24 February 2022
In 2020 the British Library acquired the papers of Anthony Barnett, best known as the founder of the campaigning organisation Charter 88 and the website openDemocracy. This series of six posts highlights a discrete part of the archive, consisting of documents and ephemera from Barnett’s time as a member of the collective behind the revolutionary weekly newspaper '7 Days', 50 years on from its publication.
In this fifth guest post, John Mathews recalls how he came to be part of the collective and considers the impact 7 Days had, for himself and others involved. (The second post in the series was written by Anthony Barnett, the third post was by Graham Burchell, and the fourth post by Bill Mayblin.)
In October 1971, when the first issue of 7 Days appeared, I was 25 years old, a young Australian who had been recruited to the newspaper’s collective by Anthony Barnett, then the editor of Black Dwarf. I had been travelling the world (Indonesia, Thailand, India) and had arrived in London a couple of years earlier, at the end of 1969, full of plans to make my mark in the great metropolis.
The way I did this (it is scarcely credible today) was to use my last hundred pounds to launch a film magazine, which in the irreverent style of the day I called Cinemantics – focused on the work of ‘New Cinema’ directors like Glauber Rocha and Jean-Marie Straub as well as emerging semiotic/semantic theories of cinema like Pasolini’s ‘grammar of film’. I had a background in cinema – having been President of the Melbourne University Film Society in my undergrad days – and simply wrote a couple of paragraphs as a manifesto and then went around asking people already writing on the new language of the cinema if they wanted to contribute. Enough of them – including Peter Wollen then working at the BFI – said yes, and the magazine was off. Favourable reviews by Dilys Powell in the Sunday Times helped, and my film reviews also attracted the attention of Anthony at Black Dwarf, and so I found myself drawn into a circle of New Left personalities.
When Anthony asked me in early 1971 whether I would like to join the group planning the launch of a new radical weekly, I jumped at the chance. I had no competing commitments (typical of the time) and saw the issuing of a regular revolutionary masthead as a blow against capitalism. I threw myself into the debates that then dominated our horizons, including how to raise the capital that we estimated would be needed to launch the paper. I participated in some of the fund raising and so earned my stripes as a full member of the collective.
As it turned out, our capital only lasted for the production of 21 issues of the paper, of 24 pages each (from 27 October 1971 to 22 March 1972) – the full set of issues is now available at the 7 Days online archive. We had the choice of stretching our meagre capital out by reducing our page numbers or print run but we never entertained such a possibility – we were too wedded to our own inimitable style of photo journalism, and for publishing ideas and exposes at length.
Those few months producing the paper stand out as a highlight of my youthful years to that point. Our collective boasted such stars as Alex Cockburn as the innovative and indefatigable editor; Anthony as roving ‘special reports’ editor, and Rosalind Delmar as production editor, holding it all together. Judith Ferguson and I fulfilled a floating ‘research/reports’ function. As such we would deal with the guardians of ‘desks’ like home affairs, foreign affairs, arts, life and special sections like ‘capitalism’ and ‘ideas’.
Some of the memorable features I was involved in on 7 Days were the expose of the cruel practice of ECT (electro convulsive therapy) in mental health treatment; (#10, Jan 1972), the narrative of the trial and sentencing of Jake Prescott and Ian Purdie (co-authored with Judith Ferguson #7, 8 Dec 1971) accused in connection with a bombing campaign carried out by the Angry Brigade; and an expose of the phoney psychology that claimed to support cosmetics manufacturers – a story headlined ‘Making Up Psychology’ that I thought was one of our better efforts.
‘Conspiracy and Corruption’, No. 7, 8 December 1971, pp. 6-7. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
My own favourite contributions were my columns on the Advertisement of the Week, where I provided mock reviews of advertisements like the White Horse whisky ads (‘You can take a White Horse anywhere’) or Parkinson Cowan cookers running on North Sea gas (‘The cooker that rises from the sea’) treating them as examples of high bourgeois art with a capitalist twist. I was quite pleased with these efforts at cultural critique – and even had the dubious honour of finding my work sometimes memorialized in the ‘Pseuds’ Corner’ section of Private Eye.
It came as a huge disappointment when we published our final issue #21, on 22 March – followed by a further ‘final’ effort to revive the paper with a special issue on Vietnam in May, ‘Who’s for the chopper?’. The expectation we all shared was that the launch of the paper would generate such excitement and growth in readership that it would start to cover its costs and eventually become a profitable and radical, uncompromising journal of ideas and reportage (with its own slant on photo journalism, ably expounded by Bill Mayblin in an earlier contribution to this series of blogs). This was not pie in the sky – after all, it was how media barons like Rupert Murdoch operated, creating media titles that would pay for themselves as their market reach grew. But there wasn’t time for that to happen in the case of 7 Days.
After the paper folded, Anthony had to pick up the pieces and we all went our separate ways. Some of us pursued illustrious careers, like Alex Cockburn who ended up as a leading columnist in the US writing each week for the Village Voice (and blazing a trail that would later be followed by Christopher Hitchens). Our home affairs editor Peter Fuller dived deep into art criticism; our ‘ideas’ correspondent Peter Wollen took up academic film studies and wrote several film scripts; our foreign affairs editor Fred Halliday eventually took a chair in international relations at the LSE.
After the collapse of 7 Days, I dabbled in freelance journalism, securing a commission from the Sunday Times Insight team to adapt a story we had carried in 7 Days on illegal cash-in-hand contract work known as “The Lump”. I also engaged in some serious translation work, taking key texts from French and Italian and presenting them to the English-speaking world. And actually I was pretty good. My translation of some of the political writings of Jean-Paul Sartre (published as Between Existentialism and Marxism, NLB 1974) attracted a highly favourable review in the Times Literary Supplement. And I had the experience of translating the early political writings of the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci, published by Lawrence & Wishart as Selections from Political Writings, 1910-1920, edited by Quintin Hoare. This gave me a lifelong admiration for Gramsci and a sensitivity to his capacity to ride the political wave in the Turin of these years, then the birthplace of Italy’s automotive industry and FIAT (the acronym formed from Fabbrica Italiana di Automobili di Torino) as well as of the Italian Communist Party.
But I elected not to pursue these freelance possibilities and instead turned to full time degree-crunching, at the LSE and Imperial College, culminating in my securing a PhD from Imperial College in cybernetics. I pursued the PhD as a ticket of entry into the great debates raging at the time – energy, nuclear power, ecology. I have enjoyed a varied career using my doctoral qualifications ever since. But it was the collapse of 7 Days that lit a fire under me and drove me to get some serious qualifications and take serious career steps. I then worked for the white collar union ASTMS as (I believe) the first PhD to work full-time for a union in the UK, helping the white-collar membership develop policies on prevention of occupational diseases like cancer. It was stimulating and thrilling work – and perhaps the ‘we can do anything’ attitude that we all shared on the 7 Dayscollective was a material advantage for me in meeting these subsequent challenges. I returned to Australia in 1979, to take up a similar role at the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), helping to contribute to the ban on nuclear power that still holds in Australia. There followed a stint working in the state Labor government of Victoria, before shifting to the university sector and taking a chair in business strategy at Macquarie University in the year 2000. Thus is a career generated from unlikely beginnings.
