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Magistrates & Mathematics - In the Shadow of Leaves
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Magistrates & Mathematics
John Williams follows the trials and tribunals of Savoy Publishing's Lord Horror, the first novel to be banned in Britain for over twenty years
A shorter version of this feature appeared in GQ, May 1996


Lord Horror ( www.abel.net.uk/~savoy/HTML/lhorror.html) is a kind of deliberately scatological, very William Burroughsian fable, the story of Hitler and his allies living on in an alternative Britain. Colin Wilson said that 'as an exercise in Surrealism it compares with some of the best work that came out of France and Germany between the wars', and the British sci-fi writer Michael Moorcock was a key witness at Savoy's appeal against the ban.
"I liked Lord Horror a lot," he confirmed, when I called him up at his current home outside Austin, Texas. "I've already been to the court to defend it. I think it's telling the truth in its own horrible way, and that's what I like about it. Compared with other satire it has a more powerful and directed anger. It takes everything beyond the limits."
Taking everything beyond the limits, however, clearly doesn't appeal to the Manchester Police force. For though the appeal succeeded in having the ban lifted on the novel itself, Savoy are currently back in court to defend a series of Lord Horror comics www.abel.net.uk/~savoy/HTML/horrpage.html — spin-offs from the book — which have once again been seized by the police and charged with obscenity
John Coulthart. He's the artist responsible for the key item on trial here today, an adult comic called Lord Horror: Hard Core Horror No 5 www.abel.net.uk/~savoy/HTML/hch5.html.
The culmination of a series depicting, like the novel, a parallel universe version of World War II, Hard Core Horror No 5 attempts to take on nothing less than the Holocaust. To this end Coulthart has produced a series of dark, vaguely H R Giger-esque tableaux of Auschwitz, rendered as a decayed death factory. The pictures have spaces for options, but they have been left blank. Words, the artist seems to say, are not enough. Nor, in the end, is art: the last pages of the comic are simply photographs of some of the camp's dead victims. The effect is certainly upsetting. But obscene? Only to the extent that the Holocaust was obscene. Which is why Savoy has been able to attract top civil liberties lawyers to its case.
<big snip>
By the end of 1980, the Manchester Vice Squad had made over forty raids on the Savoy shops, carting off stacks of soft-core magazines, horror magazines, comics and novels, including The Tides of Lust and The Gas. But far from making the Savoy team contrite, the raids simply enraged them, and they responded to the perceived harassment by publishing Jack Trevor Story's Screwrape Lettuce, a gleefully pornographic and scabrously anti-police fantasy.

Finally, in May 1982, the case came to trial. Their barrister stepped down the day before the trial, leaving the case in the hands of a substitute who knew nothing about it. The books were indeed found obscene, and David Britton was sentenced to twenty eight days in prison. And not just any prison: Britton found himself lobbed into Strangeways just as a long hot summer of prison rioting was chiming up ....

The experience of sitting in a cell while his neighbours were busy setting their own cells on fire was one that, not surprisingly, affected Britton deeply. But rather than resolving to be a good boy and never bother Anderton's vice squad again, he began work on the multimedia extravaganza that has kept Savoy knee-deep in legal battles since — Lord Horror.
"After Dave's prison experience," says Butterworth, "his dark view of humanity got even worse... I had been facinated [sic] by the Third Reich — trying to get at the core of how it happened. I'd started a novel about Hitler in an alternative universe — but then Dave came up with the more original idea of using Lord Haw-Haw ... as the central character, renaming him Lord Horror — which seemed to me to be much better."
And so life and art were entangled — PJ Proby was a crazed, violent, racist drunk, touched by greatness. Who better to play Lord Horror, a crazed, violent, rascist embodiment of our worst nightmares, yet touched with awful charisma. So Proby recorded as Lord Horror and the spirit of Horror would in turn inform Proby's own recordings.

Almost everybody in the industry hated these records, the indies wouldn't touch them with a bargepole. Not that Savoy helped their own cause much by pulling such witlessly provocative stunts as crediting the backing band as the Savoy Hitler Youth Band. The Savoy team however take a perverse pride in reproducing such negative testimonials as this billet doux from then rock critic Richard Williams: 'I don't know who you are or what you want, but please don't send me any more of this trash'.

Still, the music world is used to being shocked, almost expects it, so it wasn't until Britton and Butterworth made a return to publishing that they really managed to provoke a rise. The summer of 1989 saw a Lord Horror offensive, with both the publication of the much-delayed novel and the launch of the Lord Horror comics: the ultra-noir Hard Core Horror series and the deliberately offensive, satirical spin-off Meng & Ecker.

Controversy was immediate. "One week after the novel was published the police were desperate to get hold of it. There's the character called James Appleton, who's obviously meant to be a caricature of Anderton," says Butterworth. "We took Anderton's speech about gays swirling about in a cesspool of their own making and reprinted it using 'Jews' instead of 'gays'. And he didn't like that at all ...

... [They] managed to get civil liberties group Article 19 interested in Savoy's
plight, and an appeal against the banning of Lord Horror was launched. Geoffrey Robertson QC, who had defended Oz in the early Seventies, agreed to take the case, and on July 30, 1992, the case was heard and the novel was cleared.
Meng & Ecker, however, was still held to be obscene, "because it was luridly bound and therefore [more] likely [than the novel] to attract attention from the less literate," said the judge. Butterworth noted patronising echoes of the Lady Chatterley prosecutor's celebrated question to the jury: "Would you let your wives or servants read this?"

This article brings it up to date to 1996. Not certain what's happened since then.
It was referred to as an example of what was possible in the UK, as opposed to the USA, and now what it looks like US Customs is working on -- www.cbldf.org/pr/archives/000237.shtml

ICK! And speaking of horrific ideas:

Cost of war
Sat, 27 Nov 2004

And a different type of maths

The Poppy Seed Bagel theorem
www.vanderbilt.edu/news/releases?id=15880 was recently in the news at Vanderbilt.

Google has launched Google Scholar scholar.google.com. I'll have to see how well it compares to CiteSeer and arXiv.org.

Also: The Google Blog
[ www.google.com/googleblog ]
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