Interview of Graham Keen conducted by Adam Blake, 20th July 2015
A.B: So, when did you first meet Hoppy?
G.K: Right. I can’t remember the actual day but it was in August of 1960. I’d come out of the Air Force – I’d been doing my National Service – I’d come out at a bit of a loss as what to do. I’d had an Art School education in Cheltenham – they didn’t give you a degree, they gave you a diploma, you did four years. If you wanted to go on with that, and use it in some way, the most likely was that you took a post-graduate teaching training course for a year. And I’d had one marked up but it wasn’t for another year so I was – I suppose it was gap year, really.
I’d re-connected with the Art School in Cheltenham which was my hometown, and some of the students there I knew from before and some I’d met for the first time. And among this core of students, there were two card-carrying Communist party members. They suggested we got up a trip to Moscow, see what it was like behind the Iron Curtain. We got hold of a hearse, a 1937 Austin with a V-8 engine, we painted it yellow, I think we paid £25 for it. Anyway, we pooled money and we worked on this machine to get it fit for a 2000 mile trip. At the time I was working as a bus conductor, round Cheltenham, and we worked towards the idea of getting to Moscow. To make it economically viable there had to be about 11 or 12 people. So we put it around Cheltenham and the local network and we didn’t really get enough people. With our old school friends, old college friends, we had contacts in Oxford and Cambridge so we got notices put up there. Anybody wanted to join us the cost would be, I think it was about £50 to cover petrol, food, whatever. And there were a couple, I think three, maybe four people decided they’d like to come, and one of them was Hoppy.
When I first caught sight of him we were driving with almost everybody else in the van through Deptford to the Dover Road – remember, no motorways then – and there was Hoppy waiting for us at New Cross. He had a worn Trilby, he had shoes that had a bar of leather stitched across them because they were standard issue at Winfrith Heath in Dorset, the Atomic Energy Establishment where he was working. So he obviously cared very little about his appearance. I was struck, probably in the same way that you were; he had some undefinable attraction. We got talking about cameras. I had a camera and I was very interested in photography. And we talked cameras. I had some grass, a little packet, that I’d been determined to take to Moscow and we shared it. I didn’t tell anybody else because they would have been too worried, but I assumed Hoppy would smoke – I don’t know why, just a hunch, and I was right and we shared it.
A.B: Wasn’t that very hard to find in those days?
G.K: There wasn’t any available in Cheltenham. I got it from people in Oxford. It used to be made up in five bob or ten bob deals. Somebody had obviously scored an ounce, which was beyond most people’s finances. And they’d cut it and divide it and there was a sort of special way of folding the paper so you got a little packet. I won’t tell you who I got it from because he is now a respected writer and it really, really irritates the hell out of him. I was very struck by Hoppy. We got held up in Germany and while we were there for a few days – have you seen that photograph I’ve taken of him? In a cellar looking place with his legs tucked up underneath him?
A.B: Yes, yes, you sent it to me.
G.K: Right. That was in Germany. Halfway to Moscow.
A.B: He looks like an absolute Bohemian.
G.K: He does, yes. We went to a dance in this place in Germany. And they all thought he was a Gypsy (laughs). But there was something – and you’ve probably noticed this – about Hoppy that he was sui generis. That you couldn’t imagine him having parents or brothers and sisters. He was something strange from another planet.
A.B: He was a unique person, undoubtedly.
G.K: When I saw those photographs of him as a young boy in the funeral programme, it’s almost unbelievable, you know… that he had had a normal childhood – had a bucket and spade and a tricycle – went rowing with his sister. I can’t imagine him having a sister. From what he told me she obviously thought he was from another planet too.
- The yellow hearse is parked outside a police station in Poland. Onlookers stare at the vehicle and at Hoppy, the photographer. Circa 1960
So, we got friendly. When we got to Moscow, it wasn’t very nice weather and I remember one rainy afternoon he met some very dubious characters and they went down under a bridge on the Moskva river and he revealed that the holdall that he’d brought with him didn’t contain anything but nylon stockings. He sold them to these guys (laughs).
A.B: Such a hustler.
G.K: Yeah! Travelling across Europe we’d gone through customs post after customs post, the van had been searched.
A.B: You’d smoked all the grass by this point?