‘Long live nature’, No. 19, 8 March 1972, p.20. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
Going back to the issues of 7 Days I am delighted to rediscover that we ran one of the first and most credible debates over capitalism and ecology. Historian Gareth Stedman-Jones threw an intellectual grenade with a critique of the ecological left (‘Down with Nature’ – by which he meant an end to the romanticism of nature worship). This attracted a robust response from David Fernbach and Aubrey Walter in the next issue: ‘Long live nature’ which is still more or less the position of the Greens and the ecological left (7 Days #19, 8 March 1972) as of any sane commentator on prospects for curbing global warming. It is a delight to see how these debates foretold my own more recent work on The Greening of Capitalism (2015) and Global Green Shift (2017). So our efforts on 7 Days continue to resonate.
27 January 2022
In 2020 the British Library acquired the papers of Anthony Barnett, best known as the founder of the campaigning organisation Charter 88 and the website openDemocracy. This series of six posts highlights a discrete part of the archive, consisting of published and unpublished material, editorial documents and ephemera from Barnett’s time as a member of the editorial collective of the revolutionary weekly newspaper '7 Days', 50 years on from its publication.
In this fourth guest post, Bill Mayblin recalls his role in the production and design of the paper and the shifting media and cultural landscape for newspaper publishing in the early 1970s. (The second post in the series, written by Anthony Barnett, is here, and the third post by Graham Burchell is here.)
In 1971 I was twenty three years old, which would have made me one of the younger and certainly one of the less noticeable members of the 7 Days editorial collective. I would be surprised if many surviving members even remember me. But together with Alan Turkie, who was even younger (but perhaps more noticeable) we were the production team responsible for designing, pasting up and delivering the weekly edition of 7 Days for print. For my part I was thrilled to be part of something as exciting and worthwhile as this brave venture, but also slightly in awe of the fierce intellects and articulate egos that made up the rest of the collective.
Cover of the 9th February 1972 issue which dealt with the events and the aftermath of the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry, using photographs to powerful effect. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
Design is perhaps too grand a word to describe my role on the paper. All basic design decisions – grid, fonts, masthead – had already been taken before I joined. Layout and paste-up would be more accurate to describe my job and this involved cutting up photoset galleys of type, laying out the page and pasting copy onto grid sheets with Cow Gum – the standard technology of the day for offset litho printing.
Photographs we would mark up separately for the printer to size, screen and drop in. Every Tuesday would see a marathon all-night session to put the issue together in the cramped offices in Shaver’s Place, SW1. And on Wednesday morning one of us, tired and bleary-eyed, would take the train to Colchester to deliver the artwork to the printer.
My overriding memory of those all-night sessions is of fighting for space – space on the page, that is – in order to use photographs large and to have sufficient ‘air’ around the typography. It was often a losing battle. There was always too much copy. ‘Alex, we need to lose thirty lines here.’ would be a recurring refrain. Alex Cockburn, our calm and indefatigable editor would pore over the galleys and cut what he could, but inevitably pages would often look as if text and photos had been squeezed in with a shoehorn.
The truth is that 7 Days was never a design-led publication, members of the collective were far too politically focused for that. I don’t remember a single meeting at which the paper’s design was specifically or seriously discussed. Whatever design ethos it did have was already embedded at the very genesis of the project. 7 Days was to be a tabloid format, 24 page paper that embraced the documentary power of photography.
When talking of the paper with people at the time I would habitually describe it as a ‘leftwing photo-journalistic weekly’. Only now as I write that down, fifty years on, does it occur to me how strangely old-fashioned this description feels today. Three words that still have perfect currency on their own, but together seem to belong to a distinctive period of 20th century history that was perhaps already coming to an end when 7 Days was launched.
It’s the photo-journalism bit that dates it. With the sheer saturation of photographic and video images in today’s mainstream and social media we can forget just how novel and powerful documentary photography was for much of the last century. From the 1920s onwards modernist graphic design had championed photography, with its promise of objectivity and truth, as the prime if not the only ‘modern’ way of making images. The photo-journalist was born and it was the black-and-white photograph, often radical, dramatic and shocking that gave us our memorable images of the world through peace and war.
Growing up in the nineteen fifties and sixties I can remember the impact of publications like Life, Paris Match and Britain’s own Picture Post (a conscious model for 7 Days), and in the late sixties the Sunday broadsheet supplements, particularly the Sunday Times under the influence of art editor David King, brought us powerful photo essays such as Don McCullin’s images of the Vietnam war. It was this tradition that 7 Days was proudly stepping into.
But times were changing, and art and graphic design are perhaps where it could be seen first, and most clearly. The sixties had also given us psychedelia, pop art and the counter culture. If we talk of modernism we must also acknowledge the beginnings of postmodernism, a rejection of ‘Truth’ and of the photograph as its embodiment, and an embrace of complexity, playfulness and irreverence.
A memory stands out for me here. Alan and I were working to lay out pages for the week’s issue and someone brought in the latest issue of OZ magazine. We flicked through it, slightly sniffy but also fascinated at its chaotic energy full of radical free-standing artwork, vaguely pornographic cartoons, whole articles printed in yellow type reversed out of a pink background (totally illegible – tut-tut). And yet exciting and in tune with a particular zeitgeist.
It was not our target readership of course and although it was clearly anti-establishment and loosely in our camp we could chuckle dismissively at its outlandish graphics. And yet there was always the nagging feeling that at some cultural level this was what our paper was now competing with for readers. In 1971 even before computers and the internet our media and cultural landscape was shifting and 7 Days was perhaps stranded on one particular shore.
Inside page from the 9th February 1972 issue focusing on the events and the aftermath of the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
Looking back on 7 Days’ brief existence I am amazed and proud at the breadth and depth of its coverage through a tumultuous time of home and global politics. The sweep and standard of its journalism, in words and images, was high. But as one of its design team I feel entitled to admit that its ‘look’ was not always so good. There were many pages, with cramped type and wonky sub heads, that make me wince when I see them now. But there were also occasions when we won the battle for space, and designed memorable spreads, pages that sit more proudly in that modernist tradition of photo-journalism.
Sadly in the spring of 1972 7 Days produced its final issue and a talented group of people went their separate ways. As for me, I went on to design numerous other publications many of which I am more proud of from a simple design point of view. But I have to admit they tend now to merge together in my memory. But 7 Days, that six months in 1971-2, working through the night in Soho with Alex Cockburn, Alan Turkie, (my close friend to this day) and assorted members of the collective who would drop by to discuss, argue and generally get in the way – that was something special.
Bill Mayblin, 2021.
16 December 2021
In 2020 the British Library acquired the papers of Anthony Barnett, best known as the founder of the campaigning organisation Charter 88 and the website openDemocracy. This series of six posts highlights a discrete part of the archive, consisting of published and unpublished material, editorial documents and ephemera from Barnett’s time as a member of the editorial collective of the revolutionary weekly newspaper '7 Days'.
In this third guest post, Graham Burchell recalls his role as industrial correspondent for '7 Days' and reflects on the industrial relations landscape of the early 1970s. (The second post in the series is here.)
Looking back on my experience on 7 Days, I find I am very surprised that I was ever invited to become the full time “industrial correspondent” for this New Left, revolutionary, but hopefully commercially viable, photo-news weekly. It now seems to me extraordinary.
