Saturday, April 23, 2011












Top Left: Front and back covers of 1971 edition.  Top Right: Front and back covers of 1972 edition.   Bottom: Front and back covers of 1974 edition, published in conjunction with Wildwood House. It would be interesting to know who all of the people on the back cover are.

Knock on the door Sunday afternoon and it was Nick at the door with a carrier bag containing three copies of Alternative London,  which once belonged to his brother.

One of the bibles of the underground culture in the 1970s, Alternative London was originated and produced by the remarkable Nicholas Saunders (bottom left in the last picture).

See PREVIOUS POST: ALTERNATIVE SOCIETY 1970s: Nicholas Saunders, an obituary by Flora Maxwell Stuart in The Independent

In Memoriam/Nicholas Saunders (1938-1998) by Nicholas Albery [The Guardian/5th Feb 1998]

Nicholas Albery (1948-2001) was his friend and collaborator. See PREVIOUS POST: ALTERNATIVE SOCIETY 1970s: FEEDBACK to access a range of links that connect these two men. Both died in car accidents.

These editions  and others in more detail:




First edition: published 1 December 1970

Alternative London  was featured as one of a series of articles on Book Covers in the Financial Times. The article was by Edwin Heathcote (pub 13th Dec 2010).  He claims the image on the left is the cover of the first edition. The image on the right, listed in Flickr as being the same edition, is the back cover.

ALTERNATIVE LONDON3903Second edition: Published 1 November 1971

The first page reads: This book is packed with information on how to get the most out of London for the least money….It tells you how to survive –then thrive…It doesn’t push a way of life but gives access to ways of expressing your individuality in a sincere way.’

A few pages later it records that 148 people sent in suggestions and they were all sent a free copy. Saunders says: ‘This book is not written from theory, nor is it an outside observer’s view. The law, organisations and activities are described the way we experience them – not how they should be or would like to be.’

ALTERNATIVE LONDON901Third edition: Published 12 May 1972

This has Alternative London on smaller type, the main title being ‘Survival Guide for Strangers’. In this edition, Nicholas Saunders has Georgie Downes credited as his Assistant. He defines the work as follows:

The book is for young people coming to London who want to take part in the new culture rather than to be the observers of tourist attractions. Its by the young people who produce Alternative London – so its not theoretical but a practical guide to avoiding the pitfalls and how tto get out of them. We haven’t tried to be comprehensive, but have selected a few of the best and cheapest things – a lot are free. Nor have we glamorised London. This is as you find it.’

ALTERNATIVE LONDON5905Fourth edition: Published 1 Feb 1974

This edition was put together by a team who form the bottom row in the picture. They are, from right to left:

Nicholas Saunders (writer & editor); Jenny Potter (research and checking), Roger Hall (layout and paste-up), Nicholas Lumsden (IBM typesetting), Tammy Cole (diagrammatic illustrations); Malcolm Carter (title pages and cover).

This edition also gives the sales (or print-runs) of the various editions: First Edition/50,000 copies; Second Edition/52,300 copies; Third edition/ 50,000 copies; Fourth Edition/38,000 copies.

ALTERNATIVE LONDON7908 5th Edition: Published by Wildwood House on 25th August 1977.

The cover has an unusual credit: ‘Cover design by Marilyn, stitched by Kaye.’This edition is essentially the same as the previous one but with an Appendix which contains a substantial number of updates and changes, work carried out by Steve Barron. [Thanks to Dave for ferreting out his old copy]

 This is the cover of the 1982 edition from Amazon. It  is listed as the 6th Edition, published by Otherwise Press. The credits read Nicholas Saunders (author), Georganne Downes (Editor), Kathy Holme (Editor), Max Handley (Editor)

There is not a great deal on the Internet about Alternative London. Here are a couple:

Alternative London is one of the best books of all time on

Wikipedia entry on Saunders

imageSaunders also travelled the country to produce Alternative England and Wales, a large-format volume of 368 pp, which he published himself in Hardcover on 7th July 1975. A paperback version appeared in September that year.

