The Trials of OZ

I acquired The Trials of OZ by Tony Palmer as an unwanted library donation. I have had this book for over thirty years, yet never read it until now. The main reason I left it on my shelf was on account of its type size. British paperbacks are notorious for being printed in a microscopic font, and this one was no exception. The page layout was often brick style with minimal paragraphs, narrow margins and tight lines; therefore an unappealing read to my poor eyes. Yet looks can be deceiving. The story, about the OZ magazine obscenity trial of 1971, was an exciting read, and included courtroom transcriptions.

Palmer, who attended the trial–which lasted close to six weeks–often added his own parenthetical asides whenever he noticed that the prosecution or even the judge repeated conflicting information. (Really? He did?) It made for amusing reading. The prosecution had a tendency to try to wear the three OZ editor defendants down by going over the offending issue, OZ 28, page by page, yet to Palmer’s credit at no time did I feel that the trial dragged on.

There might never have been a trial in the first place had the editors not decided to publish the “school kids issue”, which, in spite of its name, did not focus on the exploitation of minors. The three OZ editors decided to give issue #28 over to teenagers, to allow them to write whatever they wanted and to select stories that they were interested in, all without the interference of adults. But to give an underground magazine with a reputation like OZ over to the editorial auspices of minors (and as teens they were all still legally children) was the formula for disaster. Although the defence proved over and over that no children were trafficked, exploited or corrupted, the prosecution remained deaf to the evidence and focussed mainly on the deleterious effects that such an issue would have on children. It was called, after all, the “school kids issue”. That the reader base was not children, but adults who were to be enlightened by what young people had on their minds, was lost on the prosecution, the judge and jury. The three defendants were all found guilty and given prison sentences. The book ends with their sentencing in 1971. The convictions were eventually overturned on appeal, which occurred after the book was published.

Thirty years ago I watched The Trials of OZ on TV. My first introduction to the work of Hugh Grant was through his role as OZ editor Richard Neville. I still kept a daily diary in the early nineties and I recall that his performance was so well done that I wrote about it.

The reason I saved this book from the donations reject pile is that the subject matter has a Beatles connection. In order to raise funds to cover the magazine’s obscenity trial, John and Yoko wrote two songs, “God Save Us” and “Do the OZ”, which were released as a single in 1971. Bill Elliott sang the A-side; John sang the B-side:

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