‘You Cannae Eat Ships’, 3 November 1971. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
Apart from a brief experience of trade union activity, through involvement in an unsuccessful attempt to form a “breakaway” union of telecommunication workers, separating from the large postal workers union (UPW), I had no experience and little knowledge of the world of industry or trade unionism. It was a brief experience-experiment: the national postal strike of 1971 put an abrupt end to the plans of the new union, forcing its handful of members to choose either to join the UPW strike or become strike-breakers, “scabs”. It also put an end to my trade union experience.
My involvement came about as a result of my decision to ‘boycott’ my final exams at university, abandon academic life, and philosophy, and throw in my lot – irrevocably, I imagined – with the working class and its struggle. I became a trainee overseas telegraphist in the Post Office. Anthony Barnett’s approach to me came after I had reconsidered this decision, left the Post Office, sat my finals, and rediscovered my interest in philosophy.
As well as my lack of experience and knowledge of industrial matters, of economic policy or trade unionism, I had no experience of journalism and the kind of investigative activity and writing it involved. Moreover, I was temperamentally unsuited for the job: 24 years old, I was too self-conscious and too intimidated by the people I needed to interview to be able to approach them with any confidence or authority. I was frequently in the office, not knowing what to do, and I recall Peter Fuller, in charge of Home news, and a real journalist, impatiently telling me that I should be “out there” getting stories. But I had very little idea of how to go about this.
Indeed, the high points of my experience on the paper – a visit to Glasgow to report on the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders’ “work-in”, to Coventry to interview engineering workers facing the prospect of unemployment and striking for the first time since the war, an eye-opening trip down a coal mine, an interview with the miners’ leader Lawrence Daly, and a journey to Kirby and Liverpool with the playwright John McGrath to report on a factory occupation – were all initiated and arranged for me by others. On the trip to Liverpool, I was little more than John McGrath’s awestruck passenger observing how all the people we met in Liverpool – union organisers, shop stewards in the occupied plant, and everyone in the bar of the Everyman Theatre – seemed to know and greet him as a friend.
‘From Militant Miners the News ‘It’s All or F**k All’, 15 December 1971. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
The term “industrial correspondent” is not used much today. The social, political and economic landscape in which journalists with this title once operated – a world of major national industries, large national trade unions, and the quasi-corporatist “industrial relations” and economic management set ups which had governed the relations between employers, workers and national governments since the Second World War – has disappeared.
The Miners: Week One, 19 January 1972. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
7 Days was launched in what we can perhaps now see was an important moment in the early stages of this transformation. It was an imaginative venture, an attempt to get free from old models of a militant Left journalism tied to the policies and positions of a political organisation, to create something radical and independent that would speak to the new forces and movements we felt ourselves to be part of, even possibly to represent. But, despite our aspirations, perhaps we failed to identify what was in fact new in what was happening. In 1970, Edward Heath’s Conservatives were elected on a radical ‘free market’ manifesto. Harold Wilson derided the Conservative programme as the work of “Selsdon Man” (after the hotel in which the manifesto had been drafted). He depicted it as the product of a kind of paleo-conservatism. This set the tone for what became a persistent critical theme: that the Conservative programme came from, and would take us back to, the past. But maybe “Selsdon Man” was not a paleo-conservative relic, but something new, albeit perhaps still inchoate, foreshadowing the neoliberalism that would come to dominate the future?
In 1971, a record number of people were involved in “industrial disputes” and more days were “lost” through strikes than in any year since 1926. The reform of “industrial relations” was at the heart of the Conservative government’s agenda. A new Industrial Relations Act, introduced quickly and coming into force in 1971, sought to shift the balance of power between employers and trade unions in favour of the former, on the one hand, and in favour of the power of official trade union leadership over shop-floor organisation and their ‘unofficial’ actions on the other. At the same time it gave greater powers of intervention and sanction to the State.
‘Forcing Unions to Break the Law’, 23 February 1972. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
The first steps in the government’s attempt to dismantle the post-war tri-partite consultative arrangements inaugurated a long period of bitter and intense struggles. When the first issue of 7 Days appeared, the Upper Clyde work-in had been underway for a number of weeks, other kinds of factory occupations followed elsewhere, a battle between engineering workers and employers was brewing in Coventry, the first national miners’ strike since 1926 seemed likely, and the trade unions were gearing up their opposition to the provisions of the Industrial Relations Act. I had a great deal to learn, and it had to be learned ‘on the job’. 7 Days gave me the opportunity to meet and talk with some of the people engaged in these struggles – shipbuilders on the Clyde, engineering workers in Coventry, manufacturing workers in Kirby, miners in Kent – even if I may not have known how best to learn from them and remedy my ignorance.
In January 1972, under the headline “A Great Year for The Thirties”, I summed up 1971 as a “year of revivals”: “The traditions that hang like a fog around the British labour movement had their moment in a nostalgic resurrection of the Thirties”, I wrote. While it was true that some trade union and Labour leaders, as well as many on the far Left, frequently evoked the past when describing Conservative policies – referring to a “class struggle” being “resurrected” by the Tories, for example – both headline and article failed to do justice to the reality of the struggles I reported on. Moreover, they did not accurately represent what I myself had found and written about, which could not be reduced to this summary judgement.
‘A Great Year for The Thirties’, 5 January 1972. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
In my brief experience as a journalist, in the rapid background research I had to undertake and in meetings with those directly involved, I inevitably had to get to grips with the always specific features of the different struggles I had to describe and the ways in which the past was present and active within them. Behind the grand historical references, the images and narratives evoking a deep continuity between past and present struggles, I quickly encountered a more messy history present in the form of agreements struck in the past, court judgements, laws, constitutions and rule books, traditional forms of working practices, divisions between different groups of workers, and so on, which shaped the various struggles and which I had to try to understand.
My article alluded to the familiar Marxist trope of experiencing the present through models, characters and images borrowed from the past: the famous quotation from the opening lines of Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. But I was, of course, oblivious to the fact that my criticism applied equally, indeed with greater justification, to myself. In an ‘Ideas’ piece, written a few weeks later, I summed up my strictures on the inevitable limits of the workers’ “economic struggle” by looking back to the Russian Revolution and invoking – resurrecting – the thoughts of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin as my authority!
“Industry” was, of course, only a small part of 7 Days, and it was far from central to the concerns and interests of the paper’s contributors and readership. My impression is that we thought we were living in an exciting and optimistic historical moment in which it was not unrealistic to think of ourselves as protagonists of a process of revolutionary change. It may be that in looking for signs of the possible existence of a “revolutionary situation”, we failed to detect other powers knocking on the door.
I think it unlikely that the kind of politics 7 Days wanted to promote and represent would have survived subsequent political-economic developments – the collapse of the Soviet empire and the inexorable rise of neoliberalism in particular – but it still seems to me a great shame that the ambitious project of a commercially viable independent, radical photo-news and ‘ideas’ weekly paper did not survive longer and have a chance to develop and change.
02 December 2021
This Disability History Month, staff from across the British Library have collaborated on a series of blog posts to highlight stories of disability and disabled people in the Library’s collections. Each week a curator will showcase an item from the collections and present it alongside commentary from a member of the British Library’s Disability Support Network. These selections are a snapshot insight into the Library’s holdings of disability stories, and we invite readers to use these as a starting point to explore the collections further and share your findings with us.
