The 1970s in Britain was a radical decade, full of conflict and experiment, even more confrontational than the decade before. It is often treated as a waiting room on the journey from the liberated 60s to the capitalist triumphalism of the 80s, only memorable for punk and flares. This is to underestimate the growing sense of crisis felt by those who lived through it. A cursory glance through the political-cultural movements of the decade reveals increasing industrial militancy, with work-ins, factory occupations and strikes in a standoff against desperate attempts to impose new industrial relations legislation by a succession of governments, both Labour and Tory. There were four elections in the space of 10 years, in the course of which one hung parliament and one minority government were elected. New social movements of the excluded gained strength – women’s liberation, gay liberation, and black power on the mainland, with Irish Catholics demanding political and social change in Northern Ireland. All were agitating for equality before the law, equality of opportunity and for equal representation; all created new political styles and all had a presence on the streets. (The first Gay Liberation Front march was in 1971, with the first Gay Pride a year later). All, too, were subject to police intrusion and repression, as well as provoking varying amounts of violence from police and political groups opposing their aspirations – Unionists in Northern Ireland (the DUP was founded in 1971), white supremacists in England, and anti-abortionists opposing new reproductive rights for women. If the 1960s are dubbed a decade of love, the 70s can be called a decade of anger. New solidarity groups also emerged -- Rock against Racism, the Anti-Nazi and the Anti-Internment Leagues are all examples. At the same time there was a profusion of radical and feminist cultural and artistic movements from conceptualism to experimental cinema along with a multiplicity of small cultural and theoretical magazines which complemented their work and introduced new thinking.
7 Days was launched in 1971, on the threshold of the decade. Its last issue, number twenty two, was published six months later, but in that period events symptomatic of the politics to come had occurred: the Derry massacre of Bloody Sunday; the occupations of the shipyards on the Clyde; the Mangrove trial; the IRA, UVF and Angry Brigade bombing campaigns, the latter used by the CID in an attempt to tarnish the reputation of women’s lib. The digitisation of 7 Days published here by the Amiel and Melburn Trust opens up a space for research and reflection on a still resonant moment in time and on the collective which came together to produce it and the spirit which animated it.
The impetus to 7 Days came initially from a split in the 1960s fortnightly Black Dwarf. The Dwarf had been published as a response to the Paris events of May ’68, appearing in June that year with its famous cover slogan We shall fight, We shall win, Paris, London, Rome, Berlin and contributions from cultural figures including David Mercer, Ralph Steadman and Patrick Procktor. The writer and literary agent Clive Goodwin was in charge of fund-raising and former Oxford student leader Tariq Ali was the editor. The most significant revolutionary figure to be referenced in the Dwarf was Che Guevara, and through the year which followed, as students staged sit-ins and teach-ins in a revolt against both the paternalist organisation of universities and colleges and the stultifying ‘sausage factory’ curriculum provided, it was Che’s spirit which presided and his injunction to ‘create two, three, many Vietnams’ which provided its watchword. Opposition to the Vietnam War and solidarity with the Vietnamese anti-US forces were unifying sentiments which brought protests to the streets.
In early 1970 Tariq Ali secured his own funding and suddenly left the Dwarf, taking a small group with him to start a new organisational paper for the International Marxist Group: the Red Mole. Those left behind steered the Dwarf through its final issues whilst a nucleus -- Anthony Barnett, John Hoyland, Clive Goodwin, John McGrath, and Judith Ferguson -- took the initiative to fund-raise for a more ambitious paper, to come out weekly and use the work of photo-journalists. They were joined in the planning group by Dwarf contributors Peter Fuller (City Spy) and Fred Halliday (Foreign News). Gradually the circle widened, being strengthened by the inclusion of an experienced journalist in Alex Cockburn, a member of the Free Communications Group, who had worked on the Times Literary Supplement and edited the back, cultural, half of the New Statesman. Political differences sparked by Trotskyism and women’s liberation also emerged on the board of New Left Review and some of the non-trotskyist, pro-women libbers members, like Peter Wollen and Gareth Stedman Jones, also joined the planning group.
One of the group’s most important decisions was to aim at an alliance with activists in the women’s liberation movement, which had emerged after 1968 as a resilient network capable of successful self-organisation with wide popular appeal – this despite vilification and caricature in the press and the hostility of most groups on the left to their determined independence. Various women agreed to join the planning group but not, they insisted, as ‘representatives’. The Women’s Liberation Workshop, to which most of them belonged, was building a practice of participatory rather than representative democracy. Whilst they could agree that the achievement of women’s liberation would revolutionise social relations, they rejected the claims that such an outcome could only be achieved under the guidance of one of the existing self-styled revolutionary groups. A willingness to try to work together with the Black Dwarf survivors for a common cause was one clear sign of the optimism and hope of the time.
