Published in the summer of 1970, Playpower was the work of Australian hippie entrepreneur and writer, Richard Neville.  He was the publisher of OZ magazine  (1967-73), which, in May 1970, published the infamous Schoolkids Issue that led to the trial of OZ editors Richard Neville, Felix Dennis, and Jim Anderson, at the Old Bailey under  Judge Michael Argyle. It was the longest trial under the 1959 Obscene Publications Act. The defendants were found guilty and sentenced to up to 15 months imprisonment. This was later quashed on appeal by the lord chief justice Lord Widgery.

Although Neville’s unstructured ramblings on the Underground was not of great interest to most of those involved in the Liverpool occupation, the book did gather some interest since Neville gave Pete Cresswell’s toy pistol escapade as an example of his concept of ‘play power’.

This is the relevant extract, from page 42 of the British Paladin paperback edition:

…[this] was part of a pattern  of general toughening up in response to nationwide disturbances resulting from the discovery of secret student files.  Liverpool University suspended nine students for participating in a two-week occupation.  One boy [sic] was expelled, and when told of his sentence produced an imitation pistol and fired three caps at the Disciplinary Board.  They are said to have immediately dived under the table.

Elsewhere in the book, Neville develops the idea of play power:

A unique feature of today’s Youthquake – as Vogue once dubbed it – is its intense, spontaneous internationalism. From Berlin to Berkeley, from Zurich to Notting Hill, Movement members exchange a gut solidarity; sharing common aspira­tions, inspirations, strategy, style, mood and vocabulary. Long hair is their declaration of independence, pop music their esperanto and they puff pot in their peace pipe.

Even divisions within the Movement are broadly consistent. The terms New Left, Underground, and ‘militant’ are loosely applicable throughout the wide and scattered domain of youthful insurgency. Sometimes these categories generously overlap, at other times, less generously, they conflict. The New Left is comprised largely of the ‘alphabet soup’ of student protest (SDS, SNCC, NACLA, RSA, BLF, RSSF, etc.) with just occasionally a dash of LSD.

That unpopular label, Underground, embraces hippies, beats, mystics, madmen, freaks, yippies, crazies, crackpots, commun­ards and anyone who rejects rigid political ideology (a ‘brain disease’) and believes that once you have blown your own mind, the Bastille will blow up itself.

In different areas, at different times, a different compound of these categories becomes the agency of disruption. The actions of the New Left are said to be ‘political’. The antics of the Underground are said to be ‘cultural’. In fact, both sociological manifestations are part of the behaviour pattern of a single discontented body. The days of nine-to-five radicalism are over. The hippie who has brown rice for breakfast, and the student who burns his examination paper are both learning to live the same revolution.

There is one quality which enlivens both the political and cultural denominations of youth protest; which provides its most important innovation; which has the greatest relevance for the future; which is the funniest, freakiest and the most effective. This is the element of play…[…]

The politics of play.  The strategy which converts the Underground to a brotherhood of clowns; the lifestyle which unites a generation in love and laughter.In Chicago, its Pigasus the pig for President and Abbie Hoffman throwing kisses to a bewildered jury.  In Nanterre its a horse nominated by students for local councillor…In Keele, it’s students celebrating the unusual sun by frolicking naked on the campus…The politics of play.


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