This selection has been made by Eleanor Dickens, Curator, Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts.
In November 1995 the Disability Discrimination Act was passed into law in Britain, after years of campaigning. Now repealed and replaced by the Equality Act 2010, the act was the first piece of legislation to attempt to address the needs of people with disabilities in the UK since the end of the Second World War.
The focus of the act was on anti-discrimination and, for the first time, placed responsibility on service providers and employers to make reasonable adjustments for people with impairments and disabilities.
The Act was not perfect. It was even described by Rachel Hurst, the activist and former director of Disability Awareness in Action (DAA), as ‘The Train spotters Charter’ because ‘[…] you could now stand on the platform but you couldn’t get on the train.’ However, the implementation of this legislation, and the campaigns around it, were a turning point in the history of disability activism and did reflect the beginning of changing attitudes in terms of where the responsibility lies for social change.
“Join Our Protest” Call to protest for the implementation of the Disability Discrimination Act, March 1994. The rest of this flyer discusses the initial bill being talked out of the House of Commons and lists MPs to write to, demanding their support of the bill. (Add MS 89385)
The act made discrimination a societal issue and not just the responsibility of people with impairments or disabilities.
But, more than anything else, one of the momentous parts of the act was the story behind it. The act was fiercely campaigned and fought for by civil rights campaigners and disability rights activists. And it was these protests and these people that made the passing of the act such a remarkable moment in disability history.
More than 100,000 thousand people took to the streets to protest for the bill and it was a highly publicised campaign.
For a lot of people it felt shocking to see people with disabilities protesting and being arrested and for many it therefore challenged false preconceptions they held about the independence and vulnerability of people living with impairments.
This is reflected in some of the popular slogans of the campaign:
“KEEP FIGHTING FOR RIGHTS NOT CHARITY”
“PISS ON PITY”
(– Popular slogans from the 1994 protests.)
“Keep fighting for rights not charity!” Call to protest for the implementation of the Disability Discrimination Act, March 1994. (Add MS 89385)
The story of these protests is recorded, in part, in the archive of the Association of Disabled Professionals held at the British Library.
The ADP is a charitable organisation, founded in 1971, to support and advocate for disabled people in employment and education. It was one of the first organisations managed entirely by disabled people and sought to challenge and change age-old perceptions of disability. The organisation and its members were part of the campaign and protest around the bill.
The founding of the ADP is written about in more detail in our blog by a founding member, Diana Twitchin, here.
“Surely progress can be made, I simply cannot believe that in an age where men are sent to outer space it can’t be possible to let disabled youngsters make their way to better chances. So much talent is allowed to wilt.” Letter to the Association of Disabled Professionals, April 1994. (Add MS 89385)
Reflection from staff Disability Support Network member:
Despite the Disability Discrimination Act, and latterly the Equality Act, 2010, the disability community are still fighting for equality and equity in day to day life. Having reasonable / workplace adjustments enshrined in law is a start, but it isn’t enough.
Elements of society still view the disability community through the medical model of disability where it is seen that the individual is disabled by their impairment or difference, and that these impairments or differences should be ‘fixed’ or changed by medical and other treatments.
The Social Model of Disability, however, explains that there are multiple barriers including physical, intellectual, attitudinal, social, and policy which society puts in the way of people with disabilities. The Social Model of Disability sees that people with impairments and differences are disabled by the world around them, not by their impairment or difference. The more of these barriers are removed, or not created in the first place, the less need there will be for adjustments to be made.
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the ongoing inequalities faced by people with disabilities. “Worldwide, disasters and emergencies often disproportionately impact the disability community, and this pandemic is no exception”. 
In response to this, this year’s theme for International Day of People with Disabilities (3rd December) is “Fighting for rights in the post-COVID era”. “People with disabilities have been differentially affected by COVID-19 because of three factors: the increased risk of poor outcomes from the disease itself, reduced access to routine health care and rehabilitation, and the adverse social impacts of efforts to mitigate the pandemic.” 
The Association of Disabled Professionals Archive: http://searcharchives.bl.uk/IAMS_VU2:LSCOP_BL:IAMS032-003453637
https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)00625-5/fulltext Accessed 01/12/2021
https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)00625-5/fulltext Accessed 01/12/2021
25 November 2021
In the second part of this series, Anthony Barnett's guest post recalls his time as a member of the editorial collective of a little-known revolutionary weekly newspaper entitled '7 Days'. In 2020 the British Library acquired the papers of Anthony Barnett, best known as the founder of the campaigning organisation Charter 88 and the website openDemocracy.
Looking back half a century to 7 Days makes me realise the pain of its failure which is still buried within me - it was such a glorious achievement and had such promise. I’ve been asked to say something about how I became involved, what I saw as being at stake, the experience of producing it, and how it influenced me. To start to answer them I want to signal why it was so good and why something so good failed.
What 7 Days expressed in its range, radicalism, intense seriousness and dramatic layouts was the radical spirit and global intelligence of the young English left of ‘the Sixties’. It was the anti-Vietnam war movement turned into stunning photojournalism. It was the best revolutionary radicalism, shorn of its Trotskyism. It was a pioneering engagement with feminism and anti-racism. It was fresh and fearless.
The attack on Miss World. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
One person orchestrated the outcome across the pages of 7 Days, edited the layouts and presentation: Alexander Cockburn. I dislike the term ‘flair’, as I associate it with superficiality. But Alex’s flair was breath-taking in its audacity. Thanks to him, 7 Days focussed a tabloid energy on the British class system and its snobbery as well as world capitalism and its proto-fascism.
I’ll take a closer look at the first issue to show its range which was crucial to the paper’s qualities, building on Madeleine Davis’s analysis in her opening post. Page 2 reports the trial of the Mangrove 9 (recently brought back to life by Steve McQueen). The portraits of all nine were to fill a page when the historic 55 day trial ended. Rage against racism, in the UK and around the world, was a 7 Days theme from the start.
The Mangrove Nine. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
Page 3 has reports on the European “Common Market”, the role of the City of London and a financial scandal in Italy. They initiated coverage of capitalism rather than ‘the economy (at the back, launching a weekly essay on concepts, Gareth Stedman Jones asks ‘What is Capitalism?’).
Two photo-stories give the paper its hard-hitting edge. One exposed a reunion of ex-SS Nazis in Bavaria and got the cover splash. The second is a dramatic account of how a British army unit provoked a riot in Northern Ireland. It is by the photographer, Tom Picton, who became a regular. It proved a harbinger of Bloody Sunday, which 7 Days covered like no other mainland paper.
Bloody Sunday. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
A striking report on a ‘Day at the Dogs’ by Peter Fuller, who was the indefatigable home affairs editor, launched coverage of sport with a strong working-class angle.
7 Days pioneered discussion of mental illness as a form of control and repression. In her cool, invaluable overview in the digitised archive, Rosalind Delmar, the paper’s production manager, captures the radical imperative to break the silence about this issue. A story on ‘Madness in Two Minds’ and one on ‘Inside Britain’s Psychiatric Prisons’ launched the coverage along with a provocation (by one of the editorial collective, John Hoyland under a pseudonym) about whether parents should make love in the presence of young children (answer, not if they sit on top of you).
