Index On Censorship
Index On Censorship Savoy Scrapbook

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Index On Censorship (1996)

In a liberal society, issues of civil liberties and free expression are generally fought out on the margins of public debate, as Savoy publishers discovered when their Lord Horror ran foul of the law.
"THE WORST CASE on record (of harassment by local vice squads) is the 20-year persecution of David Britton and Michael Butterworth, the Manchester-based publishers, whose authors have included Michael Moorcock and Jack Trevor Story, by the Manchester Obscene Publications Squad. David Britton first went to prison in 1982 for possessing "obscenity"—Grove Press and Venus Freeway novels, which were openly on sale in every other part of the country. Eleven years later, he was jailed again for publishing his own novel, Lord Horror. The real reason for this scandal was their company's open opposition to the arbitrary powers of Chief Constable James Anderton, whose satirical characterisation in Lord Horror led to the second conviction. Britton and Butterworth funded their publishing enterprise through several local bookstores selling paperbacks, American comics, minority interest books and periodicals, and softcore pornography. They have lost count of the number of raids that have taken place and the destruction orders under Section Three of the 1959 (Obscene Publications) Act, which even consigned the likes of Penthouse and Mayfair to the flames."

Bill Thompson Softcore: Moral Crusades Against Pornography in Britain and America, Cassell 1994.

November 1980 The Savoy offices and all Manchester Savoy retail outlets are raided in a co-ordinated swoop by the Manchester police under their highly controversial chief constable, James Anderton. Amongst the thousands of pounds' worth of stock seized are Samuel Delany's Tides of Lust and Charles Platt's The Gas (both cultish, erotic science fiction novels) and Jack Trevor Story's Screwrape Lettuce.

February 1981 Savoy Books are forced into temporary liquidation by a combination of recession, the collapse of the New English Library (with whom Savoy had a useful tie-in) and five years of escalating police harassment.

'Since 1976, when James Anderton took over as chief constable, Savoy premises had been raided over 40 times, resulting in the loss of tens of thousands of pounds worth of stock. Between 1977 and 1981 Anderton obtained a total of 1,010 search warrants from magistrates under the Obscene Publications Act, which meant that on average one Manchester premises was being raided every two days. The material seized and destroyed was mostly softcore pornography of the kind that could normally be distributed and sold elsewhere in Britain with impunity.'

Michael Butterworth, 'Under Siege', Savoy Dreams: The Secret Life of Savoy Books, David Britton and Michael Butterworth (eds), Savoy 1984.

May 1982 David Britton serves 19 days of the 28-day sentence imposed as a result of the police raid of November 1980.

1983 Michael Moorcock publishes the anti-censorship pamphlet Retreat From Liberty (Zomba) in response to the police campaign against Savoy.

May 1989 Savoy publish David Britton's novel Lord Horror. Its malevolent central character is a mythic recreation of 'Lord Haw-Haw', alias William Joyce, the wartime traitor hanged in 1946 for his infamous 'Germany calling' radio broadcasts. The novel concerns his post-war search for Hitler in a surreal, ultraviolent, post-modern world.

'Lord Horror is a sci-fi novel of an "alternative universe" where all the events, characters and scenes are metaphorically playing out philosophical and metaphysical abstractions in a sequence of symbolic forms. This is David Britton's Pilgrim's Progress—or at least his Childermass.

'In a manner similar to the discourses of De Sade's Philosophy in the Boudoir, the dialogue consists of contrived argument and counter-argument, encapsulations of every major train of thought and belief that has made the twentieth century the horror we see today—the characters voicing all the insane dialectic which has fuelled the nightmare of western culture. Lord Horror himself is an extreme aesthete—a psychopathic / neuropathic dreamer—a cross between Des Esseintes and Darth Vader. He is here likened, in this respect, to Hitler, who also (the book suggests) dreamed of higher things, of beauty, purity and glory divorced from reality. Horror is the epitome of Hitler's version of the Übermensch—amoral, physically powerful and ruthless, agonisingly hypersensitive and mystically inclined, with a violent scorpionic sexuality. He is a Byronic anti-hero, his goals superhuman, his actions subhuman.