G.K: No, I don’t think so. It was in my pocket. People weren’t really aware of grass at that time. It wasn’t until the sixties that it really became a public issue. So customs weren’t aware that it was around but I did wonder why hadn’t they looked in Hoppy’s holdall? There was one lovely scene. We arrived at dawn on the Polish/Russian border, the sun was coming up across miles and miles of birch trees and the customs post was a dacha, the guys, the officers in charge had jodhpurs on. We all went in. They’d been playing chess, it was one of those kind of magical moments; they were so friendly and welcoming, probably we were such an anomaly in their dull routines – they were delighted. I’m glad I didn’t know about the nylons, it could have endangered us all actually. I just didn’t consider that I might be doing the same thing with my pot. On the other hand we weren’t used to military units turning round and snapping their gun at us because we made too quick a move, which happened occasionally in East Germany. I was filling in a form at one border or another and I was sitting on the bonnet of a car and I jumped down only to find that there was this great big loaded machine gun aiming at me. Quite tense! I think it was a year later? that the wall went up? So it was very, very tense. Europe. More tense than we realised. The next thing was I found Hoppy had left. Flown up to St Petersburg, which I found absolutely amazing. I thought, what confidence, what nerve. But he had all these roubles that he got from selling the nylons, and what’s more, he took the girlfriend of – there was a bloke from Oxford came with his girlfriend – and he’d gone off with her. Taken her with him. Seduced her so to speak. My jaw dropped. He never said anything to us about going. I think he said something to the nominal leader of our little group, but I felt he’d deserted the ship, you know, and I was quite upset actually. I had got quite close but then I realised that Hoppy wouldn’t be tied by anybody else’s expectations of him, he was totally self contained – it was quite a shock. When we all got back I heard from Hoppy, I’m not quite sure how, but he was living in London by then. He had a scooter for transport. He’d left Winfrith Heath – the Atomic Energy Authority – and was working for a commercial photographer in Pimlico. There must be something in the archives about Hoppy in Leningrad, St Petersburg, because it was in the Daily Mirror – he’d been approached by both the Russian and British secret services wanted to talk to him.
A.B: Well, it’s a matter of record that when he came back he was more or less kidnapped by MI5.
G.K: Yes. After all he had been working for a very sensitive Government organisation
A.B: And de-briefed at great length at some secret location in Victoria. Because they thought he fitted the profile perfectly. They thought he was a spy and, what the hell was he doing? But they didn’t find anything suspicious and more or less offered him a job as a spy and he said absolutely no way. And it was after that that he became involved with CND.
G.K: I think we were all pretty naive.
A.B: Well you would have been 22, 23?
G.K: Yeah, he’s six months younger than me. He was born September ’37. I was born Dec ’36. Eight months. Anyway, next time we met up he was working for a photographer in Victoria, learning the ropes of commercial photography. And occasionally he’d get a cover photograph on the Radio Times which was a big deal.
A.B: Were you taking photographs at the time?
G.K: Now let me see, what I was doing, ’60 to ’61 I was doing my Art teachers diploma. I then got a job in a primary school in Elstree, Boreham Wood and I took – I was inspired by Hoppy – I took lots and lots of photographs of the kids at work and play. I used to meet up with him quite often.
A.B: You also shared a love of jazz?
G.K: Yes, yes! that too. Then there was… I taught in this primary school for a year and then there was a break. I found myself living in Notting Hill Gate in a little square behind the Gate. Hoppy had established himself in Westbourne Terrace by that time. He’d set up a dark room, he’d gone freelance, he’d got a retainer from the Sunday Times and was quite the… He had enormous kind of, either confidence or courage.
AB: He also had bags of charm.
G.K: Yes! I saw him in Moscow doing things that really sent shivers down my back. The one occasion that stands out was that we were in a street and up the street was coming a very high brass army officer with a cap and some other officers. Suddenly there was Hoppy stepping out in front of them with his camera and going click click click. I thought, Christ! Hoppy! We’re all going to end up in the gulag! If you keep on confronting people like this, but no, no, nothing happened. But I thought: That’s the way to be a photographer. Or a press photographer anyway. So there were a number of things I learned about the attitude of being a photographer.
In his flat in Westbourne Terrace there used to be a big bowl of grass on the table as you went in. It was so cool you wouldn’t believe. Hoppy seemed to have the knack of being able to get up from the table, go in to his room, and go to sleep. We’d be playing jazz, smoking, talking… He had the ability to just, I wish I had it, to just turn off and go to sleep.
A.B: Were you living in Westbourne Terrace at that time?