The Labour Party features in a short article by Tom Nairn, ‘Has the Labour Party any new ideas?’ Tony Benn had published a Fabian Pamphlet that called on Labour to adopt workers control of production, referendums (there had yet to be one in the UK), direct action against the media and democratic education to replace elite rule. Nairn says it is absurd to think Labour could just adopt such a “staggering” vision. He points out that in a subsequent Fabian Tract, Tony Crosland’s responded to Benn with a call for what Nairn saw as right wing-populism - a warning of what was to come. Nairn’s conclusion: “totally new” thinking would have to come from outside Labour. No one thought its source would be a Conservative of whom we had barely heard, Margaret Thatcher.
Turn the page and the nature of pop music and the role of musical charts is looked at by Dave Laing, while Stuart Hood (once the BBC Director of Programmes) writes on TV as an industry. Next there is Peter Wollen on the “Real, Surreal and Mundane”. In part he discusses how we mostly see paintings reproduced in a small format in books and this changes their nature. Opposite, a review of the ‘Advertisement of the Week’ is by John Mathews. Across all such coverage the new weekly focussed on the production of what is experienced and refused to take the output of capitalist society at face value.
In addition, Geoffrey Nowell-Smith contributed a superb review of Bertolucci’s The Conformist. He sets out how it resolved failures in his earlier films and shows how a bourgeois husband “is more fascist by his emptiness than anyone who is fascist by conviction”.
If this wasn’t enough, a four-page feature follows on gambling, its nature, scale and addictiveness and the role of the state by Jon Halliday, the brother of Fred Halliday, who was in charge of 7 Days' ‘Foreign News’, and Peter Fuller.
The British Army at work. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
Later, Fred Halliday was to write a multi-page spread on why Nixon was going to China - one of the world-turning events that coincided with the six-month life of 7 Days. These included Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland, when the paper ran the photographs others would not; the first miners’ strike that humiliated the Heath government; the trial of the Mangrove nine; the women’s liberation attack on the Miss World contest at the Albert Hall; the liberation of Bangladesh, and the huge, penultimate Vietnamese attack on the American regime in the South. It was the six months that launched the Seventies.
7 Days could have been an English language version of Libération, launched just over 18 months later in July 1973, or the Tageszeitung launched in 1978 - both also started with egalitarian editorial collectives – and survived, even if, like them, it would have undergone the traumas of a triumphant market fundamentalism. A print publication needs in some way to be a ‘home’ for a core readership. 7 Days never had the time to build one. But the potential readership was there, later expressed by Rock against Racism and, in the early Eighties, with Ken Livingston’s inventive and effective Greater London Council (1981-86).
7 Days closed because it had no serious start-up funding. It was without capital in a capitalist world and lacked any core backers. But this itself needs explanation. I was the prime mover and fund-raiser, using a dummy we’d created as well as a business case. At the heart of it, all of us were attempting to by-pass the sectarian divisions of the English far-left by seeking to demonstrate what could be done by looking outwards. But this also meant there was no initial network of organised support in a highly sectarian situation.
The Miners’ Strike. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
Specifically, it was an effort to recover from the wounding split in the Black Dwarf . 7 Days was what the Black Dwarf should have become. This sounds like an odd thing to say, I know! Black Dwarf was a revolutionary paper conjured into existence by the theatrical agent Clive Goodwin and the poet Christopher Logue and others, edited initially (after a false start) by Tariq Ali. I joined the Dwarf later. Among its other editors and contributors who were to work full-time on 7 Days were Fred Halliday (who delighted in the Dwarf’s memorable front page banner: “We shall fight, we shall win, Paris, London, Rome, Berlin”), Peter Fuller, who wrote pseudonymously the Dwarf’s ‘City’ column and John Hoyland.
Tariq Ali became a committed Trotskyist and decided to help create the International Marxist Group (IMG), as a British branch of the Fourth International. Backed by like-minded Black Dwarfers (none of whom were writers), he urged Goodwin to make it the paper of the IMG and Goodwin refused. Ali had recruited a wealthy supporter and they split off to launch the Red Mole. I took over editing the Black Dwarf but Goodwin had no funds and it died.
As it did so, some of us determined to start a new paper out of the ashes of the debacle, convinced that a committed non-sectarian paper of the left was needed. An example of the linkage: a key contributor to 7 Days was the great critic Peter Wollen, who wrote the Xmas cover story ‘Was Christ a Collaborator?’ I asked him why he wanted to become involved with us and not Red Mole. He said that it was when he saw one of the later Black Dwarf’s that I edited, where I’d put FOOTBALL FOOTBALL on the cover. Here is a characteristic picture from the time, with Margarita Jiménez.
Margarita Jiménez. Copyright © 1970 Howard Naish.
7 Days became a message in a bottle. One that recorded what the left’s culture and spirit should have been like. I’m very happy that Madeleine Davis’s eagle eye spotted the bottle and has opened it up half a century later.
Looking back I realise that for me personally it was a moment of uninhibited revolutionary expression. Much later I enjoyed bringing some radical energy into constitutional reform with Charter 88 – but it was consciously preconditional: a call to democratise the state sufficiently to make socialist strategy a credible option. Twelve years after that, the aim of openDemocracy was to create a space to prevent suffocation by Blairite globalisation. But 7 Days was an uninhibited ‘weapon’ of revolutionary advocacy, advance and learning, or so we thought!
How did it influence me? I felt vindicated as well as defeated. It meant my experience of that period was different from many of those who joined organisations like the IMG, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), or even became Bennites. It was defeated but it deserved to have survived. I was greatly helped overcome the loss by gaining the friendship and mentorship of John Berger, whom we’d asked to become a ‘Trustee’ of 7 Days. He was a wonderful example of how to retain voice and principle even when times are dire.
I’d like to add one codicil. We were not helped by the state of England. In his article, Nairn quotes Tony Crosland, once the most interesting of Labour intellectuals. Now he denounced ‘participation’ and ‘liberation’. The British people, Crosland claimed, “prefer to lead a full family life and cultivate their gardens. And a good thing too … we do not want a busy bustling society in which everyone is politically active and fussing around in an interfering or responsible manner”. This still shocks. It expressed the deep conservatism of the political class and the revulsion shared by the Labour leadership of democracy itself. Unfortunately, at the time, far too many voters agreed. They had still to vomit up the loathsome elixir of fatalism, deference and belief in British superiority and this effected everyone. This helps explain why 7 Days was also like an oasis in a desert.
The spirit of 7 Days in this stunning layout. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
27 October 2021
In 2020 the British Library acquired the papers of Anthony Barnett, best known as the founder of the campaigning organisation Charter 88 and the website openDemocracy. The openDemocracy archive and the Papers of Anthony Barnett were both acquired by the British Library on the 6th February 2020.
This series of six posts highlights a discrete part of the archive, consisting of published and unpublished material, editorial documents and ephemera from Barnett’s time as a member of the editorial collective of a little-known revolutionary weekly newspaper titled 7 Days. In this first post, historian of the British New Left Dr Madeleine Davis introduces the newspaper and the series.
