In 1967 I was living in a small basement flat in Fulham Road, London. One of the people who lived there too (I shrink from the word ‘flatmate’) was the millionaire publisher, Felix Dennis, who died at the weekend. He was neither a millionaire nor a publisher when I knew him, but a drummer in a band.
The flat was close to the epicentre of what the American press called ‘Swinging London’, and all that hippie and flower-power stuff now identified with the 1960s was going on around us. Most of it passed me by: I wanted to be a writer and was wrapped up in that, endlessly working at my typewriter.
There were four of us originally living in the flat: myself and Graham Charnock, and two others (who remain nameless). When one of these other two could stand living there no longer (he was having to share a room with the second unnamed one, another millionaire-publisher-to-be, for whom the phrase ‘personal hygiene’ would be entirely inappropriate), Felix Dennis took his place. After that, Graham and I had living with us two people who never cleaned anything, never washed themselves, never flushed the toilet or ever changed their underclothes. I already knew Dennis as a regular visitor to the flat, sometimes staying over: he was uncouth, scruffy and unintelligent. He had a sly, aggressive and cunning manner. He was a heavy drinker and a persistent user of drugs. A few weeks earlier we had had a burglary at the flat, which the local police never solved but said it had all the signs of an inside job. Graham and I were both opposed to Dennis moving in, but there were no alternatives. He came in, bringing his faux-hippie lifestyle and mates with him. Life in the flat quickly became untenable, and a few weeks after Dennis’s arrival I too moved out, but not before a rapidly deteriorating situation culminated on one memorable night, with Dennis threatening me and Graham Charnock with a knife.
He later became famous in the media when he and two others were charged with several offences, including conspiracy to corrupt the morals of minors (for which he was found not guilty) and an offence under the Obscene Publications Act (for which he was jailed). The conviction was later quashed on appeal. He went into magazine publishing and rapidly became rich. During the 1980s I was running a small software company with David Langford, and part of my job was to buy advertising space in computer magazines. We had a monthly spend in the thousands of pounds. I routinely received canvassing phonecalls from advertising departments at these magazines, but whenever one of the calls was from a Dennis magazine I invariably refused to buy space. Because we were advertising everywhere else, one day I took a call from the advertising director at Dennis Publishing – she wanted to know why we would not advertise with them. ‘Because in 1967 your boss tried to murder me with a knife,’ I said. The hilarious reaction from this hapless woman was, to say the least, intriguing. Later, when she was back in control of herself, she said in an understanding voice that we would never be bothered again. We weren’t. In 2008 Felix Dennis bragged to a reporter from The Times that he had murdered a man by pushing him off a cliff. When it became clear that the police were interesting themselves in the incident, Dennis hastily withdrew the claim, saying he had been drunk when talking to the newspaper.
He later became known as a philanthropist, tree-planter and poet. I have no knowledge or opinion of any of that. He suffered some terrible illnesses in later life, and in recent years was a victim of throat cancer, which eventually killed him.