THE GREAT Hippy Myth; Forty Years Ago,in a Haze of Dope,the Age of Psychedelia Arrived in Britain. Hailed as an Era of Peace, Love and Social Revolution, It Was in Fact a Charade of Self-Indulgence

Daily Mail (London), October 14, 2006 | Go to article overview

THE GREAT Hippy Myth; Forty Years Ago,in a Haze of Dope,the Age of Psychedelia Arrived in Britain. Hailed as an Era of Peace, Love and Social Revolution, It Was in Fact a Charade of Self-Indulgence


Byline: RAY CONNOLLY

PICTURE the scene. A newfangled light machine is throwing multi- coloured, psychedelic bubbles onto a screen. Girls in miniskirts are moving to the rhythm of a droning guitar band.

People in masks, bondage gear and 18th century military uniforms are wandering around in an addled state. Someone on a motorcycle rides around the edges of the party.

And, oh yes, Marianne Faithfull dressed as a nun has just won the prize for the shortest, barest costume by wearing a habit which doesn't quite cover her bottom.

It might sound like a laughable scene from a pretentious movie - or perhaps an Austin Powers spoof of it - or maybe a video entry for next year's Turner Prize. But 40 years ago this weekend, this event was the coolest place to be in Britain. Or so the organisers thought when they gave out their invitations promising a 'pop fantasy, loon, blow-out, drag ball'.

Some 2,000 people turned up for the event - including an incognito 24-year- old Paul McCartney dressed as an Arab. This was the birth of the hippy movement, a moment which was supposed to be one of the defining cultural events of the decade.

On that night, in an old circular railway building in North London called the Roundhouse, hippies - the British version of them at least - were born.

But, while many of them may have been self-regarding posers, from then until the end of the Sixties few fields of artistic endeavour were unaffected by them.

The event at the Roundhouse was the launch of a fortnightly newspaper called International Times. The paper had a brilliant iconic masthead of a silent movie star. But it was otherwise of dubious worth or readability. It is best remembered as a lobby for changes in the drugs laws.

It also covered rock music, feminism, the tiny ecology movement of the time, ley lines, recipes for lentil soup and, of course, sex. This was a newspaper aimed at people who were looking for more personal freedoms than their parents had ever imagined. Yet it's the drugs connection we remember most.

Ah, the Sixties, the best of times, you might fondly say - especially if you weren't there and have been taken in by the myth. Well, maybe, in some respects. But perhaps it was also the silliest of times.

It has always seemed to me that there were two quite distinct Sixties eras.

There was the first half of the decade: the time of Beatlemania and the general innocent euphoria at the dazzling possibilities which rapidly began to unfold in the arts, technology and education. During these years it really was heaven to be alive.

And then there was the period after 1966 when, with the pace accelerating, the caravan of change seemed to career off the road. Drugs - most perniciously LSD - caught hold and, like an unwelcome virus, corroded almost everything they touched.

You may remember Hippies, the BBC sitcom from a few years ago. You probably thought it too funny to have been true. If so, you were dead wrong.

It was, in fact, brilliantly accurate in its lampooning of a group of mostly middleclass young people (there were very few working class or black hippies) who, with foggy heads, earnest

guitar bands and a few slogans thought they could change the world.

Some talked of revolution and carried copies of Chairman Mao's Little Red Book. It was that daft!

Of course, the world was changing.

(Although isn't it always?) Feminism, racism, homosexual law reform - indeed all sexual attitudes following the general marketing of the Pill in 1962 - were being urgently debated across the country, while the nascent ecology movement was already under way.

The few thousand hippy members of the underground movement - most of whom were in London - convinced themselves that they were important players in those changes.

This shows how narcissistic they were. …

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