The power of King Mob

The Tate has acquired the work of King Mob, the Sixties precursors of punk. Report by Patrick Sawer

BY Patrick Sawer LAST UPDATED AT 07:59 ON Mon 2 Jun 2008

For years the graffiti emblazoned along a west London Tube track issued an angry challenge to the deadening conformity of urban life: 'Same thing day after day - Tube - Work - Diner [sic] - Work - Tube - Armchair - TV - Sleep - Tube - Work - How much more can you take - One in ten go mad - one in five crack up'.

Its authors were a group of anarchic anti-artists named King Mob, whose stunts and visual manifestos flowered briefly during the late Sixties and early Seventies, in opposition to both the Establishment and the commercialised counter-culture of the Beatles and Carnaby Street.

King Mob's physical manifestations on the walls of Notting Hill have long faded with its gentrification. However, their leaflets and posters, recently acquired by Tate Britain, serve as a reminder of the bitter artistic and political clashes which then seemed commonplace, but are mainly absent from today's celebrity-driven pop culture.

'Forget All You Have Ever Learned: Begin By Dreaming', declaims one leaflet. Another urges: 'Destroy the museums'. In the poster 'Luddites: 69', the cartoon character Andy Capp is re-drawn shooting a policeman. Slogans daubed on walls - 'Burn it all down' and 'The only race is the rat race' - heralded the strikes, riots and mass unemployment ushered in by the end of the long summer of love and the economic crisis of the Seventies.

King Mob was the vision of two brothers, David and Stuart Wise, who after a stint at Newcastle Art School centred themselves around the squats of North Kensington.

The brothers and their circle sought to combine anti-consumerist theories of the avant-garde Situationist movement with the subversive humour and destructive traditions of the British 'mob'.

Taking its name from graffiti left on Newgate prison by the Gordon rioters of 1780 - 'His Majesty King Mob' - the group staged its first public appearance in June 1968. Dressed as pantomime animals, King Mob members encouraged protesting families to occupy Powis Square Gardens, forcing the council to convert them into a playground.

In December, 25 members of King Mob, including one dressed as Santa, burst into Selfridges to hand out toys to startled children. The police forced the disgruntled children to return them.

King Mob had no time for the orthodox revolutionary left, which it despised as 'puritanical', getting into trouble for disrupting the famous 'Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh' chant on the first London anti-Vietnam war demonstration with cries of 'Hot chocolate, drinking chocolate'. And during the occupation of the LSE, their sexually explicit, scatological posters - to be seen at the Tate - were removed by student leaders.

King Mob's influence made itself felt long after its active demise, particularly on the punk movement. Malcolm McLaren claims he was at the Selfridges event, and King Mob's cut up, home-made graphic designs fed into the punk look.

Indeed the 'Same thing day after day...' graffiti outside Ladbroke Grove tube station was still visible during the Notting Hill Carnival riots of 1976, providing a fitting backdrop to an event with a special place in the history of British youth rebellion and mob revolt.

King Mob's work will be displayed at Tate Britain from July.

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