The British Oz magazine was founded in 1966 by the Australian journalist Richard Neville, who had edited a magazine of the same name in his native land, in the process coming into conflict with Australia's obscenity laws. Initially a satirical magazine comparable to Private Eye, it quickly developed into the major British underground magazine, acclaimed for its innovative visual style and psychedelic graphics as much as its coverage of the various strands of the Underground, both in London and internationally.
Like the Underground itself, Oz magazine faded in the 1970s, finally closing down in 1973.
Links with Peel
Arriving back in the UK in early 1967, Peel was receptive to the music and ideology of the emerging London Underground scene - of which Oz was a part. On his Perfumed Garden programmes on Radio London he publicised the magazine, together with International Times and Peace News. One of the first Peel interviews to appear in print - in the period between the closedown of Radio London in August and the start of Radio 1 in October - appeared in Oz 6. In it, Peel is highly critical of the BBC, who he says had found his Radio London programmes "conducive to a permissive attitude to drug-taking", but relieved that he may after all be employed on its new pop music station.
Peel was closely associated with the Underground during the late 1960s, and in 1968 appeared on the TV series How It Is with Richard Neville. Then, when Oz was prosecuted for obscenity in 1971 following the notorious "Schoolkids Oz" issue, Peel appeared in court as a defence witness for Neville and co-editors Jim Anderson and Felix Dennis; alongside him, their supporters included George Melly, Marty Feldman and Caroline Coon, and the harsh verdicts meted out to the trio were eventually overturned, resulting in an embarrassing defeat for the Establishment.
However, Peel and Neville never seemed to be close friends. While the self-confident Neville revelled in media attention and enjoyed the role of spokesman for the hippies, Peel preferred to remain in the background in the roles in which he felt comfortable, as DJ and journalist. Peel was also critical of Neville's book "Play Power" and mentioned the complexity of their relationship in Margrave of the Marshes. He only contributed one piece to Oz, listed below.
OZ 6, August 1967: John Peel interview by David Phillips & Michael Gray
OZ 31, November/December 1970, p.4: "All God's Children Got De Clap". Article by Richard Neville bemoaning the state of underground culture. Some of my best friends are going straight - cutting hair, wearing suits, seeking respectable jobs. These are the same people who were freaking out at the first UFOs while I still lurched home from gambling clubs...Appalled at the profusion of meaningless, mediocre and repetitive pop these friends seek refuge in the music of the twenties and thirties (Jack Hylton, the Best of Ambrose and his Orchestra, Al Bowlly, Hutch, The Golden Age of British Dance Bands etc) and have drastically reduced their drug intake. John Peel wanders London a pop undertaker, sickened by the preponderance of pseudo stoned "Underground" groups who flash V signs while flattering their audiences with "peace" and "remember Woodstock, man"......
- ↑ p. 401. An account of the Oz trial appears p. 255-7. Sheila mentions that in a later TV dramatisation, The Trials Of Oz (1991), the part of Peel is played by Nigel Planer, formerly hippy Neil in The Young Ones. In the 1992 outline biography (in the form of letters to his literary agent) which appears as an Appendix in the book, Peel remarks (p. 401) on the "attitude (continuing) of Richard Neville to JRPR (including recent humiliating evening at Groucho Club)".