Viv Berger was a British teenage cartoonist, who - at age fifteen - participated in the infamous May 1970 "School Kids Issue" of the underground magazine Oz. A raunchy comic strip collage by Berger, mixing the iconic British children's character 'Rupert Bear' with a sex comic by underground cartoonist Robert Crumb, was the instigator of a widely pubicized obscenity trial against the magazine's editors.

Early life
According to IMDB, Vivian L. Berger was born in Singapore(?) on 15 June 1955, as the son of Michael and Grace Berger. His uncle was the British writer, art critic and actor John Berger (1926-2017). If the IMDB dates are correct, Viv Berger was fourteen years old when he responded to an ad in Oz magazine, inviting "school kids" to edit an upcoming issue. By then, the underground magazine already had a track record in offending moral guardians.

Background
The back story of Oz starts in Sydney, Australia, where the underground monthly was launched by university students Richard Neville, Richard Walsh, Martin Sharp and Peter Grose on 1 April 1963. Right from the start, the magazine caused controversy for its daring content, leading to two obscenity charges within the first year. In February 1966, Neville and Walsh moved to London, UK. Peter Grose continued the Sydney Oz edition until 1969, until bad publicity had scared away most of the advertisers. Meanwhile, Neville took part in the January 1967 launch of a London edition of Oz. Joining him in his enterprise were Jim Anderson - another Australian expat - and art student Felix Dennis.

Like the Australian original, the British Oz discussed controversial topics appealing to youngsters: sexual liberation, drugs, hippie culture, rock music, countercultural movies and novels, feminism, atheism, LGBT rights. The magazine also ran critical articles on racism, conservative values and the Vietnam War. Also included were comics and cartoons by international comic artists like Siné, Gilbert Shelton and Robert Crumb. In its pages, Oz also welcomed British alternative cartoonists like Edward Barker, Dave Gibbons, Roy Knipe, Malcolm Livingstone, Joe Petagno, William Rankin (AKA Wyndham Raine), Martin Sharp, Bryan Talbot, Michael J. Weller, Chris Welch and the collaborative team Martin Sudden, Jay Jeff Jones and Brian Bolland.


The May 1970 issue of OZ magazine.

Schoolkids Oz special starring... Rupert!
The magazine received complaints in 1970 that it had lost touch with "the youth" of England. In an immediate reaction, the upcoming May 1970 issue of Oz (#28), was promoted as a "School Kids" special issue. As a stunt, the editors invited high school pupils to contribute. Of the twenty participants in the issue's production, some became media professionals later in life; among them design and architecture critic Deyan Sudjic and music journalist Charles Shaar Murray. The guest editors, a group of adolescents between the ages of 14 and 18, wrote about pop music, sexual freedom and hypocrisy, as well as critical articles about the British school system.

The ambiguous title of the May 1970 Oz magazine, 'School Kids Issue' was misinterpreted by some readers, who assumed the issue was intended for children, instead of a magazine created by children. Incorrectly thinking the contents of the issue were intended for elementary school pupils, people concluded the Oz editors wanted to corrupt young innocent readers. While the cover, featuring a collage of nude women, was controversial, the bulk of the public outrage was reserved for a comic strip on pages 14 and 15, in which Mary Tourtel's beloved children's character Rupert Bear was depicted having sex.

The creator of the objectionable comic was Vivian Berger, who signed with "Viv". Berger didn't draw the strip himself, but created a collage from two different sources. The original sex scene came from Robert Crumb's 'Eggs Ackley Among the Vulture Demonesses', which originally appeared in Big Ass Comics issue #1 (June 1969). Berger cut out Rupert Bear faces from the Rupert Annuals and pasted them on Eggs' face. To make the collage resemble a 'Rupert' story, Berger added descriptive titles above each panel and rhyming verses underneath. The dialogue in Crumb's speech balloons was left unaltered; only the captions were original material. In the final panel of his parody, Berger wrote "Apologies to Crumb (the bum) - Viv".

The 'School Kids Issue' also gave some biographical background about Viv Berger. In the Oz blurb, Viv was described as an anarchist with an interest in mysticism, who started smoking at age 9 and took his first LSD trip at age 11. In the issue, he is called "Viv Kylastron" and described as sixteen years old. However, in most of the subsequent articles written about the scandal, Viv Berger was referred to as being fifteen. If Berger was indeed born in June 1955, he was fourteen when contributing to Oz and fifteen during the trial. The official Oz trial court documents mention that Berger lived with his mother and two sisters, age 10 and 12. They lived in a basement flat on Steele's Road in the Belsize Park district of the London Borough of Camden. Allegedly, the house was later bought by Noel Gallagher, member of the rock band Oasis. Gallagher named it "Supernova Heights" and turned it into a scene for social gatherings and raucous parties.


Viv Berger's infamous 'Rupert Bear' parody from Oz #28 (May 1970).

Trial
After publication of the 'School Kids' issue, the editorial offices were raided, and in July 1970, the publishers of Oz were officially cited in court for having "conspired with certain other young persons" to make "obscene, lewd, indecent and sexually perverted articles, cartoons and drawings with intent to debauch and corrupt the morals of children and other young persons and to arouse and implant in their minds lustful and perverted ideas". Prosecutor Brian Leary contested that Oz "dealt with homosexuality, lesbianism, sadism, perverted sexual practices and drug taking." While some of the moral outrage was based on misconceptions about the target audience of the "School Kids" issue, the main focus of the legal case centered on Vivian Berger's Rupert comic parody, which was portrayed by the prosecution as children’s pornography, promoting immoral values.