A planning group of about 25 people was eventually assembled, holding monthly discussions and dividing into small groups to explore questions of organisation, content and approach. It included filmmakers and critics, freelance writers and TV producers, distinguished writers and broadcasters like Stuart Hood, an innovative Controller of Programmes at BBC TV from 1961-63, and novelist and art critic John Berger, whose Ways of Seeing was soon to be shown on TV for the first time. Most members had some experience at least in student journalism. Even so, when the operational collective emerged it was very much a case of do-it-yourself journalism and learning on the job.
The first issue was published on 27 October 1971. Much of its impact then and subsequently lay with its use of photography. Radical photographer Tom Picton joined the collective as a photographer and adviser, working especially with Alex Cockburn. Enthusiastic and easy-going Tom mainly covered news stories, whilst another friend of the paper, Francine Winham, covered cultural events. Both were later to have notable careers -- Tom as a founder of the pioneering Half Moon Photography Workshop, and an editor of the radical photography magazine Camerawork, whilst Francine became an inspirational jazz photographer. To achieve the desired mix of photofeatures and illustrated news, agency and freelance photographers were published, many just embarking on their careers. John Garrett, Chris Steele Perkins, and Richard and Sally Greenhill, all of whom became internationally famous, were just starting out, whilst others’ work was used when it was of outstanding appeal – Julian Calder is a good example here. Sometimes choice was limited: although the writer and photographer Richard Trench was living in Northern Ireland at the time and was an active contributor, there were only two photographers present at the Derry march on Bloody Sunday. Both were French, both members of the Magnum agency. 7 Days published the work of Gilles Peress. Sometimes sets of images were used to create free-standing photo-features from photographers including Marc Ribaud, Ian Berry, and Don McPhee.
Alan Turkie, later joined by Bill Mayblin, worked on layout and design. Both were recent graduates from Ravensbourne College, which specialised in graphic design. Their tutor, John Laing, sometimes helped out. 7 Days on occasion is treated as part of the Underground press, but this was not the case. Individuals within the collective were, however, part of a network which also included men and women who were creating the newspapers and running the galleries, bookshops and other venues which nurtured underground culture. It was strikingly different performatively from Oz, Ink or Frendz. There was no psychedelic ornamentalism or over-printing of the articles. Bauhaus rather than Aubrey Beardsley was being channelled (not always successfully). The red headline title and gritty black-and-white photography of the front page summoned the memory of Picture Post from the editorial collective’s teenage years. In the first issues the almost too insistent references to Jarrow aimed to tell a story of the precariousness of working-class life and tried to link the 1970s back to the hungry 30s. It was far from evocations of hippie fun. Another difference was that the underground press was at that time subjected to a harassment which 7 Days never experienced – none of its contributors or editors was ever thrown in jail. Interviews and law reports showed a very clear solidarity with Oz.
In the course of their meetings the planning group had agreed a common political approach. They were in broad agreement that this was not the time for a revolutionary paper to agitate for the overthrow of state power (thus differentiating themselves from the Red Mole group). A crucial, much debated, section of the launch document read ‘In Britain the immediate form of class oppression is not physical or economic but ideological. The most effective guardian of the present status quo is not the police force let alone the military. . . in everyday life the power of the ruling class is first of all sustained by the constant reproduction of a falsified and distorted picture of British society’. So that what was called for was a revolution in ways of looking, seeing and thinking. The guiding spirit was to be Antonio Gramsci rather than Guevara. A translated selection of Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks was published in the same year that 7 Days was launched.
From this standpoint the innovatory ‘ideas’ page was crucial. It sought to educate and inform, to explore and debate old and new ideas - the wage contract, ecology, the Oedipus complex, feminism, nationalism and internationalism and common sense. The intellectual field of 7 Days was wider than Marxism, engaging with semiotics, psychoanalysis, situationism and structuralism.