G.K: No, I wasn’t. I’d met a girl and we were living together in her flat in Notting Hill Gate, just round the corner, so Hoppy was in the neighbourhood. He was living with a guy called Alan Beckett who was a copywriter. There was Hoppy, there was a drummer whose name I forget – I think there was just the three of them at that time. That’s right, there were three bedrooms and a little room up a short flight of stairs that Hoppy used as a darkroom.
He showed me briefly how to develop film, but he’d just give you the basics: what you do is you put it in and then you read the instructions. So when he wasn’t busy I’d ask him if I could use the darkroom. I paid for paper and, just the basics, Hoppy wasn’t into making money out of it. Then I think a year passed and I was teaching again at a secondary school, this time in Harrow, and it was while I was at that school that I started to earn more from taking photographs than I was at teaching. Hoppy had guided me to magazines that would be likely to take the kind of photos I was taking – the Times Educational Supplement, there were a couple of other magazines, The Teacher, this kind of thing – and so I was selling them photographs of kids playing in the playground, kids in the classroom, that kind of thing. The primary school I loved, the secondary school I hated. The headmaster still caned boys publicly, you know, it was that kind of place. That must have been about ’63 and I thought I can’t take this anymore, I’ll go freelance as a photographer. My girlfriend was working at LSE for the Medical Research Council – a good steady job, so I thought, I’ll risk it.
I never looked back. I lived off photography up until 1968. Hoppy would often ring me up and say, look, I can’t do this job to go and photograph George Brown, the Labour deputy, will you go and do it instead? I would take photographs of anything for money – even weddings. You could ring up the BBC and ITV and get to go their rehearsals of things like ‘Ready Steady Go’ and the BBC one – ‘Top of the Pops’, so that’s where a lot of those photographs of pop stars and jazz musicians come from. The TV lighting was superb. And of course you were jostling with all the groups – Small Faces, The Stones, Wilson Pickett, and James Brown, you could actually talk to them, it was very heady. Very exciting. I often try and catch broadcasts of ‘Ready Steady Go’ in the 60s and ‘Top Of The Pops’ on television now to see if I might have actually been there at the rehearsal. I saw quite a lot of Hoppy at the time. But then suddenly he wasn’t interested in taking photographs anymore. He’d gone to America and he’d come back full of the American Free Press. He’d met a lot of avant-garde jazz people, Paul Bley, Carla Bley, he may have met Ornette Coleman. Certainly Ornette Coleman came to stay with him later on. He wanted to start an information service that he called Bit. It was very prescient in a sense in that now we’ve got it with the World Wide Web. That kind of freedom of information.
AB: Joe Boyd said at the funeral that Hoppy’s goal was always the same in that he was primarily interested in the democratisation of information and I think that’s probably pretty spot-on as far as I can see, and that was really what he was after in more or less everything that he did, as well as having a good time.
GK: He treated most of his girlfriends very badly. They were appendages, and I know he did have regrets about Gala Mitchell.
AB: No-one seems to know what happened to her.
GK: She wasn’t very stable mentally. She came from the Mitchell and Butler’s beer family. Oh, let me go back. The group of us working on the idea of getting to Moscow, one of the group was Barry Miles. Now Barry wanted to come to Moscow but he was seventeen and his father wouldn’t let him have a passport. Big tragedy. His parents were very country people except that his father had had adventures in China as an ambulance driver in the late thirties. Anyway, Barry couldn’t come with us. But when Hoppy got established in a flat, first thing I did was to take Barry Miles round to meet him.
AB: Oh I see, you introduced Miles to Hoppy?
GK: Yes I thought, I must introduce him to my friends. I introduced him to about three or four people from Cheltenham. Barry was still at Art School in Cheltenham, up until about ’63 or ’64, then he did the same as I did, he did a teacher training course but he did it at London University and then he went to teach Art in a school in Paddington probably about as dreadful as the school I was at in Harrow. Anyway he left after a year and got a job at Better Books in Charing Cross Road. But that’s his story to tell.
AB: Well you’re leaping forward a little bit. When Hoppy got back from America and you say his head was full of the free press and that was the germ for IT. And Miles was working for Better Books, did they not publish IT out of the basement at Better Books?
GK: No, by that time Barry and Peter Asher and John Dunbar had established Indica Bookshop and Gallery. I can’t remember because I wasn’t in on all this. I did some work for them, occasionally they’d get me to take photographs, now where are we? We must be at about ’66. Did he start UFO after he came out of prison or before?