'The exaggerations, the surreal imagery, and the distorted misappropriation of historical characters actually define a vision closer to the truth than mere "social realism" would ever be able to, revealing the corrupted inner life of characters, things and events—the dreaming reality of the historical process.'

Black Easter: The Trials of Savoy Books by Paul Anthony-Woods and D M Mitchell, in Rapid Eye 2, Simon Dwyer (ed), Creation Books 1995.

June 1989 The start of Savoy Comics, with Lord Horror No.1 and Meng and Ecker No.1 (short for Josef Mengele and Dietrich Eckart, as well as a reference to the name of a Manchester café).

September 1989 In a front-page article in the Jewish Telegraph's Manchester edition, Doreen Wachmann points out that, in the novel Lord Horror, James Anderton's notorious speech condemning homosexuals has been put into the mouth of a character named James Appleton—the only difference is that the word 'homosexuals' has been replaced by the word 'Jews' throughout. Wachmann raises the matter with Anderton, who is quoted as saying that he is 'looking into' it. The Manchester Evening News picks up the story. Shortly thereafter police raid Savoy's offices and shops, acting under Section Three of the Obscene Publications Act and carrying warrants signed by stipendiary magistrate Derrick Fairclough. They seize all material related to Lord Horror.

May 1990 In an article by Paul Ferris in the Observer, two anonymous Manchester police officers complain about not being able to bring charges under Section Two of the Obscene Publications Act against the authors and publishers of a novel which, although not named, is clearly Lord Horror. Section Two is more serious than Section Three in that it carries a criminal penalty; however, Section Three is routinely used to put publishers out of business since it empowers magistrates to destroy their stock without the allegedly offending material even going before a jury.

August 1991 The Section Three charge is heard by Fairclough who finds the novel Lord Horror and Meng and Ecker No.1 obscene and orders their destruction. Savoy appeals. Three days later, and again using warrants signed by Fairclough, the police raid Savoy and seize over 4,000 Lord Horror-related items.

July 1992 Article 19 having taken up Savoy's case and drawn it to the attention of Geoffrey Robertson QC, he defends them at their appeal at Manchester Crown Court against the August 1991 conviction. Expert witnesses called in Savoy's defence include Michael Moorcock, Guy Cumberbatch and Brian Stableford. Moorcock argues that Lord Horror 'is in a tradition of lampoon, of exaggeration. Its purpose is to show up social evils, and the evils within ourselves. The book tries to identify the ways of thinking that led to the Holocaust, and could yet lead to another one', whilst Stableford places it squarely within 'a tradition running from the Decadent and Symbolist fiction of the 1890s, through to the Surrealist movement'. Robertson makes a telling contemporary point by noting that 'unlike the Sunday Times publication of Goebbels' diaries, this work has no appeal to neo-Nazis... No Nazi skinhead-type would get past page two. The Holocaust cannot be excluded from the literary imagination on his account.' Judge Gerard Humphries lifts the destruction order against Lord Horror noting that 'no-one is prepared to read this work unless they are willing to digest large amounts of philosophy and complex argument,' although adding, 'we give this book no accolade, no Meng and Ecker No.1, however, are upheld, the judge declaring it to be 'luridly bound' and thus far more likely than the novel 'to attract attention from the less literate'. He also states that it is 'a glorification of racism and violence. It contains pictures that will be repulsive to right -thinking people, and could be read—and possibly gloated over—by people who enjoy viciousness and violence. We do not consider it in the public interest that it should be put on sale.' Counsel advise Savoy that there are no reliable precedents for taking a Section Three seizure case to a higher court.

April 1993 David Britton is sentenced to four months' imprisonment for the sale of non-Savoy material seized in the second of the August 1991 police raids.