Fifty years ago this month a very unusual newspaper appeared on UK newsstands. Titled ‘7 Days’ and with a bold red and black design, it might have caught the eye both for its deliberate revival of Picture Post-style ‘photo-journalism’ and for the selection of topics trailed above the title-piece. Gambling/Capitalism/Sex and Children/Arms Deal Exposure appeared above an image headlined SS Reunion in Bavaria, one of two ‘photo-features’. The other feature was a photo-record of an army action against ‘rioters’ in Derry, in a packed issue that evoked yet subverted standard newspaper fare.
A ‘Life’ section detailed conditions in psychiatric prison; ‘Ideas’ featured a primer on Marxism from Gareth Stedman Jones; ‘Sports’ delved into the economics of dog racing; ‘Arts’ featured Stuart Hood on the TV industry, as well as film and book reviews (Bertolucci; realism) and an ‘ad of the week’ dissected (in this issue) a pro-feminist critique of a gas cooker ad campaign. On top of this there were foreign and home news sections and a special feature on the gambling industry.
But if the paper’s radical socialist credentials were not in doubt, it differed from other left organs in having no party allegiance nor editorial sermonising, nor even an editor in chief.
The new venture’s launch was preceded by a publicity and funding drive, for the aim was to secure commercial distribution and a circulation of up to 40–50,000. Dummy issues had been sent to sympathetic contacts in the press, and funds, with an initial target of £25,000, were raised through donations and loans from a network of left-leaning contacts. Ex-Communist Party names figured prominently in lists of potential donors, as did artists David Hockney and Sylvia Guirey, as well as Sonia Orwell and playwright John McGrath.
As W.L. Webb noted in a perceptive pre-launch write up in The Guardian in September 1971, the names of the Trustees of the magazine – respected journalist Claud Cockburn, artist John Berger and former BBC Controller Stuart Hood, were designed to reassure: ‘if the kids must have revolutionism, then this might be the brand for the station bookstalls’.[i] Yet Webb was cautiously optimistic, noting with approval that 7 Days, ‘the new hope of the New Left’ appeared to be taking both its journalism and its Marxism seriously, seemed more ‘above board than underground’, and in its determination to ‘break out of the ghetto readership’ of the far left was certainly doing something new.
One of Webb’s chief sources must have been the fold out flyer distributed in advance, which set out the paper’s ambition and appeal to commercial distributors. ‘It will look good, it will read well, and it will explode onto a market that has never been touched before’.[ii] The market figured was professional and semi-professionals working in education, medicine, architecture, technology, media and the creative arts, as well as student radicals; even ‘housewives and mothers who have themselves been through further education’. As Webb noted, this was the ‘68 generation who’d ridden a revolutionary wave then been beached on the shores of Conservative election victory. Whether it was a big enough constituency to justify the planned print run of 50,000 copies would remain to be seen.
Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Madeleine Davis.
7 Days was launched just over a year after an earlier paper, Black Dwarf, folded. Black Dwarf had been founded in 1968 by a group including Tariq Ali, Sheila Rowbotham and well-connected literary agent Clive Goodwin. Goodwin, described by John McGrath as an ‘entrepreneur of the left’ [iii] conceived the paper, and it was named, by poet Christopher Logue, after a satirical paper published by radical reformer Thomas Wooler between 1817-24. Beginning as a self-styled non-sectarian paper of the radical left, and conceived, in the heady atmosphere of 1968 as a ‘political action’ not just a means of communication, it adopted a bold and confrontational style while also maintaining strong links with the more austerely intellectual radicalism of the New Left Review, with whom it shared offices and several personnel.
Amid the ferment after 1968, the Dwarf’s editorial board split between a group increasingly influenced by Fourth International (FI) Trotskyism and a group wanting to maintain an independent stance. [iv] There were also tensions over the paper’s stance on feminism, vividly recalled by Sheila Rowbotham in her memoir Promise of a Dream. When in early 1970 Clive Goodwin, who owned the title, refused to allow Black Dwarf to become the official paper of the Trotskyist International Marxist Group (IMG), the FI contingent around Tariq Ali left, founding Red Mole and then Red Weekly, which was formally affiliated with the IMG.
From March 1970, Black Dwarf was edited from Clive Goodwin’s flat on Cromwell Road, and then from new premises in Soho, by Anthony Barnett, with a group including Rowbotham, John Hoyland and Fred Halliday. Eight issues were produced in this way between March and September, the style changing in a way that in some senses prefigured 7 Days. The paper’s final issue appeared on 5 September 1970, late. It contained no formal announcement of suspension, though a statement reflected a little on its record while also speaking of money problems. A ‘Black Dwarf benefit painting sale and exhibition’ was advertised with work by artists including David Hockney, Joe Tilson, Richard Hamilton and Ralph Steadman, but the paper did not reappear.
Some months later, however, some of those involved set up a new working group to discuss a new paper. This group included activists of the Women’s Liberation Movement, which held its first conference in the same year, and contacts from New Left Review, the student and independent left.[v]
Though there was some continuity from Black Dwarf in terms of personnel and in the insistence on political independence, the new publication was intended to be of a quality and seriousness sufficient to break out of the ‘underground’, with all the precariousness and minimalist production values this had implied. Pre-publicity made much of the seasoned journalistic talent involved, as Alex Cockburn, who had worked on the TLS and New Statesman, was a key figure and de-facto editor. It also claimed a gap left by the rightward shift of the New Statesman under Richard Crossman’s editorship.
As Rosalind Delmar has pointed out, 7 Days was emphatically not part of the counterculture – ‘Bauhaus rather than Aubrey Beardsley was being channelled’. Rather it was more representative of an independent and intellectually-oriented New Left tradition that developed from the late 1950s ‘between communism and social democracy’, and which underwent significant radicalisation, as well as some fragmentation, in the late 1960s. 7 Days was in part – at least for some of those involved - an attempt to broaden the reach and scope of this tradition, as well as to take seriously (as much of the rest of the radical left seemed unable to do) the emergent politics of women’s liberation.
The moment must also have seemed both urgent and propitious, for the cusp of the 70s was, as this series will remind us, an intensely eventful and conflictual period in British politics. Social and protest movements (industrial militancy, women’s and gay liberation, black power) asserted themselves against an establishment which itself was regrouping ideologically and politically in ways that would crystalise more clearly toward the end of the decade. In the six months of its existence 7 Days covered the wave of industrial action against the imposition of the 1971 Industrial Relations Act; the Mangrove trial, the IRA, UVF and Angry Brigade bombing campaigns and the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry.
Simply as a contemporaneous record of these events, 7 Days is fascinating and important. For historians of the left, it is the more so because its political perspectives had continually to be negotiated amongst a journalistic and production team which recognised no party discipline, avoided the simplistic revolutionary sloganeering characteristic of the far left, yet saw itself as supporting all those ‘who are making the foundations of revolutionary change’.
A pre-publication document set out the strategic perspective hammered out thus: ‘7 Days recognises that with the significant exception of Northern Ireland, British capitalism wields its power not through violence or terror (though these weapons are in the cupboard) but with the consent of the mass of the people. People tolerate the intolerable because of the inherited weight of ideology …. That’s why 7 Days takes its starting point from people’s daily lives’. That was also why 7 Days covered, sometimes in groundbreaking ways, issues of mental health, abortion, children, the mass media and ‘popular arts’. Taken together, this social and cultural coverage amounts to a unique record and a considerable achievement.
