Vivian Berger was a British amateur cartoonist, who - at age sixteen - made an infamous 'Rupert Bear' sex parody for the underground magazine Oz. Published in May 1970, his comic was basically a collage work, with new captions written underneath the images. Quite unexpectedly, both this comic strip and Oz itself became part of a widely mediatized obscenity trial.

Background
On 1 April 1963, the university students Richard Neville, Richard Walsh, Martin Sharp and Peter Grose founded the monthly underground magazine Oz in Sydney, Australia. Almost a year later, in February 1964, it already caused controversy for its obscene content, leading to court cases. By 1969, bad publicity had scared away most of the advertisers, as a result, the magazine folded. However, since 1967, a sister magazine appeared in the United Kingdom. Neville was involved with this edition, as were two British editors, Jim Anderson and Felix Dennis. Like the Australian original, the British Oz discussed controversial topics appealing to youngsters: sex, drugs, hippie culture, rock music, counterculture movies & novels, feminism, atheism, LGBT rights, but also criticism of racism, conservative values, the Vietnam War and the Papadopoulos dicatorship in Greece. Oz ran comics and cartoons by foreign subversive artists like Siné, Gilbert Shelton and Robert Crumb. British alternative cartoonists also found their way to the magazine, such as 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 team consisting of Martin Sudden, Jay Jeff Jones and Brian Bolland.


The May 1970 issue of OZ magazine.

Schoolkids Oz special starring... Rupert!
While the British version of Oz was quite popular among the target audience, some readers complained that the magazine lost touch with "the youth". In an immediate reaction, the May 1970 issue of Oz (#28), was promoted as a "School Kids" special. As a stunt, the editors invited twenty high school pupils to help with the issue. Some of them became celebrities as adults, such as design & architecture critic Deyan Sudjic and music journalist Charles Shaar Murray. The outrage over the issue already started with the cover, with its collage of nude women. Since the title 'School Kids Issue' was ambiguous, many readers misinterpreted its message. They assumed the issue was intended for children, incorrectly thinking of elementary school pupils. To them, it seemed the editors wanted to corrupt innocent young readers. Their assumption was fed by a lewd comic on page 14-15 in which Mary Tourtel's beloved children's character Rupert Bear has sex with a woman.

The comic was made by the teenager Vivian Berger, who signed with "Viv". The "artist" however didn't draw a single line, as the comic was basically cut-and-paste work from two different sources. The sex scene itself came from a page of Robert Crumb's 'Eggs Ackley Among the Vulture Demonesses', which originally appeared in Big Ass Comics issue #1 (June 1969). Viv even left the dialogue in the speech balloons unaltered. All he did was cut out some Rupert Bear faces and clumsily paste them on Eggs' face. Only the captions are original material. To make the collage resemble a 'Rupert' story, Berger added descriptive titles above each panel and rhyming couplets underneath. The end result is basically an uninspired parody, done for shock value, although borderline plagiarism is probably a better description. Berger at least had the decency to "apologize to Crumb" in the final panel.

The issue gives some biographical background about Viv Berger. He is described as sixteen years old at the time, although many newspapers incorrectly claimed he was only 15; an error repeated by many books and articles since. His star sign is given as Aries. All this info implies he was born either in 1955 or 1956 and somewhere between 21 March and 20 April. He claims to be 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 named "Viv Kylastron". This could have been a pseudonym, considering some of the other pupils contributing to the issue also used joke names. On the other hand, Kylastron could be his father's name. In Geoffrey Robertson's book 'The Justice Game' (1998), Viv's mother was Grace Berger, who worked in Hampstead as Chair of the National Council of Civil Liberties. It seems that Viv was the child of divorced parents, because later, in all the press articles since the court case took off, his last name is always given as "Berger". The official Oz trial court documents mention that Berger lived with his mother and two sisters, age 10 and 12.


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

Trial
In July 1970, Oz was taken to court on the official charge that the publishers "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 even contested that Oz "dealt with homosexuality, lesbianism, sadism, perverted sexual practices and drug taking." The editorial offices were raided. The entire case was motivated by the previous obscenity trials against the Australian Oz. In fact, many of the old accusations were used again. Much of the moral outrage was based on misconceptions about the "School Kids" issue and especially the Rupert comic. To many older people, it looked like children's pornography and promotion of immoral values. They were shocked that Rupert Bear, an emblem of childhood nostalgia and overall niceness, was so degraded. It confirmed many people's biases about the counterculture movement. Chief editors Neville, Dennis and Anderson had to defend themselves against charges which, at the time, could send them to prison for life. Dennis and Anderson had serious difficulty finding a lawyer willing to represent them. In the end, barrister/writer John Mortimer - famous for the 'Rumpole of the Bailey' novels - decided to defend them in court, assisted by Australian junior counsel Geoffrey Robertson. Neville chose to represent himself. At first, the Oz editors didn't seem to take all the complaints too seriously. They even appeared at the committal hearing dressed in school girl uniforms. Various 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."

Since Berger was underage, he was not prosecuted. However, he was summoned to court as a prosecution witness, since six of the in total twelve trial weeks were spent discussing the 'Rupert' parody. When asked by 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."

Eventually, on 5 August 1971, judge Michael Argyle ruled Neville, Dennis and Anderson not guilty of conspiracy. But they were convicted of two lesser offenses and sentenced to respectively fifteen, twelve and nine months imprisonment. Dennis' sentence was less severe than the others, because the judge felt he was "very much less intelligent" than the others. He 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 psychiatrical observation. These two actions helped turn public sympathy in their favor. Gerald Scarfe made a vicious caricature of judge Argyle, which sported the cover of Private Eye magazine. A protest march against the sentence was organized. To raise funds and gain publicity, John Lennon and Yoko Ono recorded a benefit single, 'God Save Us' - with one the lyrics saying: "God Save Rupert".

The trial continued in appeal, which eventually overturned the convictions. Lord Chief Justice, Lord Widgery, had a clerk buy some hardcore porn magazines in London's Soho neighborhood to show these were far more explicit than anything Oz had published. It also turned out that judge Argyle had misdirected the jury on numerous occasions, and that Viv Berger had been harassed and assaulted by the police. As such, they were cleared from all charges. However, in a secret meeting with Lord Widgery, the three editors Neville, Dennis and Anderson were politely advised to cancel Oz after their acquittal.

Still, thanks to all the publicity, Oz sold better than ever before, giving Neville, Dennis and Anderson no reason to quit. In issue #40 (February 1972), they celebrated their fifth anniversary by looking back at the trial. On page 30, it is mentioned that the Oz editors "still see Viv Berger frequently". They wrote that he was active as proponent of children's rights: "Children are not allowed any representation of the system - why should they obey any of its laws?" Yet, by November 1973, Oz's sales had dropped, which led to the final issue and the editors in debt.

Aftermath
Viv Berger lived in a basement flat Steele's Road off Haverstock Hill. His house was later bought by Noel Gallagher, member of the rock band Oasis. On 19 December 2007, Berger was interviewed by the newspaper The Independent about the Oz case. In 1991, the Oz trial was adapted into a film, 'The Trials of Oz' (1991), starring Hugh Grant and Nigel Hawthorne. Berger was played by Alex Langdon.


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:

X

If you want to help us continue and improve our ever- expanding database, we would appreciate your donation through Paypal.