Many of the planning group shared cultural preoccupations, often unstated, accumulated during university and after, which emerged in the pages of the paper. The meanings of ‘sanity’ and ‘madness’ is an instance of this. Ronald Laing’s The Divided Self was popular with students in the 60s and the existential anti-psychiatry of Laing and his associates David Cooper and Aaron Esterson was implicated in a rejection of the bourgeois family. 7 Days picked up the most insistent themes, denouncing electro-shock in graphic terms and exploring with Ken Loach and Tony Garnett their Laing inspired TV film The Family Way.
There was, too, a clear commitment to engaging with ‘the popular arts’ – the mass media including popular music in all its forms. Throughout the 1970s there was a political debate about the ownership and functions of the forthcoming fourth TV channel. 7 Days firmly allied itself with TV4 Campaign which was supported by the broadcasting unions. Its main aim was to keep the future channel out of the hands of the existing ITV companies and open it up to minority groups and small production companies. The original Channel 4 as it was set up shows the impact of these ideas. Several members of the 7 Days collective and planning group either worked directly for Channel 4 or provided content, including Alan Hayling who became its Commissioning Editor for documentaries and Peter Wollen whose The Bad Sister was produced for it.
Popular music had a special place for the collective: they were part of the audience and also saw it as a crucial link between the paper and a wider youth culture. Most issues carried an article, review or interview relating to an artist, group, or gig. Themes from Black Dwarf were carried over, with John Hoyland (for) and Pete Fowler (against) debating the revolutionary potential of rock. In other issues Mitch Howard and Dave Laing stressed the capitalist nature of the music business, with Dave Laing in Issue 1 emphasising its paradoxes and confusions whilst Mitch Howard (Issue 6) pointed up the precariousness of the musician’s profession. Dave Laing has suggested that ‘the immediate source of 7 Days contributors must have been Cream, a monthly music magazine for which Howard, myself and Jeff Cloves wrote’. Cream was edited by Bob Houston, also the editor of The Miner (journal of the NUM) and a friend to all new feminist and socialist publishing ventures.
With film, the stress was not laid so heavily on its mass aspect. There was a very wide coverage of film within the general media, unlike the meagre coverage of pop and rock; 7 Days tended to use the expertise of its regular contributors. 1971-2 was a thin year for Hollywood and their main interest lay with the directors working within the energy-field of the ‘new wave’: Bertolucci, Pasolini and Straub. Hollywood-financed releases - The Clockwork Orange, Klute - were chosen and reviewed sparingly. The choice of film for the last issue struck a wistful note as Peter Wollen discussed Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show under the headline ‘The Day the Movies Died’ – a nostalgic backwards glance to the 1960s.
The editorial offices occupied two rooms at the top of Shaver’s Place, off Coventry St, where layout also took place, sometimes overnight. In a recent e-mail Rosalind van der Beek, who joined the team some weeks into production, recalled her feeling of the office when she joined:
“The general feeling I had of that office was of frenetic hard work and dedication and lots of conspiratorial cabals: insiders and outsiders; NLR people who considered themselves the elite; new people who were relatively unknown to the majority; some very large egos; some groups with a consolidated political agenda; factions of this and that with alliances that might change according to particular issues, personality clashes, women, the Irish question ...... a certain gulf felt by some between the editorial and non-editorial members; rivalry about space - both editorial/paper and physical office space - the cubbyhole of an office that handled advertising and something else; some bad feeling when Fred and Maxine managed to corner the other, slightly larger, cubbyhole office. But mostly a feeling of excitement and some desperation trying to get the paper out on time and believing - as I did too - that it was an important and valuable contribution to the very politicised times we were living through.”
In general 7 Days was divided into six sections: home news (including industrial news), international news, life, sport, the arts and at least one photo-feature. Much of the writing came from Peter Fuller (home news and sport), Fred Halliday (international), and Alex Cockburn, who provided a light and sometimes breezy touch to most parts (see for example his report ‘Sitting in at the F.O.’ in Issue 15). With his boundless energy and inventiveness, It was he who, when everything else was laid out, sat down and wrote the page 2 column which brought it all together; and invaluably, he could always supply a headline. Graham Burchell filed weekly reports and interviews on worker militancy and Peter Wollen (also writing as Lucien Rey) acted as a roving cultural commentator. Parliamentary manoeuvres and preparations for entry into the Common market were discussed by Tom Nairn, Anthony Barnett and Fred Halliday, and a complete lack of interest in electoral matters was displayed. Despite pinpointing Labourism as the main ideological enemy in issue 14, there was little depth in its coverage of the party: Anthony Barnett’s analytical study of the structure of alliances within the Labour Party in issue 18 is an exception. Frequently, pseudonyms were used: Pater Fuller was Billy Hack, Jon Halliday was Oswald Stack, Geoffrey Nowell-Smith was Jeff Symons, David Triesman was Raymond West and Peter Wollen was Lucien Rey.