AB: No before. UFO as far as I know was started to raise funds for IT and it was also to do with the fact that the gigs he was putting on of Pink Floyd at All Saints Hall in Powis Square were becoming so popular that he and Joe Boyd decided to start this club to accommodate all of these people who seemed to be springing up…
GK: Oh wait a minute, I know what went on in between, London Free School.
AB: Did you have much to do with that?
GK: Well my girlfriend and I got involved along with Peter Jenner (he and Hoppy became the Floyd’s first managers) – Michael X was intermittently in and out.
AB: Michael de Freitas?
GK: Yes, Joe Boyd got involved. My girlfriend at that time, Jean McNeil – she’s a painter now, she’s got her own website, she lives partly in Essex, in Wivenhoe, but she connects in other ways, on the fringe. So there was a Free School. I never really believed in it and had an awkward feeling about it. I didn’t actually form the phrase ‘middle class wankers’ but in the end that’s what I came to think of it as. It was a good idea in some ways, but it was patronising, basically, to go opening our arms to the dispossessed of Notting Hill, and saying ‘we’re going to help you or instruct you’. But Hoppy’s energy and determination were very strong and he just pulled us with him.
AB: They were bound to fall?
GK: Yes I’m surprised, looking back, that Hoppy hadn’t thought of that, but there was a certain level on which Hoppy thought everybody could operate. And that wasn’t true. There were different levels of intelligence or understanding, the ‘Gestalt’ if you like, of living in London poor, working class.
AB: Living in very cramped conditions and having no access to facilities. You know Hoppy always assumed that people were as smart as he was, and he used to get a bit pissed off when they weren’t!
GK: That is an Oxbridge failing.
AB: Yes, I think so. He never patronised me, I was just a kid and he always expected me to keep my end up, and used to get a bit impatient with me sometimes.
GK: I don’t think he was patronising in a person-to-person way, but he had some ideas that he thought people would or should respond to, when their situations just weren’t compatible. Obviously people who were so poor, I mean they weren’t going to go for an idealised free education thing, and what we had to offer. So that was a Free School. It came before International Times. Meanwhile Miles had got involved with his two partners, John Dunbar and Peter Asher, and opened up the Indica bookshop and art gallery and he would ring me up and say: “We’ve got these artists coming”, and I’d come down and do a photo shoot. One of them was Yoko who nobody had heard of – ‘Mrs Cox’, she was pottering around putting up things with her husband, and the photographs I took there are now unique bits of history and appear everywhere. At the moment there’s an exhibition in Musee d’Art de Lyon and they want them for their catalogue, but at the time nobody was interested.
AB: Yes that’s what happened with Hoppy’s archive: he found himself in the enjoyable but faintly ludicrous situation of being paid very handsomely for work that he’d done fifty years before.
GK: Well I am too! Peter Jenner rang me up one day and said: “The Pink Floyd are going to be playing a gig at All Saints Hall, their first gig, could you come round and photograph it?” and for some reason I went round and photographed it in colour. They’re the ones that are spread across books everywhere. And the thing that I finally came to relax about was that it didn’t matter if the photographs weren’t very good artistically – it was the historical impact. I was there.
AB: Absolutely, this is what I tried to convince Hoppy of, because he was only interested in whether or not it was a good photograph. What the photograph was of, was entirely secondary. And I would say, Hoppy, it has historical value because of what it is. And he sort of grudgingly came to accept that that was the case. But if you look at the book, which is his version of his work, it’s all about the photograph.
GK: That was the aspect that was important to me too, from my Art School training. The aesthetics were most what we were interested in
AB: You’re right, it is about the photographs, but the fact is you were there photographing it and nobody else was.
GK: In his dotage Hoppy tried to take some landscape photographs.
AB: He did, yes. He was very pleased with those.
GK: Was he? They looked so mundane. It is not easy to take landscape pictures.
AB: Well he liked the format, you see. He liked the stretch camera, he really dug that.
GK: He’d got a stretch camera, had he?
AB: Yeah, he liked that. Well I don’t know whatever happened to those, they’ve disappeared, those pictures. They’re not in his archives, they’ve disappeared, I don’t know where they are.
GK: Hoppy moved from Westbourne Terrace to Queensway, so he was still a neighbour of mine. And I saw a bit less of him then. And that’s when his flat was raided by the police, and he went to prison. He was in Amsterdam, you probably know all those details.
AB: I think they raided him at the end of ’66, and he quixotically elected to be tried by jury.