Critics were shocked by the countercultural sexualization of Rupert Bear, an emblem of childhood nostalgia and overall niceness. Editors Richard Neville, Felix Dennis and Jim Anderson had to defend themselves against obscenity and child pornography charges which, at the time, could send them to prison for life. The OZ publishers had serious difficulty finding a lawyer willing to represent them. Barrister/writer John Mortimer - famous for the 'Rumpole of the Bailey' novels - eventually decided to defend Felix Dennis and Jim Anderson in court, assisted by Australian junior counsel Geoffrey Robertson. Publisher Richard Neville, however, chose to represent himself. At first, the Oz editors didn't seem to take the complaints seriously, appearing at the committal hearing dressed in school girl uniforms. Defence witnesses supported the editors' freedom of speech, among them artist Feliks Topolski, activist Caroline Coon, rock radio DJ John Peel, musician George Melly, philosopher Ronald Dworkin, academic Edward De Bono and comedian Marty Feldman. Feldman acknowledged he found the Rupert parody "very funny". Topolski praised it as a "witty putting together of opposite elements from the 'comics' culture."


The Oz reworking of the Robert Crumb story wasn't merely cut-and-paste work. Artwork was amended, with the addition of a red spot color and background patterns.

Since Vivian Berger was underage at the time of the trial, he was not prosecuted. However, since six of the twelve trial weeks were spent discussing the 'Rupert' parody, he was summoned as a prosecution witness. When asked by defence lawyer Mortimer why he had made the Rupert cartoon, Berger explained : "I think that, looking back on it, I subconsciously wanted to shock your generation: to portray us as a group of people who were different from you in moralistic attitudes. Also, it seemed to me just very funny, and like anything else that makes fun of sex (...) Rupert would probably be known to many generations as the innocent young character who figures in magic fairy tales. Whereas here, he's just doing what every normal human being does. (...) This is the kind of drawing that goes around every classroom, every day, in every school."

When asked whether he was portraying obscenity, Berger explained: "Maybe I was portraying obscenity, but I don't think I was being obscene myself. (...) If the News covers a war or shows a picture of war, then, for me, they are portraying obscenity - the obscenity of war. But they are not themselves creating that obscenity, because it is the people who are fighting the war that are creating that obscenity. The obscenity is in the action, not in the reporting of it. For example, I consider that the act of corporal punishment is an obscenity. I do not consider that the act of reporting or writing about corporal punishment is obscene." Viv Berger's mother Grace, Chair of the National Council of Civil Liberties in Hampstead, always defended her son In the media, explaining she was well aware of what he was doing and supporting him in contributing to Oz.

On 5 August 1971, judge Michael Argyle found Richard Neville, Felix Dennis and Jim Anderson not guilty of conspiracy - but guilty of two lesser offenses, with charges that carried fifteen, twelve and nine months prison sentences, respectively. Because the judge felt Felix Dennis was "very much less intelligent" than the others, his sentence was less severe than the others (ironically, Felix Dennis later became one of Britain's leading and wealthiest independent publishers). The judge also argued that Neville ought to be deported "back to Australia". Before going to jail, the three editors were given a forced haircut and sent away for medical and psychiatric observation. These two actions helped turn public sympathy in the editors’ favor. The cover of the 13 October 1971 issue of Private Eye magazine sported a vicious caricature of Judge Argyle, drawn by cartoonist Gerald Scarfe. A protest march against the sentence was organized. To generate publicity about the imprisonment of the editors, and to help raise money for a legal appeal, John Lennon and Yoko Ono recorded a benefit single, 'God Save Us' - with one the lyrics proclaiming: "God Save Rupert".

When the trial reached the appellate court, the convictions of the Oz editors were overturned. Lord Chief Justice, Lord Widgery, had a clerk buy some hardcore porn magazines in London's Soho neighborhood to show they were far more explicit than anything Oz had published. It was also ruled that Judge Argyle had misdirected the jury on numerous occasions, and that Viv Berger had been harassed and assaulted by the police. Citing these new findings, the Oz team was cleared of all charges. Years later, Felix Dennis told author Jonathon Green that in a private meeting with Lord Widgery, the three editors were politely advised to cancel Oz after their acquittal.

However, due to all the publicity, Oz sold better than ever before, and Neville, Dennis and Anderson saw no reason to quit. In issue #40 (February 1972), they celebrated their fifth anniversary by looking back at the trial. In the issue, the editors mentioned that they "still see Viv Berger frequently". They wrote that Berger was active as a proponent of children's rights: "Children are not allowed any representation of the system - why should they obey any of its laws?" Yet, by time the final issue was published in November 1973, the editors were left in debt.

Aftermath
Within a year after the Oz trial, Viv Berger was involved in the magazine Children's Rights as an editorial adviser, serving as an influential voice and advocate of "Pupil Power". On 27 August 1988, Berger was one of the guests in the 'Sentencing' episode of the late night television discussion programme 'After Dark', hosted by Professor Ian Kennedy. In 1991, the Oz trial was adapted into a TV film, 'The Trials of Oz' (1991), starring Hugh Grant as Richard Neville and featuring Alex Langdon in the role of Vivian Berger. On 19 December 2007, an interview with Berger about the Oz case appeared in the newspaper The Independent.


Introduction of "Viv Kylastron", from Oz #28.

More about Vivian Berger's testimony on pasttenseblog.wordpress.com

Series and books by Vivian Berger in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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