June 1995 Savoy, their case now handled not only by Robertson's chambers but also Stephens Innocent, go to Manchester Magistrates Court to test the 1964 undertaking given by the solicitor-general to Parliament that publishers of serious works caught in Section Three seizure trawls for pornography will (unlike Savoy) be allowed to opt for trial by jury if they so desire. The case arises from the August 1991 seizure of Lord Horror material. The magistrate is switched at the last moment from Derrick Fairclough to Jane Hayward. The latter agrees that Savoy have a 'legitimate expectation' of a jury trial, but sides with the prosecution's claim that the local Crown Prosecution Service holds a discretion. The local CPS consider whether Savoy are serious publishers, but decide they are not. Hayward refuses to press for substantiation of what is only an 'opinion' and insists on hearing the case despite defence counsel's request that she abandon it, and the defence protestation that they intend to take the matter to judicial review. The prosecution invokes the increasingly discredited and dubious Public Interest Immunity legislation to hide its reasons for disallowing a jury trial, thus making impossible any discussion or analysis of its grounds for stating that Savoy are not serious publishers.

The case is adjourned until the following month, when Hayward finds all the Lord Horror-related graphic titles obscene. She further finds that they do not attract a 'public good' defence under Section Four of the Obscene Publications Act but, indeed, are of a 'deliberately offensive, racist nature [without] literary, artistic or educational merit.'

October 1995 A copy of Lord Horror fetches £220 in Index on Censorship's Auction of Banned Books. The following day Savoy appear before judge Stephen Sedley at the Royal Courts of justice and are granted leave for a judicial review of Hayward's refusal to state a case. Faced with this threat Hayward caves in and agrees to state her case within 21 days. (Her draft is expected at the time of writing).

Julian Petley is head of Communication and Information Studies at Brunel University, UK.

Savoy 1998 update:

After publication of Julian Petley's article (above) we appealed in the Divisional Court at the Royal Courts of Justice (London, 26th July 1996) an assurance about prosecution practice (given by the solicitor general to Parliament in 1964) that publishers who wish to rely on the literary merit defence for publications which have been seized under Section Three of the Obscene Publications Act will be allowed to put a particular defence before a jury, rather than being judged solely by a magistrate.

We submitted that we had a legitimate expectation of receiving a trial by jury and that the magistrate erred:

  • in allowing the proceedings to continue in the light of the assurance;
  • in deciding an issue relating to public interest immunity without herself having sight of the documents;
  • in finding that we could not rely on the public good defence contained in Section Four of the Obscene Publications Act that our works are not obscene.
  • We lost. After our five-year battle to save our comics the Law Lords agreed with the magistrate's rulings. We discovered that there is no protection for the serious publisher under English law.

    When the Section Three law was introduced in 1964 (to clean up the porn shops in Soho without the prosecutors having to resort to expensive jury trials), there were supposed to be safeguards. But this law has been abused—and we have found that the safeguards are useless. Because any prosecutor can cry 'Public Interest Immunity' when asked in a court to explain his reasons for disregarding the assurances of a fair trial that a publisher of serious intent is supposed to be able to rely on.

    This case has proved that one magistrate sitting in Manchester (but it could be any town or city) decides what the rest of the country can read. It proves that English authoritarian elements rely on legal jargon and obfuscation to keep their idea of art and culture intact in a seemingly free society.

      Stompin' on the Savoy

    by Bryan Talbot

    (Press Release from 'Brainstorm Studios' on behalf of the Preston Speculative Fiction Group, September 27th 1996)

    Savoy Books, generous past contributors to our cornucopia of raffle prizes, have been in the wars yet again. The following snippet from the internet sums up their last encounter with the bastard offspring of Anderton. Preston SF Group member John Coulthart's art was deemed obscene with no artistic merit. Those of you who've been priviliged to look through John's portfolio know how far this is from the truth. Savoy have since published David Britton's new novel, Motherfuckers:

    "SAVOY BOOKS lost their July/August High Court appeal for the right to a jury trial of whether the heaps of their comics seized by Manchester police police in 1991 (including Lord Horror and Meng & Ecker) are obscene.

    "The appeal relied on a previous assurance by law officers to Parliament that 'serious publishers of literature and art' would always get a jury trial if they wanted one. Savoy were apparently deemed non-serious by the Crown.

    "Prosecution Service person Stuart Ashman actually let slip in court that he had not wished to have the case heard before a jury because, er, he would then have stood little chance of winning. British Justice—best in the world."

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