GK: That’s right, and he gave them a piece of his mind.
AB: And he stood up in the dock and tried to convince them they should change the law, and of course we all know what happened. He could have got away with a fine, but he wanted to give a speech, and it cost him very dearly.
GK: Joe Boyd thinks that his experience in prison really fucked him over.
AB: I think so. Obviously I didn’t know him before, but from what you’ve said and from what so many people have said, it took the wind out of his sails. It would. It was hard time. It wasn’t a holiday camp. Also he told me that he smuggled in some LSD, up his arse. And it infiltrated his bloodstream as he was being inducted into the jail, he was coming up on quite a strong acid trip. Even if you’re quite an experienced tripper that’s still going to be…not much fun.
GK: I took a dose in Tunbridge at Mike Lesser’s place with Mike Lesser, Bob Tasher and a girl from IT. I came to work at IT because Miles asked me if I could manage to do the layouts. By that time I’d got quite interested in magazine layout. I’d been doing bits, occasionally for Peace News. They would say: Would you like to arrange your photographs on the page. I worked a lot for Peace News and CND. Hoppy was in jail, I’d just come back from Cambodia and I realised that I was quite sick of pointing my camera at napalm victims. I felt that it was intrusive, it wasn’t something I wanted to go on with. I was at this point that Miles took me to lunch somewhere in Covent Garden and said… because Miles was a director, along with Hoppy and Jim Haynes… and I looked at this stuff and said “Yeah, I think it would take me a week”. It was a fortnightly paper, and the bloke they had at the time doing it was an American, who was so strung out on acid it was taking him three weeks to get it laid out. They gave him a ticket to Amsterdam knowing that he wouldn’t be allowed back into the country. Also, at that time, Bill Levy was editing the paper. He was a bit mashugana, obsessed with Ezra Pound.
AB: Hoppy never took credit for editing it. On the old editorial credit boards, he would always credit himself with ‘explosions’ or ‘happenings’ or something.
GK: I was talking to Hoppy one day and they were looking for a new editor and I said: “Why don’t you try Tom McGrath?”. He was features editor at Peace News. And they took him on, it was inspired. He was a very good editor, but he was a heroin addict and that was destroying him, and finally he gave it all up and escaped back to Scotland. But he did take me, from Peace News, he did take me round to see Ronnie (R.D) Laing. I think my photographs of Ronnie Laing are lost too.
AB: So this was when Hoppy was inside I presume?
GK: No, sorry, I’m darting about a bit. They had some kind of crisis, I think they’d only been running a few issues when the police came and busted them.
AB: There was a concerted effort to close it wasn’t there? They took all the address books and the advertising…
GK: Yes, at that time they were in Southampton Row underneath Miles’s bookshop ‘cause he’d moved from Piccadilly. So that was bust number one. I was involved with bust number two which came at the end of ’69. Anyway I took the job on.
AB: Of doing layout?
GK: Yes. “Art Editor”. Grand title. I was feeling my way, I’d had a little experience but not very much. But we all got our hands on Letraset and it was fun to make these headlines and everything. It only took me a week to do the layout. And at the same time we had a new editor called Peter Stansill but there was a crisis in IT, a money crisis, they couldn’t pay the bills, I think they went bankrupt, and Peter Stansill, myself and the business editor, Dave Hall, set up a new company. We borrowed money, I think about two hundred quid off John Lennon, and started up International Times again under a new company. So the three of us became directors. And Peter Stansill was a good editor, he’d trained as a journalist, he’d come out top of his journalism school somewhere in Yorkshire, he’d travelled, he’d been working in radio in Cyprus, and he was really good, efficient in what he was doing. The circulation rose enormously, I think we were selling about fifty thousand copies a fortnight, it came out on time and…
AB: Can I just ask, who knew John Lennon to ask him for money? Was that Barry Miles?
GK: No I’m not sure…oh I know, Peter Stansill was friendly with an American who was friendly with John Lennon. How, I’m not quite sure.
AB: But it’s McCartney who gets the credit for helping out with the Underground.
GK: Yes a bit, because he financed Miles’s bookshop.
AB: And he also paid for the Times advert for the legalisation of cannabis.
GK: Yes there’s a photograph, you’ve probably seen it, that I took in the basement of Indica when they were starting up, and Paul had come round to help to put up shelves and there was Marianne Faithful who was married to John Dunbar. Where are we? Oh I’m at IT, working away, we’ve got a new office, the Hare Krishnas hit town so we offered them the basement of our old office. Felix Dennis was a gofer for Bill Butler, an American poet who was also running a bookshop something like Indica only in Brighton, running an underground distribution company there as well. So there are three of us, the editor, myself and the business man making a good living.