Independence fostered innovation, but also tension and frustration. While the published contents of the paper usually contained little direct editorial content, internal papers are replete with memos and counter-memos criticising its record and disagreeing over its direction, both political and editorial. ‘Left papers are real heartbreakers and money –burners’, remarked Rowbotham of her time at Black Dwarf.[vi] In the event, it was financial crisis that brought the career of 7 Days to an abrupt end. Optimistic projections for readership were not borne out in sales figures, and by February 1972 losses were reported to be running at £500 per week, while two thirds of the £16000 launch capital raised was spent.
In March 1972, after twenty one issues, 7 Days went into ‘suspended animation’ while funds were sought for a relaunch. The relaunch never happened, and apart from one final Vietnam-themed issue in May 1972, which commemorated the evacuation of American troops from Saigon with the doubly-apt headline ‘Who’s for the chopper?’ the paper disappeared.
Few people, even among historians of the radical left, have ever heard of 7 Days. It is far less well known than International Times (IT), usually regarded as the first paper of the London underground and alternative press, than Oz, made famous by the trial for obscenity of Richard Neville and others, or even than the Black Dwarf which it in some sense replaced. I first came across it when researching the history of the New Left Review, interest piqued by a reference in some unpublished editorial documents to a spin-off publication in which several NLR editors were involved.
Years later, acquiring material for an exhibition on the activist histories of the British New Left, its striking visuals and neglected history made me keen to include it, so I got in touch with Anthony to see if he would let me use some of his originals. Fascinated anew, I proposed its addition to the Amiel Melburn Trust’s online archive of radical periodicals. From Anthony’s collection, the whole run was digitised and made available in 2017, funded by the Trust, and with an introductory essay by Rosalind Delmar, the paper’s production editor.
This series of posts over the next few months, will give a space to some of those who produced it to tell the story of the paper and of their own involvement. In doing so we hope to recover not just the history of 7 Days, but the feel and significance of a moment.
[i] The Seven Days left: W. L. Webb on a new radical magazine The Guardian (1959-2003); Jun 26, 1971;
[ii] Unpublished document ‘Add 7 Days to your week’, papers of Anthony Barnett, BL, not yet catalogued.
[iii] McGrath, J., ‘Clive Goodwin 1932-1977’ History Workshop, Spring 1978, No.5 p.236. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/4288183.pdf
[v] The working party consisted of Barnett, Hugh Brodie, Alex Cockburn, Rosalind Delmar, Judith Furguson, David Fernbach, Peter Fuller, Clive Goodwin, Fred Halliday, John Hoyland, Phil Kelly, Ros Linnell, John Mathews, Maxine Molyneux, Christine Moore, John McGrath, Jenny Moss, Gareth Stedman Jones, David Triesman, Peter Wollen , Alan Hayling, Stephen Ginsburg. (source, pre-publication leaflet, File 120, papers of F Halliday, BLPES, LSE)
[vi] Rowbotham, S., Promise of a Dream, Remembering the Sixties (Verso; 2001 p.250)
30 July 2021
‘Like tripe on a slab’: women’s accounts of reproductive healthcare provision in Spare Rib magazine are now available through the Library’s digital map.
A guest post by Alice O’Driscoll
Find out more about the letters and listings made available via the Library's Spare Rib magazine digital map.
Spare Rib 6 December 1972 p. 27 © Sue Coe, courtesy Galerie St. Etienne
When Jo Evans from Bristol was diagnosed with an ovarian cyst after a visit to the hospital in late 1981, her (male) doctor gave her the ‘stark and unsettling ultimatum’ of either having a baby straight away, or a hysterectomy. A third option was available, he conceded, but it was expensive.
Evans was incensed, not just by the lifechanging decision she was being faced with, but with how her doctor had presented the dreadful choice in a ‘jocular fashion’ while several of his medical students awkwardly looked on. ‘He should stop whipping the wombs out of the women of Bristol and resign’ she wrote, ‘so that more women can rise to the top of the gynaecological profession’. (Letter from Jo Evans, ‘Hospital Confrontations: Taking on the “Big Man”’, Spare Rib 115, February 1982, pp. 24-5.)
Evans wrote into Spare Ribmagazine shortly after this experience to vent her frustration. She also wanted to express her gratitude to the magazine for their timely publication of an article about hysterectomies, written by Kath Cape with the aid of the Sheffield Women’s Health Group and Sheffield Radical Nurses. (Kath Cope, Sheffield Women’s Health Group, and Sheffield Radical Nurses, ‘Womb Loss’, Spare Rib 112, November 1981, pp. 6–8, 38.)
Complete with diagrams and patient testimonies, the piece, called ‘Womb Loss’, aimed to inform and, consequently, empower. In the case of Evans, it worked. She also consulted friends in the medical profession, and the classic feminist tome on women’s health, Our Bodies, Ourselves.
Her letter, which opened with an account of her degrading treatment at the hands of hospital staff, ends with an assurance that she ‘will return to the hospital and tell the consultant how outrageous his suggestion is’. Her determination to become an active and assertive recipient of healthcare is clear, this transformation catalysed by her poor treatment and facilitated at least in part by the informative contents of Spare Rib.For scholars interested in the history of women’s healthcare, the form and function of feminist publishing, or the women’s liberation movement more broadly, there is much material to work with here.
First UK edition of Our bodies ourselves, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1978 (X.319/18521)
Another ‘jolly consultant’ was the object of Abigail Mozley’s ire, a Spare Rib reader from Falmouth who wrote of her humiliation at being surrounded by a ‘small horde of medical students’ during childbirth. (Letter from Abigail Mozley, ‘Epidurals’, Spare Rib 4, February 1973, p. 4.) She felt the same impotence as Evans in the face of an inconsiderate medical profession: ‘they discussed my interesting case as if I wasn’t there, then had me stripped naked’.
A reader named Kathryn Woodward from Sheffield similarly reported having a ‘group of staring students’ standing round her hospital bed as she was giving birth. (Letter from Kathryn Woodward, ‘Epidurals’, Spare Rib 4, February 1973, p. 4.) She too considered herself relegated during the experience, feeling ‘superfluous’ at her own labour, since ‘all congratulations at the end were for the doctor… my only role was being that of a nuisance’. A mother, she said, ‘is often still regarded as an object – a stupid one at that’.
All of these letters are searchable on the interactive Spare Rib magazine digital map of women’s liberation movement networks and activities. The Spare Rib letters pages are littered with accounts such as these, which relay the distress of women made to feel passive and irrelevant, ‘like tripe on a slab’. (Letter from Paula Harmer, ‘...And Choosing Women Doctors’, Spare Rib 115, February 1982, p. 25.)
The rise of the epidural
Many of those who wrote into the magazine perceived the problem to stem not from the attitude of the physicians themselves, but in the limitations of their empathy because of their gender. The solution offered by Evans - that more women become gynaecologists - alludes to this, as does Mozley’s memory of being told her epidural would not hurt (‘it did bloody hurt actually’). Paula Harmer from Knottingley asked ‘can we insist on a female doctor, who will perhaps be more thoughtful and understanding?’ (Letter from Paula Harmer, ‘...And Choosing Women Doctors’, Spare Rib 115, February 1982, p. 25.)
