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Trials of Oz, The

Clever old grotesquely wealthy Felix Dennis (KEVIN ‘Brother of Keith’ ALLEN), branded the biggest dum dum of the three underground magazine editors in the 1971 Oz Trial (along with Richard Neville and Jim Anderson) and given a shorter prison sentence as a consequence, manages to have the last laugh here. He can be found, when he’s not media magnating, on a You Tube near you bragging about years and years of promiscuity, drug taking and revealing his forthcoming excitement as seeing Sienna Miller’s tits in Hippy, Hippy, Shake.

Impressively true to actual events (according to an introduction by Jonathan Dimbleby, who covered the trials as a cub reporter) this televisation is nonetheless as wacky as can be. Daft highlights include a very long-haired, snake-hipped Richard Neville-sort-of-alike HUGH GRANT, not even attempting an Australian accent, and then, after a hair cut, doing a more than feasible impression of Hugh Grant. (Anderson sounds more authentic, but then he is played by PETER ‘Shane’ O’BRIEN).

An altogether better performance is NIGEL PLANER impersonating a deadpan and eruditely unfazed John Peel. JEMMA REDGRAVE, as Release founder and leggy, arty, lush, Caroline Coon, is a ‘breath of fresh air in an otherwise very (sigh) long afternoon’. (Well, according to patronising, fan of girls in shorts Judge Michael Argyle, played by an eye-rolling LESLIE PHILLIPS, anyway.)

The expert witnesses called in to testify are sound enough, but the judge makes mincemeat of their new-fangled liberal, academic views. John Mortimer acting as defence counsel is played by a pouting SIMON CALLOW (who has the facial expressions on the money), up against smarmy prosecutor NIGEL HAWTHORNE.

The dramatisation deals only with the trial before appeal. The harsh sentences the three Oz editors received were appealed successfully after the judge was deemed not to take the expert witness testifiers seriously in his summing up to the jury but this is only mentioned just before the end credits. For a dramatisation based on a hugely significant cultural shift, which also succeeds in validity, there’s daftness aplenty nonetheless.



  1. Tom Ronson

    February 22, 2022 at 1:24 am

    One of the oddest but most engaging re-enactments of an actual court case you’re ever likely to see. Superb cast, a nicely off-kilter atmosphere, loads of memorable moments. Why has it never been repeated, one wonders?

  2. Sidney Balmoral James

    February 22, 2022 at 9:37 am

    I wondered if this hasn’t been repeated because to be frank, we are likely to take a much more dim view these days of Oz. The issue of free speech is hard to put across in relation to such a sordid publication, with pornographic cartoons, and a sense of anything goes man, which was hardly very worried about what was age appropriate.

  3. Droogie

    February 22, 2022 at 10:24 am

    Also includes Alfred Molina playing George Melly! Molina must give Michael Sheen a run for his money for the number of real life people he’s played, including Tony Hancock, Kenneth Halliwell, Diego Rivera, Marc Rothko, Robert Aldrich etc.

    • Sidney Balmoral James

      February 22, 2022 at 10:41 am

      I recall one extremely unpalatable exchange between Melly and the prosecuting counsel (Nige) which I presume was based on the court transcript, as to whether or not he would use the c word to refer to his daughter, which sums up the rather tawdry nature of the exercise. Shame the BBC didn’t use some of the real people in this play – George Melly and John Peel hadn’t changed much in the intervening 20 years!

  4. THX 1139

    February 22, 2022 at 3:59 pm

    It’s been twelve years, and Felix Dennis is long dead, but there’s still no sign of a release for Hippie Hippie Shake. Nobody seems to have a good explanation why – too controversial, even after all this time?

  5. Richardpd

    February 22, 2022 at 10:47 pm

    I’m surprised BBC4 haven’t dug this out of the archives yet, especially as it sounds similar in tone to the drama documentaries they used to have the budget to make.

    Between them Alfred Molina, along with John-Rhys Davies & Hugh Griffith seem to been the go-to guys for playing a character from the anywhere from the Mediterranean basin to East India along with Latin America, so plenty of opportunity to play odd parts.

  6. Droogie

    February 23, 2022 at 1:05 pm

    @Richardpd Actor/ comedian Omid Djalili also has a solid career from playing ( his own words) “ Middle Eastern scumbags “ in movies like Gladiator and Pirates Of The Caribbean. Another inspired bit of casting in Trials Of Oz was actor Lee Cornes as Marty Feldman. If people don’t recognise his name, they’d definitely know his face from appearances in The Young Ones, Red Dwarf, Blackadder etc. His resemblance to Feldman in this is uncanny.

    • Richardpd

      February 23, 2022 at 9:58 pm

      Omid Djalili also crossed my mind when typing the above post, he played a Greek in The Durrells to spice things up.

      It certainly wouldn’t take too much effort to make Lee Cornes look like Marty Feldman.

      Lee Cornes was also one of the teachers in Grange Hill & Dr Who,

  7. Glenn Aylett

    February 26, 2022 at 9:47 am

    John Peel was still in his hippy, counter culture phase and was a major defender of Oz magazine as it was part of the world he promoted on his Radio 1 show. Six years later he evolved into a promoter of something else that was equally despised by its enemies, punk rock, and he reinvented himself as a champion of the new wave. No doubt it some punks had produced their version of Oz, Peel would have supported them.
    However, looking back, Oz was rather sordid and was one of the less palatable things to come out the late sixties, maan.

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