It has been seven years since Hoppy died of Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s accompanied – as it so often is – by Lewy Body Dementia. It is a slow and cruel death. In Hoppy’s case, it took just over seven years to kill him. It involves the slow atrophying of the mental faculties. Hoppy regarded it as an observational project – “becoming stupid” – but it was a tragedy nonetheless as he had such a fine mind. I had the privilege of being his friend. In his last eighteen months or so, I acted as his secretary and PA. In his last weeks, I was one of his primary carers.
Up until his diagnosis in 2007, Hoppy worked in video – a medium he pioneered. He began in 1969 with some video equipment donated by John Lennon and Ringo Starr. He went on to found the Centre for Advanced TV Studies at his video editing facility, Fantasy Factory. As Joe Boyd pointed out, Hoppy’s goal was always the democratisation of communication and, to this end, he wrote many articles in trade papers and organised many seminars for people who would otherwise not have had access to video equipment. He liked that video was cheap, whereas film was expensive. It was a matter of some regret to him that his work in video was so overshadowed by his work as a photographer but he took it philosophically. He was undoubtedly one of the best photographers of the 60s – as his book “From The Hip” attests. Many of the images are up online. He also worked as a part time botanist for the Royal Horticultural Society – a job he very much enjoyed. Hoppy was a kind man, an eternally open minded man. A brilliant scientist who took great pleasure in absurdity and in that which confounds science and, in this, he was a great teacher. He enjoyed life to the full. He danced, he played piano – he was particularly fond of Erroll Garner and Jimmy Yancey – and was always a snappy dresser, in the psychedelic stye. He loved women, and women loved him. Even in his last illness he had a beautiful young carer who brought him flowers and giggled whenever he smiled at her. He was stylish. Well into his 40s he would roller-skate around London. He had a classic English gift for understatement. In one of his last lucid intervals I said to him that he seemed to be experiencing several different realities simultaneously. “Yes”, he replied. “It’s terribly inconvenient.”
How did I meet him? Long story. I wrote it up in an open letter to Mike Lesser who was editor of International Times in 1978 and who was subsequently responsible for archiving International Times online.
In December 1977, aged 17, I had a fit of teenage rebelliousness and quit school, chucking in my ‘A’ levels to become a full time rock’n’roll musician. My parents were at war with each other at the time, going through a very unpleasant divorce, so although they were disappointed they didn’t really try to stop me.
In January 1978 I realised that I would have to get a job of some kind so, answering an advert in the Evening Standard I got a job as a telephone salesman, selling advertising space over the phone. A horrendous job that I could not have even countenanced had I had any idea what I was doing, which I didn’t. I was assigned to sell advertising space in the Port Of London Police Motor Club quarterly journal. A more obscure and irreIevant periodical it would be hard to envisage. I had to read a corny pitch script down the phone to car hire companies and try and convince them to blow their annual advertising budget on an advert that would do them virtually no good at all. After a couple of weeks of this I realised I had to quit but I thought I’d have a little fun with it before I did. I asked myself: who would be the least likely people to place an advert in such a journal? Answer: The Sex Pistols. So I called up their management office and pitched my idea to them. They thought it was a good idea but there was a snag: The Sex Pistols had broken up the night before in San Francisco. Thus I was one of the first people in the UK to learn of their sad demise. OK. So who would be the second least likely people to advertise in this thing? The counterculture newspaper: International Times (always knows as IT).
IT was functioning at the time and I had an up to date issue with a telephone number which I called. Mike Lesser answered the phone? I explained my idea to him and he immediately said:
“Sure. We’ll do a swap ad.”
“What’s a swap ad?” I asked.
“You advertise with us, we advertise with you”, he patiently explained.
I expressed my doubts that this idea would be well received by my paymasters but I promised that I would put it to them and get back to him. This I did. They laughed at me and told me not to be so bloody silly. I relayed this sad news to Mike. I explained that I wanted to quit this nothing job and, on the spur of the moment, offered my services to him as a writer. He said “sure”, and invited me to the next editorial meeting. This was scheduled to take place the following week at an apartment in Notting Hill. I turned up to the meeting. As well as Mike Lesser, there were about six or seven people seated around a big table. In the middle of the table was a large brick of hashish. Mike introduced me to everyone present and I took a seat. As the meeting progressed, the brick of hash was dipped into repeatedly and within half an hour or so I was stoned out of my gourd. Somehow the conversation turned around to the idea of writing and publishing The Definitive History Of IT. Everyone looked at me.
“Why are you looking at me?” I asked.
“Because you’re perfect for the job!” Said Mike, amongst general agreement. “You’re young, you’re fresh, you have no personal vendettas, no scores to settle, you’re keen. You’re perfect.”
“But wouldn’t this be rather a big article?” I stammered.
“Article? This is a book, man!” replied Mike with great enthusiasm.
“But where do I start?” I asked in trepidation.
“You start”, said Mike with great emphasis, “with HOPPY.”
Everyone in the room nodded in agreement. You start with Hoppy.
What could I say? I accepted the assignment. Mike furnished me with Hoppy’s number and assured me that he was friendly and that he would warn him I was going to call.