AB: Fifty thousand copies, that’s pretty good.
GK: Yeah, and that went on for pretty much two years. There was a bit of a mess at the very beginning when I started because the editor Bill Levy was obsessed with Ezra Pound. And he was definitely a bit mashugana. The guy I got on with best was Dave Robins, who unfortunately died an early death, who was one of our feature writers, and a great guy.
AB: Any good anecdotes about Mr Hopkins. You’ve already given me several, but any more off the top of your head?
GK. Oh there were all sorts of things. We got busted towards the end of my two year period at International Times, we got busted for our homosexual small ads, and it was to do with the age of consent. Basically, the age of consent they decided after the 1967 repeal of the homosexual law was 21.
AB: As opposed to 18?
GK: Yeah, and we were taken to Wells Street Magistrates Court and charged. And the waiting room was full of gay guys who’d been summoned, The police had taken away all of our files. The editor, the business editor and myself were found guilty. We spent ten days in the Old Bailey. It was two years in jail and two thousand quid fine, the jail sentence was suspended.
AB: That’s very punitive. Barbaric times.
GK: But we were all very amused to learn that the detective that had led the case was imprisoned for taking bribes from Soho pornographers a couple of years later.
AB: The guy that did so many of the famous sixties drug busts was eventually drummed out of the police force for corruption. I think his name was Pilger. He did all the pop star busts. And was notorious for planting.
GK: We also had a drug bust at International Times office, because, well, more than one person was dealing drugs, but in this case there were two kilos of hashish in a file, and the police came in arrested Dave Hall’s assistant but missed the gear.
AB: Difficult to conceal?
GK: Yeah. They missed it. They didn’t find it. Dave Hall took it away and sold it towards the guy’s defence.
AB: That’s a real counterculture story. Any more Hoppy anecdotes. When you first met your wife through a lonely heart club column?
GK: Yes, that’s right, I started to work for Time Out, very happy to do so because I’d been freelancing for a decade or more and…
AB: You were offered a staff job?
GK: Yes, and I stayed there for twenty years until I retired, so I must have been forty five when I started in 1981. Let’s get back to Hoppy. By that time I was living just up off the Theobalds Road in a place called Old Gloucester Street, and I found out that Hoppy was just around the corner. I hadn’t seen him for years. I knew about the Fantasy Factory but it was somewhere in Camden Road originally. After the International Times bust, I had a nervous breakdown, but I was offered a job at Exeter University, so I went down there, they didn’t know I was a felon, convicted felon. It was to work on a mathematics project that a friend of mine was running and he wanted me for layout skills, photography and all sorts of things, so I was away from the London scene for nearly three years. By the time I came home, Hoppy and Fantasy Factory were going. I think I went round to look at what he was doing once, it was a vague memory, and I wasn’t terribly interested, it was as though I’d moved on from Hoppy, as one would from a lover almost. I think you probably know what I mean?
AB: Yes I do.
GK: And then we bumped into each other and found that he was around the corner in Theobalds Road, so we did see more of him. I used to go over and score from his girlfriend – she was a drug and acid dealer around the time of UFO, and Hoppy obviously offered her something concrete to work on, the TV thing.
AB: Yes, the Centre for Advanced TV studies was what he called it.
GK: Occasionally Hoppy would ring up and come down and stay for a weekend, I remember he came down just to get away from Sue. He came with all these “I’m Alright You’re Alright” by the transactional analysis man, “The Games People Play”… He was trying to find out how best he could adapt himself so that Sue would accept him. And I thought, I can’t believe this is Hoppy.
AB: Well the fact is, he really loved her. He also loved Isabel, did you meet Isabel?
GK: No I didn’t, the South American girl?
AB: Yeah, the Brazillian lady, he met her at a Parkinson’s therapy class and they just hit it off. So it was sort of typical of Hoppy that even in his dotage having been diagnosed with this awful terminal illness, he still manages to pull a bird.
GK: And what’s more, fly over to South America to to see her.
AB: That was beautiful. So you had to chuckle, he never lost his ability to charm the ladies. He had this absolutely beautiful African carer at one point who fell in love with him. She would giggle every time he said anything and she bought him a beautiful Valentine and he was just sitting there chuckling and he was…it was funny, it really was funny to see. His carers absolutely loved him. I kept in touch with them. And they were utterly bereft when he died.