The Gramscian pre-occupation was marked in the first months by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith’s critique of ‘common sense’ in Issue 2 (he was one of the translators of the Gramsci Selections from the Prison Notebooks) and Tom Nairn’s review of Trevor Griffith’s Occupations, which was set in revolutionary Turin at a seminal moment in Gramsci’s political thought and life. (Tom Nairn was the translator of Giuseppe Fiori’s Life of Gramsci). There were features on housing, unemployment, abortion, on popular sports like football and dog and pigeon racing, and a special feature on compulsive gambling, later developed into a book. If 7 Days is thought of as an episode in the wider post-1956 national and international New Left it can be observed that its attempt to put British cultural politics and practices at the centre of its concerns links 7 Days back to the first New Left of Raphael Samuel and Stuart Hall in a way which is rarely recognised.
The irreverent Christmas cover (the face of a Durer Christ on the cross with the headline Was Christ a collaborator?) embodied the 7 Days spirit. Inside, important but staple stories -- the reception of the Indo-Pakistan war, the end of the Mangrove trial – were interspersed with different takes on Christmas: money and the Vatican; loneliness at Xmas; an eviction with a happy ending; an ice panto reviewed; do children need toys? An Inuit story brought from Pond Inlet in the Arctic by Hugh Brodie took pride of place on the back page. But Peter Wollen’s questioning of the political allegiances of Christ was central as a symbolic rejection of hypostasised ‘shared values’. Peter Fuller recounts in his memoir Marches Passed (p138) how he took this issue home for Christmas and was denounced by his nonconformist father, as ‘a Communist who cared about the world but not about the family’. Significantly, this was the story he took to his first psychoanalytic session later that year.
After the first few months of production, disappointment with the paper rose to the surface: its financial viability was in doubt and new external political questions needed to be addressed. In the early days the paper was marred by mis-spellings, poor punctuation, the absence of by-lines and even headlines; but things improved as the production team adjusted to the relentlessness of the task. The biggest disappointment was its failure to achieve the readership which would allow it to sustain itself. For some the failure was political – a failure to address the right audience in a suitable tone of voice. John McGrath wrote to the rest of the collective that ‘a Marxist paper’ needed to put itself at the service of ‘the conscious working class’ first, and ‘the class-conscious intellectual’ second, in order to create ‘a momentum towards revolutionary change, the overthrow of capitalism, and the beginning of a new dialectic of socialist society in this country’.
There was too much reliance on ‘flair’, and ‘bourgeois flippancy in tone, and bourgeois irresponsibility in organisation’. (This memo was later published in his posthumous collection Naked Thoughts that Roam About, 2002). There was a group who agreed with this; others read the memo as a plea to recreate the old Black Dwarf and felt that the paper needed more on feminism, more internationalism and more intellectual weight but not less lightness of touch.
The result of these discussions was a statement Thoughts on the Present Situation published at the start of 1972 in Issue 14. The statement puts the question ‘Why, in Britain, is the working class not revolutionary?’ and finds its answers in the shared ideology of chauvinism in all its forms – national, sexist, racial, and international, which binds the ruling class and the labour movement together. The hope is expressed that entry into the Common market will open up fissures in national chauvinist ideology because of the way Parliamentary sovereignty will be compromised and full employment jeopardised. In the meantime the collective pledged full support to women’s liberation, black and libertarian movements and the Irish liberation movement, all of whom in their own way challenged complacent acceptance of ‘British values’.
Developments in Ireland meant that the Irish question needed to be urgently addressed and various papers were put forward for discussion within the collective. Alex Cockburn and Fred Halliday (along with Fred’s brother Jon, a frequent contributor) were Irish citizens with good contacts in Ireland (where 7 Days was eagerly read) particularly amongst Nationalists. A further small group were descendants of Irish immigrants with family memories of theviolence and oppression which had driven their forebears to leave. However others wanted to focus on the constitutional question, wanted more respect for the sensitivities of the Unionists and drew attention to the problem raised by clericalism in the Irish Republic. As it turned out the escalation of violence in Northern Ireland and the concomitant censorship of the media on the mainland meant that weekly attention was increasingly focussed on developing events.
