote, he only managed to sell one — to a publishing friend. Instead, he became a piano salesman.

However, he found himself arriving in Europe as a soldier and went on to win a commission, taking the eye of a Brigadier who made him editor of the Army magazine, which he did with great success and acclaim, meeting Beaverbook at functions on several occasions. On one he was offered a job on the Express but turned it down.

A few months later however, he returned to Canada on a troopship and guess what? The Beaver was on board. On hearing that Bax could sing a bit, the Express owner requested a performance. Bax, who had a commanding tenor voice, duly obliged. By the end of the evening, they had become great friends.

Beaverbook sent him a message two days later. It said: “More than ever I think you should be a journalist.”

Back in Toronto, Bax turned down his old job as a piano salesman at £800 a year and wrote a book called The Parts Men Play which he sold for £2,000 in 1919. He had now made up his mind to be a writer.

He wrote to Beaverbook who was staying at London’s Hyde Park Hotel, saying: “May I report for duty? Baxter!”

Beaverbrook replied by cable: “Come at your own risk!”

When he arrived in London, Blumenfeld, editor at the time, put him in charge of Page Four, the editorial and opinion page along with Letters to the Editor. Soon, he had gained a reputation for sparing no one. He was ruthless and opinionated.

Within two years he was managing editor of the Sunday Express and within four years he was managing editor of the Daily, which under his editorship became the first daily newspaper in the world to reach a circulation of more than two million. There’s more of course, much more.

After leaving the Express, Baxter became Tory MP for Wood Green in 1935. All his life he had championed the British Empire and Canada’s part in it. In his maiden speech to parliament, he argued that the poverty problems of depressed areas in Britain could be alleviated by encouraging emigration of the English to the other countries in the Colonies. He was knighted in 1954.

The men on Arthur’s Clapham Omnibus

All aboard the iconic Clapham Omnibus, a photo of editor Arthur Christiansen’s legendary horse-drawn bus for tea lady Alice and the lads at the Neasden Omnibus Depot, who love that kind of thing and for London bus buff, our own editor Lord Drone. It was called the ‘Knifeboard’ because passengers on the top deck sat back-to-back. ‘Don’t be late for Route 88’.

IT IS interesting that when Arthur Pearson founded the Express in 1900, he had already achieved great success among the newly educated working and lower middle class with his own publication Pearson’s Weekly. In the 1890s, sales had reached a staggering one million copies a day.

The money was rolling in and provided the foundations for his new Fleet Street venture that led to the paper most of us worked for — and the popular journalism we have today. Apparently, Pearson had his own ways of appealing to the hopes and aspirations of the British people, banning the use of foreign words in the Express that were used every day by competitors such as the Daily Mail.

“Our policy is patriotic … our policy is the British Empire!” he announced in the paper. The public lapped it up. One of the first things he did was to place the most important news of the day on Page One when other newspapers still buried it about five pages in.

I often wonder whether Arthur Christiansen adapted some of the stirring messages to his journalists that Pearson became so well known for. His favourite dictum was: “Never forget the cabman’s wife!” And we all know that Christiansen always said: “Never forget the man on the Clapham Omnibus!”

Both were good quotes of course and many people believed the Clapham Omnibus quote was invented by Christiansen for pep talks to his staff. But it was used by judges in court cases to describe an ordinary, reasonably minded, working-class man in the street, more than 30 years before he took the chair.

More recently, in 2014, Lord Reed explained the legal use of the phrase.

He said: “The Clapham omnibus has many passengers. Most venerable is the reasonable man, who was born during the reign of Victoria but remains in vigorous health.

“The other passengers are the right-thinking members of society, familiar from the law of defamation, the officious bystander, the reasonable parent, the reasonable landlord, and the fair-minded and informed observer, all of whom have had season tickets for many years.”

The term has been used all over the world for centuries … In Australia: ‘The Man on the Bondi Tram’ and in Hong Kong: ‘Shau Kei Wan Tram’.

The route of the original Clapham Omnibus” is unknown, but historians believe it was London Buses Route 88, running between Parliament Hill Fields and Clapham Common … our dear old friend, Drone columnist Alan Frame lives there and must take it often, when his man has a day off.

Cheers and farewell, George mate!

George Sewell, centre, in Get Carter

ACTOR George Sewell was one of those famous faces people recognise in the street but can’t remember who they are … although they can see the parts they played on TV or the films, in their mind’s eye. Sewell always played the tough guy, and he looked the part with his pockmarked face and sullen manner.

Often, after closing time at the Albion in Fleet Street, there would be a couple of thumps at the door, and it would be him arriving for a late-night snifter on his way to a night in Soho to see his gangster mates.

He knew Landlord Mickey Barnet and his wife Rona well, but it was his son Mervyn who was his big chum, along with former champion boxer Billy Walker, who came in once or twice. The three of them were buddies since East End schooldays. They would have a couple at the bar before going upstairs to the top room, where private guests were entertained.

