PETER FROST remembers media mogul Felix Dennis
Felix Dennis, the simple hippie who spouted counter-culture politics but who became a ruthless capitalist multimillionnaire media baron, died this week aged 67.
Felix Dennis, pictured with British porn star Cathy Barry, Dennis boasted he had spent a £100 million of his fortune on women and drugs.
I’ll never forget my first meeting with Dennis. It was at some alternative media briefing in the late 1960s and when he discovered I was there representing the Young Communist magazine Challenge he simply declared me a Stalinist.
From then on whenever our paths crossed, and they did quite often, I was always simply the Stalinist.
Dennis wasn’t anywhere near as easy to pigeonhole as me.
I honestly always thought him a bit simple. It was an opinion shared by the judge at the famous Oz obscenity trial.
Dennis’s first work for Oz magazine was in 1967. His poster marking the death of Che Guevara spelt the Cuban revolutionary hero’s name wrong. Whoops.
Yet by 1969, Dennis was a full-time writer and co-editor on Oz.
He courted publicity invading David Frost’s TV show. Did he use the appearance to make some meaningful political statement? No, he squirted Frost with a water pistol and said: “C**t!” It was the first time that word had been heard on TV.
The trial of Oz editors Richard Neville, Jim Anderson and of course Dennis at the Old Bailey was the longest trial then heard under the 1959 Obscene Publications Act. For the defence was John Mortimer QC — later the writer of Rumpole of the Bailey.
The court heard that 20 secondary school pupils had been allowed to edit the magazine. In its pages Rupert the Bear was displaying his genitals.
All three defendants were found guilty and jailed for up to 15 months. Dennis received a more lenient sentence than his co-defendants because he was, in the opinion of the judge, “much less intelligent” and therefore less culpable.
Dennis and his co-defendants lampooned the whole court process by dressing as schoolchildren for their committal hearing. The case became important for the hippie counter-culture and John Lennon was there to meet Dennis when he was released from jail.
In 1973 all sentences were quashed on appeal by lord chief justice Lord Widgery.
Dennis promptly decided that getting seriously rich was more important than any counter-culture principles or political action.
The first magazine from his new publishing company was Kung-Fu Monthly, a tawdry attempt to cash in on the popularity of film star Bruce Lee. In fact the magazine ran for years and laid the foundation for Dennis’s publishing empire.
He followed this with other magazines that generally appealed to enthusiasts — some might call them anoraks. Titles included Spectrum World for owners of early computers but soon embraced Mac User, various other computer titles and Auto Express.
Today, Dennis Publishing produces more than 50 titles, its biggest being news digest The Week, as well as Men’s Fitness and Viz.
In 2007, Dennis made £144.5 million by selling off all 31 international editions of the top shelf magazine Maxim — the best-selling men’s magazine in the world.
At the time of his death Dennis was probably worth about £500m. He had often claimed he had spent more than a £100m on sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll.
I’ll never forget my last meeting with him either. Some years ago I was at the headquarters of one arm of Dennis’s vast magazine empire.
He had just announced his latest round of cuts, closures and lay-off and told the assembled staff how good this would be for the company.
A bold journalist rose to their feet. “It seems to me, Mr Dennis, that what you are saying is that you will get a lot richer and we are all going to get screwed.”
Dennis’s horrified heavies ushered the blond boss towards the door. Just before he slipped away he turned and said: “Yes that’s just about it.”
This obituary appeared in the Morning Star 25 June 2014