But overshadowing all considerations was the problem of money. Despite assurances, no further monies were raised and the collective had to face up to this. It was known at that start that there was only sufficient financing for about 6 months. The decision to launch had been made in full knowledge of this – after a year’s planning it was feared that further delay would lead to fragmentation of the planning group. With cash running out in March ‘72, a decision was made to halt production temporarily whilst the fundraisers went back to work.
The breathing space provided an opportunity to consider future direction and ways of working. The women on the collective met to compare experiences and circulated a document pointing up practices and attitudes deriving from assumptions of superior male competence and entitlement. But whatever changes in everyday practice were required, even if they were accepted, without funds no-one could go back to work.After some weeks a special, final, edition, dedicated to Vietnam, appeared.
In July 1972, a few months after 7 Days ceased production, an extraordinarily huge, traffic-stopping demonstration took place outside Pentonville prison where five shop stewards were incarcerated after flouting an injunction to stop secondary picketing in support of the minersstrike.They were released after a week, the TUC having called for a national strike. (Cinema Action made a short film about this: Arise ye Workers.) The government was seen to have backed down and the power of the unions to have won. In many ways this was the culmination of the militancy which 7 Days had been assiduously reporting, but in the shadows the groundwork was being laid for the full scale attack on workers rights which was to come after 1979. Virtually all of the strategies and tactics reported on by Graham Burchell and others – occupations, work-ins, solidarity strikes – were outlawed, compulsory ballots before union actions were introduced, and wages councils were abolished. 7 Days therefore provides an invaluable record of the political and cultural life in a society with strong Trades Unions. It also demonstrates some of the political weaknesses of extra-parliamentary movements: their lack of concern for the intricacies of established political power, together with a tendency to dismiss party politics as irrelevant and boring.
Although the death of 7 Days brought with it a sense of failure, it is impressive that almost everyone in the collective continued to have a connection with publishing of one sort or another - journals, paper and online, magazines, book and film.
Peter Fuller founded the art magazine Modern Painters; Alex Cockburn worked on the Village Voice and The Nation and founded Counterpunch; Anthony Barnett founded Open Democracy. Phil Kelly became editor of Tribune and Mayor of Islington; Gareth Stedman Jones was a founder of History Workshop Journal; Peter Wollen made a career as filmmaker, scholar, curator and essayist, latterly for the London Review of Books; Maxine Molyneux was a founder of the Feminist Review;
Rosalind Delmar worked on Bananas, Red Rag and the Virago Advisory Group; John Hoyland had a successful column in the New Scientist; Graham Birchall was a founder of Ideology and Consciousness and is more recently the translator of Foucault;
Tom Picton was a founder of Camerawork; John McGrath founded the theatre company 7:84.
Others became successful academics: John Mathews returned to Australia and now researches the greening of China; Fred Halliday became Professor of International Relations at the LSE; Stuart Hood was Professor of Film and Television at the Royal College of Art.
Other members who continued to work in publishing were Rosalind van der Beek who ran the NLR bookclub for 10 years, then moved to Writers and Readers, and Bill Mayblin who designed books for Writers and Readers, including Derrida for Beginners.
David Triesman’s career included Chairmanship of the Football Association. He sits on the Labour benches in the House of Lords.
Sadly, Alex Cockburn, Peter Fuller, Fred Halliday, Stuart Hood, John Hoyland and John McGrath have died; for the last decade Peter Wollen has been severely disabled with Alzheimer’s disease. Members of the collective I have contacted have been amazingly helpful and supportive towards my research for this introduction. Particular thanks are due to Anthony Barnett, Graham Burchell, John Mathews, Maxine Molyneux, Bill Mayblin, Phil Kelly, and Rosalind van der Beek. David Fernbach, Dave Laing and Ross Speer are due special thanks, as is Madeleine Davis of Queen Mary University of London, who initiated the digitisation project. I’d also like to thank Daisy Cockburn for information about Alex Cockburn’s papers, Adrian Glew of the Tate Archive and Lawrence Fuller for permission to read the relevant correspondence of Peter Fuller, the archivists at the LSE library, where Fred Halliday’s papers are kept, and Leslie Dick and Wendy Russell of the BFI archive, for access to Peter Wollen’s papers.
The mistakes in this piece of writing are my own.
Madeleine Davis would like to thank Anthony Barnett, who loaned his originals of 7 days for digitisation, David Cordery and Max Communications, Alan Finlayson and the Amiel Melburn Trust, and Ross Speer, who prepared and proof read the material for online publication. Research enquiries to [email protected]