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Interview: Peter Hooton on the rebirth of the The End

December 1, 2011

WHEN people talk about community media in the modern age, they often point to the potential power of the Internet to give ordinary people a voice to express the issues that affect their lives in a way that is not available to them in the mainstream media.

Many talk about this as some kind of new dimension only afforded them by new media technologies. That of course is nonsense. Academics, like Chris Atton have long pointed to fanzine movement as the perfect template for an expression of community.

The ultimate expression of this movement, the 1980s fanzine The End, came, almost inevitably, from Liverpool, a city that retains an ever-deepening sense of community in an age of global homogeneity. Now, the complete run of the mag has been collected, reprinted and put on sale for us to view in all its glory.

Of course, its creators would look at the paragraph above this one and say, ‘Don’t be a soft get.’

That’s because, despite being heralded as the funniest and most influential mag of its generation, it was always about keeping your feet on the ground and sticking two fingers up anyone getting above themselves.

The core editorial team Peter Hooton, Phil Jones & Mick Potter were devoted to attacking many of the myths that Liverpool cherished. Hooton says: “We felt we wanted to attack sacred cows, like the image of the witty Scouser, we didn’t think it was true. We had no time for comedians like Jimmy Tarbuck or Stan Boardman, who supposedly represented us, we hated them.”

Of course in creating a world which attacked and parodied figures everyone knew – like Billy Bullshit (the spoofer everyone knows), the narky coach driver (a figure known to football fans and gig goers) and No Mates (the lad always on his own) – The End was tremendously witty, at least with a hard working class edge.

A mix of cartoons, columns and interviews which included The Clash, among others, provided a template for thousands of imitators. With a print run of 5,000 books looking likely to be sold before Christmas, there must be something timeless despite its depiction of Liverpool at a very specific time. As Hooton says, it retains a resonance, “These people still exist and people can still relate to it.”

Like many of the important things in Liverpool pop culture of the last three decades it has its roots in three spaces: community, the music scene and football.

Speaking just after the last batch of books was delivered to bookshops across Merseyside, Hooton explained how it came about.

He’d been reading the Liverpool Mod revival fanzine Time For Action, which was produced by Jones and the now Walton MP, Steve Rotheram. Around the same time he had spotted an anarchist fanzine attacking the wedding of Charles and Diana in a very funny and irreverent fashion. ‘This anarchist fanzine was surreal and caustic and acerbic and it was soon after the (Toxteth) riots, and I thought it would be great if we had that kind of humour in a magazine about football and music.

“I was working as a youth worker in Cantrell Farm and noticed that Phil Jones had Cantrell Farm address and contacted him. I thought if they (Jones and Rotheram) could do it, then I could do it.”

The project was then about Hooton, Jones et al writing about their lives and the people they came into contact with. “It was just about Cantrell Farm, for us and our mates, but it quickly went city wide.

“As I was a youth worker, the ethos had to be that it wasn’t overtly racist or overtly sexist. But we were trying to cater for people who went to football, particularly away matches, and who went to concerts.”

That’s not to say that the right-on element of the magazine’s mission was lost on some of the more unsavoury elements of Liverpool life. “We were successful and one prominent member of Liverpool’s right wing element said that this pinko pop mag was indoctrinating the city’s youth.”

Although the magazine did have a political edge, interviewing people like the socialist MP Terry Fields, Hooton is keen to downplay the myth of The End playing any prominent role in the tempestuous political climate of Militant-era Liverpool.

“People over intellectualise it. There was the riots and unemployment and the influx of heroin, but very few people we knew were going to political meetings. There were a few people you recognized at political meetings from going to the football. But they tended to be on the periphery. Political meetings were mainly trade unionists.”

However, as Hooton told Ian Burrell in the Independent: “It’s an insight into the city’s mentality and it was not all doom and gloom. In fact, most of it is funny – we were having a good time.”

The End is not about gags it’s ultimately about that great Liverpool word, ‘skitting’ which ultimately means taking the piss.

On the one hand, it was about taking the piss out of people from outside Liverpool and their fashion choices as observed by The End correspondents on their football away trips. It reserved most skitting for Yorkshire men and their terrible fashion sense, but as Hooton says, “the more we ridiculed the fashion crazes of Yorkshire men, the more they wanted it.”

It sold a bomb in Leeds and Jumbo Records in the city has taken a load of copies of the re-issue.

On the other hand, The End was more than some kind of comedy magazine. It wasn’t sixth formers doing their own Private Eye. Quite the opposite, Hooton says, “No-one I know tells jokes. The End was all about observational humour, about commenting on what was going on around Liverpool.

“I know it’s different now, but if a footballer walked into a pub then everyone would be like, ‘There’s that dickhead Souness.’ It was about keeping your feet on the ground and not getting above your station.”

The most quoted column in The End over the years has been its famed Ins and Outs, which ridiculed both the shorthand style guides of mainstream magazines and the pretentions of the city. “As soon as something became fashionable we stuck it in the Outs column.”

As many of those who were involved in The End worked in the community, or continue to do so in some way, (Jesus, there aren’t many fanzines with an MP among their alumnus), it remains a perfect expression of what working class people can do when they write about their own lives.

But then, that’s me over-intellectualizing it, like a soft lad.

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