Detectives damningly dismissed John Lennon’s erotic drawings as the product of a sick mind.
And members of the public who visited the London gallery exhibiting them in January 1970 denounced them as ‘ disgusting and repulsive’.
The level of outrage provoked by the Beatle’s ‘artwork’ is revealed in official files made public for the first time yesterday.
Eight child-like lithographs of Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono in various stages of sexual intercourse were at the centre of one of the most sensational court cases of the 1970s.
Documents released at the National Archives yesterday show the lengths to which prosecutors went to secure a conviction of the gallery owners. The case eventually failed on a technicality.
Among them is a report from acting detective inspector Frederick Luff, who led a raid on the London Arts Gallery in New Bond Street, after complaints from the public. He wrote to his superiors:
‘Many toilet walls depict works of similar merit. ‘It is perhaps charitable to suggest that they are the work of a sick mind. The only danger to a successful prosecution, as I see it, is the argument that they are so pathetic as to be incapable of influencing anyone and therefore unable to deprave or corrupt any person.’
A woman who complained to the police, 48-year- old housewife Nancy Greer, said in a statement:
‘The first four prints had no effect on me, then the first one on the far wall – I was absolutely stunned when I saw it.
‘It was a drawing of Lennon and his wife – sexual intercourse – a deviation if you like. I really couldn’t believe what I was looking at. She added: ‘I consider myself to be a sophisticated woman, who has travelled a lot.’
Another objector, accountant George Holmes, said:
‘I had never seen any such pictures before. There was a picture of Yoko in the nude. . . I felt a bit sick that a man should draw himself and his wife in that particular position.
‘There was a horrible picture of Yoko. . . there may have been others. I should prefer not to describe them. I felt sick and angry that womankind should be depicted in such disgusting positions.’
Prosecutors met opposition however when they tried to recruit senior figures in the art world to condemn the drawings.
Sir Robin Darwin, rector of the Royal College of Art, wrote to officials working for the Director of Public Prosecutions in sarcastic terms mocking their knowledge of art history: ‘
I am afraid I cannot help further in the matter of John Lennon’s lithographs which have been seized by the police. ‘None of my staff here is prepared to help on such terms, or indeed any other, I think; and I cannot understand why you should demur at going to an eminent art critic whose job it is to make assessments of this kind. Would you have similarly demurred to John Ruskin or to Roger Fry or Clive Bell – always supposing that you have heard of these gentlemen?’
Perhaps the most telling comment on Lennon’s ability as an artist came from exhibition organizer – Eugene Schuster, who remarked to a police constable during the gallery raid: ‘They are bad art but after all it’s the name that sells them.’
The gallery was charging £40 for each lithograph, twice an average workers’ weekly wage at that time.