The rise of the epidural – touted in one Spare Ribarticle as enabling painless childbirth – is undoubtedly a remarkable moment in the history of women’s reproductive healthcare. For the author of this piece, journalist and author Kathleen Tynan, it was a feminist victory, facilitating her own ‘thoroughly unnatural’ labour which defied the ‘Puritan hand-me-down that, to be rewarding, childbirth must also be an agonising process’. (Kathleen Tynan, ‘Epidurals’, Spare Rib 6, December 1972, pp. 6–7.)
Woodward’s letter, however, inserts a poignant qualifier into this triumphant narrative, one which expands the definition of labour pains by taking into account her dismissive treatment at the hands of the medics around her. Following the epidural, she conceded that she ‘felt no pain’, but she ‘was frightened and humiliated’, leading her to conclude that ‘drugs are just part of the answer’.
Despite the ‘ultimate lack of pain during the delivery I hated the experience and only remember it with horror’ she said, ‘I felt like a failure’. The contractions which had caused her to be in ‘excruciating’ agony before the epidural kicked in were not to be overlooked either.
A screenshot of the interactive Spare Rib digital map
Breast vs Bottle
One letter, written by reader Jane Cottingham and published in 1981, offers a root cause for the problem with the medical profession which would perhaps appeal to the women above whose reproductive healthcare was so distressing: ‘concern is almost always with the infant and rarely with women’. (Letter from Jane Cottingham, ‘Breastfeeding - How Men Brandish the Bottle’, Spare Rib 103, February 1981, pp. 4, 22.)
Cottingham wrote on behalf of ISIS, the women’s international information and communications service based in Geneva and Rome, and her letter therefore not does feature on the Spare Ribdigital map of the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The map offers an easily searchable sample and visualises the location of women’s health groups and related events, such as a ‘spiritual midwifery’ tour in 1982, but does not include international letters and listings.
The matter at hand in Cottingham’s case was the recurrent debate between advocates of breastfeeding and bottle-feeding. She had contacted the magazine after having become aware of companies exploitatively promoting their formula to poor women who were then forced further into poverty once their own supply of breastmilk ceased and bottle-feeding became the only option.
Cottingham’s anger was not wholly directed at the market-driven brands, although she was stung by the acute irony that they were ‘capitalizing (literally) on the ideas of the early women’s movement – that our oppression stemmed from our biology and thus we had to get away from reproduction, motherhood, and everything to do with child care in order to be liberated’.
She reserved some of her frustration for the ‘male government delegates, World Health Organisation experts, industry representatives and consumer advocates’ who weighed in to ‘argue about breast or bottle as though the two were interchangeable commodities’ with little regard for the difference forms of parental labour required of the two.
Cottingham’s aim was to problematise the fact that these conversations about ‘breast versus bottle’ were led, at least in the public arena, by the medical profession and corporate stakeholders in childcare. The exclusion of mothers’ perspectives facilitated the commodification of women’s bodies. The fruits of women’s maternal labour, she concluded, were consequently rendered products and services akin to any others in the capitalist system.
While this letter takes a different tone to other, highly personal accounts of their healthcare, Cottingham’s description of the erasure of women’s experiences at a policy level might still have resonated with those who felt invisible during their own treatment, and is part of a larger conversation within the movement that took place through a network of talks and conferences on childbirth, searchable on the Spare Rib map.
The subject and the provenance of Cottingham’s letter speak respectively to the magazine’s international outlook and reach. Regarding those letters about reproductive healthcare which stemmed from within the UK, however, the map can serve as an extremely valuable resource for scholars. It is a wonderful tool for those interested in writing local or geographically-sensitive histories: a full postal address is supplied by many readers and printed alongside their letter, meaning that it is possible in many cases to pinpoint exact hospitals, GPs, playgroups and nurseries.
The map is also searchable by category, allowing researchers to identify relevant material across the two decades the magazine was in print – for instance, ‘Health, Sex & Therapy’. A more specific keyword search allows users to search for, e.g. ‘childbirth’. The cases above are just a fraction of those which have been plotted so far, but their candour and detail hopefully indicate the potential benefits of this resource for scholars of feminist publishing in modern Britain.
Alice O’Driscoll is a PhD student in History at Jesus College, University of Cambridge. Her thesis focuses on women and warfare in seventeenth-century Britain and Ireland, but she is interested in all aspects of gender and violence.
30 October 2020
Written by The Business of Women's Words team.
Think 1970s UK feminism was a purely metropolitan affair? Ever wondered whether the Women’s Liberation Movement stretched beyond the boundaries of big cities? The new digital map resource at the British Library might have some surprising answers.
Spare Rib cover, Nov 1976, Issue 52 © Michael Ann Mullen
The Spare Rib map is the first digital resource to visualise the networks and activities of the Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) across the UK and Ireland. It has been created by the Business of Women’s Words project, a research partnership between the British Library and the Universities of Sussex and Cambridge funded by the Leverhulme Trust. Its data is drawn from Spare Rib (1972-1993), the iconic feminist magazine digitised by the British Library. Based on a sample (around 30%) of Spare Rib’s listings, adverts and letters pages, the map represents a slice of the intense feminist activity that flowered during the magazine’s twenty-year run. What it shows is that the WLM was a truly national movement, with datapoints ranging from the Western Isles of Scotland to Leiston in Suffolk, and from Derry in Ireland to Falmouth in Cornwall.
Snapshot of the Spare Rib map from 1983
The map sheds new light on the structure of the WLM and illuminates its regional centres and hubs, as well as a wider web of more isolated feminist activity. Lancaster, for example, was a regional hub that hosted a number of feminist publications, women’s counselling services, a lesbian helpline and took part in the Feminist Book Fortnight; and Bangor in Wales offered an array of feminist groups, businesses selling feminist postcards, jewellery and shoes, and alternative communal accommodation. The map’s colour-coded categories and symbols visualise the sheer diversity of activities and goods generated by the WLM, from political demonstrations to carpentry workshops to co-operatively produced clothing.
Although the WLM is often thought of as outside capitalist transactions of buying and selling, the map makes clear that Spare Rib, and the movement more broadly, was a site of exchange – personal, ideological, but also commercial. Businesses, from dating agencies to therapists to bookshops and publishers, were a key part of the feminist community and helped to advance the reach of the movement. The extraordinary number of women-only or lesbian B&Bs advertised in Spare Rib in the 1980s, for instance, demonstrate how women-run businesses extended the movement into some of the most rural parts of the UK, from the Lake District to the Isle of Arran, and from Piltown in Ireland to Yelverton in Devon. By drawing on letters as well as listings and adverts sent into Spare Rib, the map visualises not only the nationwide distribution of feminist events, commodities and services, but a network of (often critical) consumers and activists. It charts change over time, revealing the changing priorities and infrastructure of the movement, from consciousness raising groups to women’s centres, feminist businesses and women’s studies courses.
Fully searchable by category, year, keyword and geographical location, the Spare Rib map is a rich interactive resource which opens up new avenues of research for historians of UK and Irish women’s movements across two decades of intense activism.
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