It was a shock to quiet, conservative Herefordshire, the loyal home of the clandestine Special Air Services and the kind of place where rumours of roughings-up down at the nick were taken as a matter of course.
There had been some early radical rumblings: the co-founder of International Times, Jeff Nuttall, had lectured at the art college and played jazz trumpet down at The Booth. A travellers support group had been formed in the late 1970s (Gypsies bore the brunt of local racism) and a Ross CND shortly after.
As Margaret Thatcher became the century’s longest serving prime minister and the West Mercia drug squad played cat and mouse with local dope heads, frustrated libertarians founded a welfare rights drop-in (they met at The Red Door in Maylord Street), a branch of the National Council for Civil Liberties and a gay rights group. There was even a small, sympathetic team of lawyers on hand giving free legal advice.
Coverage by the local media was dire and so the Archenfield Review arrived in the early 1980s. The title (Archenfield was the pre-Norman Herefordshire district) reflected founding editor David Adams’ interests – he had previously set up Herefordshire County Life, devoted to the county’s quirky past and present.
AR, broadly modelled on the alternative West Highland Free Press, was communally run and as scurrilous as it dared to be. Editorially to the left, its Private Eye-style news featured leaked information (such as the frequency of Bulmers’ courtesy drinks van to the incumbent mayor’s office), gossip on locals like ‘Slippery Sam’, a solicitor with a penchant for property deals, councillor ‘Basilballs’ Baldwin and the machinations of ‘Liberal boy wonder’ (then councillor) Paul Keetch. There was a what’s on (‘the Mosquitos – a legend in their own drinking time’), poems, agitprop (‘Give Peace a Dance organised by the Legs Against the Arms Race’) and adverts for Gaffers, Fodder and the Hereford Council for Voluntary Services which eventually became the AR base.
Early issues featured hand-written pages by Geof Newsom and that inky workhorse of the parish press, the Gestetner duplicating machine involving long nights of cut and past layouts, wayward stencil sheets and direct printing on sheets of A3 – collation was a nightmare.
Later editions such as ‘No 6, Nov/Dec 1984 involving M. Pavey, S. Isles, P. Miles, Alison Maclean, Judith Dixon, P. Baines, J. Sant, D. Freeman, Toni Hastings, J. Munro & Phil Miles’ were professional printed in Kingstone and delivered for sale everywhere from local newsagents to the Fountain Inn at Orcop (although on one occasion, the police confiscated the Fountain’s entire delivery).
AR eventually ran out of volunteer steam, but its demise was not in vain. “Our campaigning for the arts led to the council appointing its first arts officer,” recalled one contributor, relishing the memory of apprehensive councillors nipping across from the town hall to WHSmith to grab their copy as soon as it arrived.