"During my time with 'Friends' I was a fringe figure really. I was the Culture Editor and spent most of my time reviewing movies. I was very conscientious and went to about 8-10 movies a week and I wrote about them through the eyes of the counter-culture philosophy. By this time I'd absorbed quite a bit of the ideology and that was the standpoint I was interested in, but it also seemed appropriate for the magazine - things should be talked about from that perspective. Then I reviewed books - 'The Greening of America', Ivan Illich, how education ought to be restructured. I was charmed by Marcuson. He was a bit older, knew lots of people and was very hip, very different from my Oxford lot. These people had been round India or were involved in odd things in Northern Ireland - rather strange figures who would come in. So one looked up to him a bit. I realised fairly quickly that nobody ever read what went in. The presentation of it was absolutely ghastly: pages and pages of packed dense copy.
There were regular discussions of what are we all doing here, why are we doing it?... none of which were ever very satisfactorily resolved. Then David Burdett turned up from America, he was English but he'd been there for some time. Marcuson was rather impressed by him. He had a bit of journalistic experience, could write, and was certainly good at laying out a package as to where we should be going, what we should be doing. He was made news editor and within a couple of months was fomenting a revolution, which, looking back, was quite justified in many ways. He said: 'Here we are, supposed to be an alternative paper, we're not selling many copies, the debts are enormous, we're paying Alan so much money, we've got hire cars, 17 people on the staff - let's try to get a setup that reflects better what's going on here. let's cut down on people, on expenses, let's run this thing collectively, let's do what we're supposed to be doing.'
Alan was immensely hurt and upset, as a good paterfamilias Jewish figure. He was very much 'the editor' and it was his father's money, on the backs of those poor exploited South Africans, that was paying for the whole thing. And here was this upstart to whom he'd given a job, and there were 17 people on the staff - a good paternalistic point of view. But what we were peddling wasn't just rhetoric. I sided with Alan simply because I liked him. I'd stayed at his flat, he seemed to me to be a vivid and colourful character.
So Burdett gathered some people together and it got to the point where there were deputations and finally Alan sacked everybody. We all went down to the Yugoslav restaurant in Portobello and came back in paper sacks: we had been sacked, it was street theatre. Harvey Matusow, who people generally thought was a CIA agent, and who had certainly worked at one time as an informer for McCarthy, was about. A big, round man in a white sweater. We had a meeting: Marcuson and his supporters on one side, the rebels on the other, and Harvey suggested that Burdett and Marcuson should go down to his place in the country for a weekend and drop acid and settle their differences, but nobody agreed to that.
Then, in a few days, maybe a week, Alan said 'Right, this is it', closed the whole thing down and disappeared saying he would have nothing more to do with it. One evening I left the office and there were still quite a few people milling about, talking in corners, etc, and the next day I turned up and there were four of us left. Me, John Trux, Pat Davies who did the advertising, and a girl called Tracy who'd been a secretary doing accounts. Marcuson had locked himself in his flat, Burdett had pissed off.
The IRA was always a problematical issue. On one hand we weren't in favour of violence, but we were obviously against the British Army. We wanted to overthrow the State, but we weren't quite sure that we wanted a lot of bombers. That was a tricky one. There wasn't really a political philosophy in the underground. And there were pieces that David Widgery would write, saying the whole thing was an indulgent bourgeois wank, totally eclectic, with no coherent line or plan of action. Which looking back was totally true."
The interview texts are from
"Days in the Life: Voices from the London Underground 1961-71" by Jonathon Green,
used here with permission. Any reproduction is prohibited without permission from the author.
Days in the Life excerpts © Jonathon Green
contact: Phil Franks (freax AT philmfreax.com)
Freax/Friends website produced by Malcolm Humes