GK: I know he did go down to Queens Square to the Hospital for Nervous Diseases to see if he could be of any use in experiments or whatever, I mean he was always that kind of a person.
AB: He was a remarkable man, he was a genuinely…as I said to you before I started the interview, I got the impression that he was definitely the leader of the gang in the mid-sixties. The British counterculture, for want of a better word, was largely his brainchild. And that is something that he never would have accepted. And he would bridle when people said things like that, but I think just judging from the atmosphere at the funeral, and at the wake, that that was just generally accepted to be the case. I don’t know if you have any other thoughts…
GK: We moved down here to Hastings, Alison and I, when we got married which was in ’86 and so I didn’t see so much of Hoppy because I commuted. We had a flat in Paddington that had been a nurse’s flat – my wife was a nurse, she ended up as a Senior Lecturer at Brighton University, teaching nursing practice, which was interesting because when I went into hospital with cancer, a number of the nurses that were attending me had been taught by my wife. So I only saw Hoppy intermittently then.
AB: And he’d come down to visit you?
GK: That was later. That was when they’d moved to Clerkenwell and things were getting really bad. I’d go up early, have tea with Hoppy, we’d have a chat about things, he’d tell me what he was doing.
AB: When he was living in the flat downstairs?
GK: Yes. And then she bought the whole building. You probably know much more about him at that time because I was then the occasional visitor from the country.
AB: How about Suzy Creamcheese? When Suzy came over, I’m sure you know the story better than I, you’ll probably remember her…
AB: She came over from America and she was being pursued by the FBI or something wacky like that.
GK: Her parents were trying to put her under some sort of legal restraint?
AB: Yeah, they put her in a loony bin and Hoppy rescued her from a loony bin and married her, they had this sort of whirlwind romance, he married her, apart from everything else, to help her stay in the country.
GK: Oh I got so stoned that day at the wedding at Camden Town Hall I think. Hoppy was dressed so flamboyantly in a loose shirt and a coloured trilby – he looked so handsome . ….
AB: What, at the wedding?
GK: Yeah there was some grass going around from Panama and we all got so stoned. I can remember wandering down Kingsway to go to the bank and I had to write a cheque to get some money out and thinking they will know I am out of my head, surely someone will notice – but they never did.
AB: And there were no ATMs in those days so if you didn’t get to the bank by half past three, that was it.
GK: That was it. There is another anecdote, because I remember it was probably my first or second day at International Times sorting out what needed to be done, where the cardboard was, where the glue was and everything, and the old editor, the mashugana, and one or two other people, and Hoppy arrived, and he was acting as though he was still nominally in charge, which he was really. There was Hoppy, there was Miles and Jim Haynes.
GK: They were the three directors. Hoppy arrived and said “This is what we’re going to do to International Times. We’re going to take each page as a spread so that when you turn over the page…
AB: It continued?
GK: No, you had to lift the middle and it went straight across, each page. He’d read Marshall Macluhan’s ‘Medium Is The Message’ in prison, and that was another of Hoppy’s kind of elite ideas, which of course nobody understood. When that issue of International Times came out, everybody was totally confused. “What the fuck’s happening, this is unreadable.” Anyway the day as I remember it, it was about February or March 1968. I’ve got the first hundred copies of International Times up in the attic, together with every Oz magazine that was published, ‘cause Richard Neville was a neighbour when I was at Notting Hill Gate, and I used to go down and listen to the woes of his girlfriend. But I can remember so vividly Hoppy with… impassioned as he could be. “This is what’s going on, this is going to blow minds” and of course it was an intellectual…., it was a bit like the London Free School, he was assuming people would cotton on immediately and have their minds blown by this new format. In fact there were people like Peter Wollen, the film critic, who were saying “Hoppy’s gone off his mind, what the fuck are they doing?” You know, it was a mess. And the next issue we went back to the norm. And Hoppy didn’t say anything, he was gone, on to something else.
AB: It was an experiment that he wanted to try. He liked to experiment. I remember, he used to give me little jobs, and I remember being a sort of video tape-op for Fantasy Factory at times, and going on shoots with him.
GK: Was this when they were based at Kentish Town?