He also authored (and self-published) E for Ecstasy with Liz Heron, illustrated by Ginny Wade (April 1993), Ecstasy and the Dance Culture ( Sept 1995), Ecstasy: Dance, Trance and Transformation, with Rick Doblin (1996) and Ecstasy Reconsidered (April 1997)

E for Ecstasy

Ecstasy Reconsidered



nicola lane said...

Thanks for posting the Alternative London archive.I created the cover for the 6th edition and I actually got paid, which was very unusual in those days!I have 2 copies left, plus some tearsheets. Great blog!
Nicola Lane

Marc Ozin said...

The Independent has a obituary for Saunders who sadly passed away in 1998:

andrzej maria borkowski said...

Thank you for the Archive. I also contributed to the 6th edition - making large drawings between chapters where I, being in love, was hiding small references to me and my wife Gabriela. I was paid for this work too, for which I was grateful was I hardly had any money coming from Poland only for a summer with my wife and 10 months old daughter Alicja. Nicolas mentioned us on the last page of the book as we had returned to Poland and were unable to came back for launching of the book due to the political situation and declaration of Marshal Law in Poland. But eventually we had returned invited to work in British theater and I got a copy of the book from Nicolas personally, It is so sad that he is no longer with us. Greetings to all friends from those days of International Times and alternative culture -it was privilege to meet you all ( I do remember helping to carry huge painted board with Nicola Lane's graffiti drawing in order to photograph it on the street for the cover of the book)

354187 said...

Nice to see this here. I too contributed to the 6th edition doing diagrams and chapter headings, still glad of the learning about plumbing and electrics. I remember the rubbish and grass being carefully put along the bottom of the brick wall graffiti board for the cover photo, also the speaking tube to the office and the gold painted hole in the ceiling. And Kathy and Georgy and Max of course.

354187 said...

Nice to see this here. I too contributed to the 6th edition doing diagrams and chapter headings, still glad of the learning about plumbing and electrics. I remember the rubbish and grass being carefully put along the bottom of the brick wall graffiti board for the cover photo, also the speaking tube to the office and the gold painted hole in the ceiling. And Kathy and Georgy and Max of course.

StreetFarm said...

Great tribute to the Alternative editions - thank you, John May. I have a few of these and have long loved browsing them. I note that Roger Hall is credited with paste up and layout for the 4th ed. I wonder if you know any more about him? I am currently contributing to the organisation of a conference (2-4 Sept 2016 in Bristol: which is in part a retrospect on Radical Technology, an alternative title published by Wildwood House in 1976. Roger Hall is the book's cover artist and designer but from the style I do not believe he is the book illustrator of the same name who produced the cover art for many James Bond novels etc

Peter Harper said...

Dear John
Did you pick up on Streetfarm's previous post? You should not miss the conference, see web site Many of your old friends will be there.
More specifically, we'd really love to be able to find the Roger Hall who was associated with Wildwood House and laid out Radical Technology, including the cover graphics that continue to smack the eye. Any ideas?

Very best wishes
PS email to

Unknown said...

Hi, I am working on a research project at the University of Ottawa and we were hoping to get into contact with some people who worked on Alternative London to interview. I have been trying to reach out to John May and have been unsuccessful to this point. If possible could someone please get back to me at so we can connect and hopefully generate some names / contact information for the project! Thank you.

Catherine M said...

Oh such sweet nostalgia!
I had a copy of the ''stitched cover'' Alternative London, and found it so useful.
I lived in a squat in Swaton Road, and St Luke's road, Notting hill...and squats were everywhere for anyone who should want one.
now, those self same buildings are worth many millions.

You'd be hard pressed now to find one anywhere in Richmond, or Kingston, either.
Sigh....the 1970's in retrospect seem so special...maybe distance lends enchantment to the view?

Drugs..oh I embraced these...and took the advice of the book...I remember a cartoon of a man on an acid trip who sees a copper, turns ''normal'' and the copper passes, and the man reverts to his trippy self.
Strip searching by the coppers was done a lot then..not fun.

I eventually bought a house, as squatting became harder as time moved on, and rents in parts of London were so high.

Biuying a house was just about affordable then [1983] but now...don't know how younger people manage it...and there are no squats.