Saturday, September 02, 2006

ALTERNATIVE SOCIETY 1970s: BIT by bit

One of the many delights of doing THE GENERALIST is all the connections it enables us to make. Following my previous post on ‘An Index of Possibilities’ [see Nikola Tesla], received the following e-mail from Anthony I.P. Owen who has been living in Casablanca for the last two years.

Excuse me mailing you, but I came across your name (and blog) when googling 'Index of Possibilities' - a copy of which I still refer to and (internet notwithstanding) is still a mine of interesting and accessible information. IoP is still valued and used (it turned me on to Tesla, still an interest), thirty odd years after the event. All your sweat and toil is still appreciated!! I look forward to hearing more about the Index. It really was the concept of the Web before the internet existed....being too soon can be just as frustrating as being too late .

I was googling 'IoP' in the hope of finding any sites referring to the 'BIT' group which was operating around West London around the same time as IoP. I used to hang around their offices as a teenager 'up from the country'. I journeyed to India with one of their travel guides as sole reference and look back on them fondly. Do you know of any websites detailing them (or any of the other myriad of 'alternative' organisations which seemed to flourish then in West London especially, due to the accessibility of IBM typesetting and offset litho - a sort of worldwide paper web.

Thus began our correspondence, whioch has led in many interesting directions. Here is Anthony’s second message

I've done some searching through some boxes which have been following me around the world for a few years unopened and managed to find a 1981 edition of the India Guide (scan of cover enclosed). By this time it was being edited by Geoff Crowther and published by Ian Robb King under the 'Magic Ink Travel Club' imprint, based in Margate (I have a slight memory that Ian was in a wheelchair? I can't remember ever meeting him, so that was maybe from correspondence.). 1981 would have been my second or third trip to India and I imagine that I got the guide mail order - in fact I am sure I did. How I found the address I have no idea!. The first time I headed east - 1975-76 - I remember that I did go up to the BIT office a day or so before I left. They didn't have any finished guides, the pages were printed but not the cover and they had not been bound but they let me have a copy unbound (just a collection of pages) in a plastic bag. That travelled with me for many months, but disappeared many years ago.

Anyway, this is probably more than you ever wanted to know about the BIT travel guides and it shows how relaxed it is here that I have the time to get it together. I guess if I was serious I would edit down the BIT history from the introduction and post it on Wikipedia (a sort of co-operative BIT guide to everything in the world?) and see if there is any response.

As said in my first mail I was very much a 'consumer' of the West London scene, bunking off school in the afternoons, hitching up the M4 and spending the afternoons hanging around squats, underground papers.....all the mayhem - and the memories are dim through the smoke!! Who knows all who passed through BIT's portals and what effect it had on them

In his third mailing Anthony writes:

Another memory: BIT used to give out 'unofficial' international student cards as a 'service to travellers and others' (they were good for getting discounts and visas if your passport said 'student'). They were green and black with a photograph and whichever stamp happened to be on the desk at the time. It fooled everyone from Calais to Katmandu!

I've searched all the UK Free Festival sites I can find but no references to BIT at all, though they were certainly involved. I am just amazed that there seems to be so little information available, especially online as I would have thought that the sort of people who got BIT together, and hung around their offices, would be just the sort of people who would have taken to the Net. This piece of history should be better known!

So as a contribution to this end, here are a number of related posts.

Having hung out in Ladbroke Grove myself during the early 1970s, working on the underground newspaper Frendz, I knew the BIT Information offices well and one of its most energetic activists Nicholas Albery. Also involved was his friend Nicholas Saunders, author of an important publication of the time ‘Alternative London.’ Sadly both died around the turn of the millennium in separate car crashes within two years of each other. Happily their legacy lives on.

What follows is: 1) The introduction to the aforementioned BIT travel Guide (courtesy of Anthony). 2) A piece on another publication, the BIT Arts Lab Newsletter, which I unearthed in the HQINFO Archives. 3) An appreciation of the two Nicholas’s. Hopefully this will trigger other memories and material which we would be grateful to receive.

1 comment:

Tony G said...

I have been slowly putting together a travel journal/blog about the first overland trip to India I did in 1973 and a while back I recieved an email from Terry Phelps regarding the BIT Overland to India 'freaksheet'.

It may be of interest to you.

http://realtravel.com/b-226069-world_blog-a_journey_overland_from_england_to_india_and_nepal_in_1973