Sometimes Sewell just drank alone, as men do, staring at the bar top thinking about life. We hacks never disturbed him but as he came to recognise us, he would nod across and we would raise our glasses, that sort of thing. He once told Billy Monty that he was a printer, and he must have felt comfortable with us. He would sometimes come in with top cops, or a detective or two from Snow Hill police station in the city.

Mickey told us that East Ender George’s father was a boxer called The Cobblestone Kid and I guess, that was the family’s long connection to Billy Walker. He was one of those people we never really knew, but sort of did, if you know what I mean. And it was only last week that I sadly discovered he had died of cancer, aged 82, some years ago in his villa in the south of France.

George started out in life as a plumber’s mate, then became a coal miner, window cleaner and dance band drummer before going to acting academy.

Top roles followed in movies like Get Carter, TV’s Z-cars, Special Branch, and Tinker, Tailor Soldier Spy.

Cheers George, have one for us.

There ain’t nothin’ like a Dame

I confess to watching one of the seemingly endless list of TV quiz games last week – just by chance. Not good for my blood pressure. Silly, I know, but I can’t help getting wound up about the thickness of some of the ‘British’ people. Where have they been living?

One family was asked to name eight British Dames. But they didn’t know what a Dame was, never heard of one. A while ago, a question was who bombed Pearl Harbor? Answer: The Americans. In another show the contestant was asked: “What animal doesn’t the public like riding?” Answer: A dinosaur? Ughh!

I suppose things will get even worse when our political parties, some broadcasters, journalists, the Lords and churchmen, get their wish and turn us into an integrated community led by illegal-entry foreign nationals, some call Boat People, when it will be by Government decree to travel on coaches together to make compulsory friends. Down will come our hero Nelson’s statue, up will go Mandela.

Are we losing our identity as some believe … just what is Britishness now? A level of immigration is good for Britain, but surely it must be legal immigration. We want to know who our new friends are, their background, that they are honest, hard-working and want to contribute to our society and learn about our culture, traditions and history. Then make history together.

Otherwise, what will be the flag of the British Foreign Party when Justin Welby governs from Downing Street, we wonder? After all, the unelected House of Lords sees itself now as a governing body to block the will of an elected Parliament, and not carry out its original mandate to the people … to advise.

I am sure that misguided Welby is a good man but has lost sight of many of his flock. Which begs the question: “Why did Cromwell bother with his bloody war that cost so many lives in 1642?

Who was the greatest knight of them all?

Sir William Marshal hero of the Holy Wars

Most of us have walked past a little gateway on Fleet Street that leads to the Temple, the inner sanctum of Britain’s legal profession. It’s a curious name,  one that always fascinated me as I came through the barriers of Temple Station and headed up the hill to The Strand and the Express.

I used to wonder if there really was a temple behind that little gateway. But I later discovered there wasn’t. Just a little old round church in the middle of the chambers of barristers with an effigy of a man who is described in the history books as “the best knight who ever lived”. No, not Nick Lloyd, but William Marshal. Never heard of him? Probably not.

He is buried there and was a knight from humble beginnings who became one of the most powerful men in the country, even acting as Regent when Richard I was away on the crusades. It was Marshal who played a key role in getting King John to agree to the Magna Carta in 1215, on which all our laws are based today. In fact, he wrote some of them.

The long, handwritten document established the principle that everyone is subjected to the law, even kings and queens and it guaranteed the rights of individuals to justice and a fair trial. For the first time we were on our way to democracy.

The Temple in London became the treasury for the King’s money and was the second HQ for the knights, serving to back up their Temple in Jerusalem. Difficult now though to imagine stables for hundreds of horses there and armouries full of swords and shields.

Marshal was a skilled and fearsome warrior, much feared on the battlefields of the Holy Lands. He would lead thousands of knights on horseback in the mud, past where the Express was later built, up Ludgate and through what became the city, to board ships at Thames ports to take his warriors to the Middle East.

After fighting in the Holy Land, Marshal returned to service with Henry II during several conflicts with the king’s sons. He became famous for having killed Richard the Lionheart’s horse from under him – and his knights reported that he could have dispatched Richard too had he chosen to do so.

His story often reads like a fiction book. He became a tournament champion beating 500 knights in his lifetime.

Wounded in an ambush in France, he was caged in a castle and a well-wisher passed him a loaf with clean bandages hidden in it, to keep him alive; he had an affair with his young king’s wife and struggled with poverty until he was 43, when he married the 17-year-old daughter of the Earl of Pembroke and acquired large estates in England, Wales, Normandy and Ireland. He was rich at last.

Marshal became the Earl of Pembroke and died in May 1219, aged 72. History was all around us in the Black Lubyanka.


22 April 2024