Recovering the regional radical press in Britain, 1968-1988

Radical Press

Background

From the Summer of Love through the Winter of Discontent to the rise of Thatcherism – these were heady days for radical community organisations and the news media that supported and connected them. Small, co-operatively produced local papers played an important role in radical politics in these critical decades, but few are now remembered and their history has been largely overlooked. Our project will rediscover these lost papers and reconnect with the people who produced them.

The best known radical papers were London based and enjoyed a national reach: Titles like International Times, Undercurrents, Peace News and the Leveller acted as a mouthpiece for countercultural opposition groups, broadly leftist in outlook but politically non-aligned. Some of these papers have been digitally archived; the complete run of International Times, for example – 1966-1978 – can be viewed on the International Times archive, and Peace News, which continues today in online form, maintains a digital archive from 2001 to the present.

What remains largely unrecorded is the regional and provincial network of local journalism that flourished in the same period. At its peak, some 79 publications of this kind were being produced, mostly by co-operatives of self-taught volunteers, writing, typing, designing and pasting up by hand and using new offset litho technology for printing.

Most appeared fortnightly, monthly or bi-monthly and were either sold in the street or in radical bookshops and one or two friendly newsagents. Most offered readers a mixture of local news from an independent perspective, campaign information, and an alternative ‘what’s on’ guide – a vital section in each edition since the grassroots press was often much more closely aligned with the local underground music and cultural scene than commercial newspapers and magazines.

Some titles broke stories that mainstream papers wouldn’t touch. Rochdale Alternative Paper, for example, printed allegations of sexual misconduct against city MP Cyril Smith in 1979, none of which would resurface in the commercial press until after Smith’s death in 2010. Brighton Voice campaigned effectively on housing issues and became a mouthpiece for the city’s squatting movement. Swansea’s Alarm, by far the most cheaply and roughly produced of the lot, garnered a reputation for exposing corruption on the city council and ran a slate of candidates for election in 1979. Working on papers like these was formative for some now very prominent writers and campaigners. Lynne Segal helped to found the Islington Gutter Press in the 1970s, for example.

None of these papers exist now and many may have disappeared forever. Some are preserved locally in hard copy. For example, Leeds Other Paper can be read in bound volumes in the city’s local studies library in a run spanning 1974-1994, and Bristol Voice in the central library at Bristol, but few papers like these will be found in the British Library’s newspaper collections. Some, like Brighton Voice, which has an informative Wikipedia page devoted to it, have left tangible traces, but few are so easy to track down now.

Today, as more and more news services switch to online platforms and readers expect content to be delivered for free, the future of newsprint publishing looks increasingly precarious. Whether radical self-help publishing will be forced to fight for attention on the internet or find the resources to reinvigorate the physical newspaper remains to be seen. Crowdfunding is one possibility; indeed it is being actively pursued at the moment here in the South West by a new generation of levellers.

The project

Recovering the Regional Radical Press in Britain, 1968-1988, is a project based in the Regional History Centre at UWE Bristol and is co-ordinated by Phil Chamberlain (Journalism) and Professor Steve Poole (History).

We have four main objectives:

  1. To identify and locate full runs of each paper.
  2. To identify and make contact with former members of regional radical paper production teams.
  3. To enable the production of new oral and archival histories of radical regional publishing in Britain.
  4. To make these papers publicly available again (through digitisation).

We are currently (2018-19) working on the first two of these objectives. And we’re going to need plenty of help!

How you can help

Please contact us if:

  1. You once worked on a paper like this.
  2. You know the whereabouts of any existing copies today.
  3. You have memories of buying and reading them.

The project can be contacted at rhc@uwe.ac.uk

Back to top