So I called him: 405-6862. I can remember the number to this day. Hoppy answered the phone, yes, he was expecting my call. We made a date and I went round to conduct the interview – the first interview I ever did. I was nervous as hell when I rang the doorbell. Hoppy showed me into the living room at 42 Theobalds Road – commercial premises not designed for domestic arrangements. At that time, Hoppy had a silk parachute hung upside-down from the ceiling. I took in the ambience as well as this extraordinary man and it was love at first sight. I wanted this man to be my cosmic dad. (I loved my own dad very much but he was being a bit…difficult at the time.)
Hoppy wouldn’t let me record the interview. He insisted I take notes. He told me that I would remember it much better that way. He was right, of course. And he told me the whole story, of the foundation of the UK counterculture and the founding of IT. Chapter and verse. It was, maybe, the first time that he had really told the story. He had to tell it so many times later but at that time – early 1978 – it was still pretty much undocumented. It was an engaging story, to say the least. It still is. Hoppy chose to leave off his narrative around the time that BIT (the information and legal advice network) was formed and referred me on to Mick Farren. Farren was very friendly but he was stoned when I arrived to interview him, and he got me stoned and we ended up just talking about The Who and that, I am ashamed to say, was that. I was defeated by the hugeness of the task in hand and the daunting prospect of phoning up Farren and asking if we could do it again under more sober circumstances (I hadn’t yet grasped that a central feature of the counterculture was the ability to do anything whilst stoned.)
Getting back to Hoppy. I had mentioned that I was an aspiring musician and Hoppy, typically, immediately fished out a blank tape and told me to put some of my music on it and return it so that he could hear it. I was gobsmacked. He was really encouraging. So I did. When I brought the tape back, Hoppy wasn’t there but his partner Sue received me very genially. She assured me that Hoppy wouldn’t think I had ripped him off because I had taken a while to get the tape together. She got me stoned. There’s a surprise. Thus began my 37 year friendship with Hoppy and Sue. Over the years they came to many of my gigs and parties and suchlike. Hoppy would even sometimes take photographs which were invariably of the highest quality – even if he tended to dismiss them. He would give me little jobs from time to time, knowing I was broke. I occasionally worked in a small tape-op capacity for Fantasy Factory. It was strangely familiar, seeing as my family were all in the TV business. In 1988, Hoppy gave me a job sorting out his negatives which were in complete disarray. My gig was to put them in order and try and identify the subjects by holding the negs up to the light at an angle. I gradually realised that I was handling unpublished photographs of some of the most photographed people in the 60s. I said to Hoppy: “you know what you’ve got here?” He chuckled and said: “you tell me.”
Unpublished photographs of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones at their mid-60s peak for a start, I said! Hoppy was unimpressed. He was much more interested in the social history, the photographs of London as it had been, the photographic compositions. The pictures of pop stars were just gigs he had done for money, for Melody Maker etc. I explained that it was not so much about how good the photos were as who they were of. Hoppy had an instinctive distaste for this idea but eventually, after a great deal of cajoling, Hoppy suggested I gather together what I thought would be the most attractive shots to a photo gallery and he would make up a couple of contact sheets for me to punt on his behalf. Thus armed with some of the most iconic, and unseen, shots of “people dressed up as the 60s” as Hoppy used to call it, I made an appointment with a posh photo gallery in Notting Hill. I was received politely but kept waiting. A serious young man eventually emerged and I handed over the contact sheets. He got out his magnifying glass. It really was one of the most delicious moments, one to savour, knowing full well that I had something he very much wanted – although he didn’t know it yet. I watched as he tried to stay cool.
“You say these are unpublished?” he said, after a very pregnant pause.
“Yes”, I smiled.
“When can we meet this Mr Hopkins?”
We phoned Hoppy from the photo gallery’s office. He was in. I could hear the chuckle in his voice as an appointment was made – which I was invited to attend. For a few weeks there, I was Hoppy’s agent – and he paid me as one, with statements attached to notes saying things like: “this won’t buy many tins of beans”. At the meeting, Hoppy impressed the gallery like the visiting exotic that he was. A deal was struck and not long after, The Photographer’s Gallery in Notting Hill Gate presented Hoppy’s first fine art photography exhibition. The negs I had handled and identified were made into giant prints and sold for posh money. That was nice.
Of course, Hoppy had to get a proper agent after that and I was relieved that he did. A smart lady, Addie Elliott-Vassie, who knew about photography and really appreciated Hoppy’s work. She got it. Eventually she went off to found her own gallery in Amsterdam but she always kept in touch and one of the first shows she put on at her new gallery was one of Hoppy’s pictures. By then, Hoppy had had many exhibitions and shows and his photos were appearing in many books – the latest being the cover of the most recent biography of William Burroughs. He eventually agreed to do a book, “From The Hip” – published by Damiani Editore. He gave me a copy when it was finally ready (he said he was 95% happy with the printing). It was inscribed: “Adam – it’s all your fault, innit? Hoppy”.
To say I miss him would be an understatement. I think about him every day. In this sense, seven years since his death seems so much longer – and also like no time at all. Hoppy would have loved to have been following the developments in quantum theory since his death. I suspect he probably is anyway, skating round the universe with a big psychedelic smile on his face. He was a one off. A natural leader, who totally opposed the idea of leaders. How lucky I was to know him. How empty the world is without him.
Photographs of Hoppy © Anfisa Polyushkevych 2014, reproduced with kind permission