AB: No, Theobalds Road, I met him in May 1978 and he was living in Theobalds Road, and they lived there for, I don’t know, about ten, twelve years. I think he moved around 2000. I don’t know, I lose track, but there was always a spirit of adventure, no matter what he was doing, there was always a spirit of adventure, how “we’re always going to do something that’s never been done before”. Even if it was about going to a shoot at the Marquee, having to roll joints in the toilet, even something as banal as that was a bit of an adventure.
GK: Oh I can remember coming back from a party at Cambridge with Hoppy and rolling a joint in the car as we drove back to London and me thinking “This isn’t really a good idea”. Hoppy was kind of puffing and driving… it was thrilling – very exciting – he created that kind of excitement around him, he had that capacity.
AB: Yeah, he used to like to lay a number on you, I mean he’d say things like, I remember him coming round to pick me up when I was still living with my parents and he said: “Right, come with me, I’ve got something for you.” And I went, oh, okay…he turned up on the doorstep, you know, unexpectedly and picked me up, and he took me in the car and put on a tape of my music that I’d given him, very loud, and I was thinking, wow, this is cool, and Hoppy said “I just thought you might like to hear what your music sounds like in a car.” And it was so cool, it was such a cool thing to do. It was the first time I’d ever had that experience.
GK: I think there was a part of Hoppy that wasn’t gay but into a kind of Platonic Greek type of relationship with other blokes.
AB: Well I think he’d had a homosexual phase when he was a teenager.
GK: Didn’t we all?
AB: No I think his was possibly a bit more pronounced.
GK: It might have been, because he had such an adventurous spirit he wanted to probably carry it further. I mean I can remember being obsessed by a guy in my class when I first went to the grammar school, you know, when I was twelve, thinking…
AB: Hoppy’s view was that sex is the glue that holds us all together, and then once that’s gone we basically fall apart.
GK: When the semen’s dried and cracked(?)
AB: He was very sexually oriented, very much so. And he used to give me very good advice about women, which I didn’t always take, but he was always there, he was very much like a cosmic dad to me, and I miss him, I miss him very much.
GK: I envy you that, because we were the same age and I wasn’t going to get that. I needed it because my father was a rather faded figure, didn’t have much input, and I had other father figures that I drew strength from. But not Hoppy.
AB: No, Hoppy was very much like that for me, and I think he knew that, and he took that role quite seriously. Only a couple of years, no, maybe four or five years before he died he asked me if I wanted to be his next of kin, and I said, OK, what does it mean, and he said “Nothing really, but just that your name will be on any documents.” Okay…but it was then I realised that he did take that seriously, he did take the relationship seriously.
GK: Were you at his seventieth birthday?
AB: Yeah, I played the sitar. Were you there?
GK: Yeah. I remember Sue Miles asking me whether Hoppy was really well and I said no, he’s got Parkinsons.
AB: Not well at all.
GK: And yet she died before he did
AB: Did she really? I didn’t know that. I’m sorry to hear it. She was a nice lady. I didn’t know her but I met her…
GK: I knew her when she was seventeen on the Aldermaston marches. Which is where she met Miles.
AB: I asked Barry Miles at the funeral if he was planning to write a book about Hoppy and he said an unequivocal “No”, so there you go. At the seventieth birthday party I think we were all a bit worried about him because he looked so frail, but he’d only recently been diagnosed at that point. And I think (a) he was a bit shell-shocked by the diagnosis, and (b) he was not at all well and then they gave him the el-dopa, you know el-dopa will effectively reduce the symptoms of Parkinsons but its a reductio ad absurdum thing, eventually you have to take so much, and it becomes ineffective. But to begin with he had about two or three years where he was effectively back to normal, and then it started to wear off, and eventually it got him. He had seven years.
GK: I think it’s interesting that you and I never collided, and I think that was Hoppy too, he didn’t seem to…I mean he threw a party, but he’d never say “Why don’t you come over and meet so and so? And another friend of mine, you’d be interested to meet..” And he never seemed to do that.
AB: No, possibly because you weren’t London based. You know, I used to meet his more London based pals from time to time. I remember a very enjoyable evening with Beckett and John Howe where they were spinning yarns, that was great.
GK: And Beckett died young.
AB: I know, that was sad, I’m not sure about John, I need to get in touch with him and see if he’s up for doing this. Because he of course knew Hoppy back in the day. And he’s one of the people who are still friends with Sue.
GK: I don’t think he takes any shit from her. And she probably….
AB: Doesn’t give him any! (laughs).
Article header image of Hoppy courtesy of the Graham Keen Collection