Kung-Fu Monthly and the Felix Dennis Legacy

18 December 2013

Cultural Studies | History | Theatre

On a recent visit to the in-laws’ we passed a verge of trees in Warwickshire just west of Leamington Spa that was pointed out to me as “Felix Dennis’s forest”. Most familiar with Felix Dennis as the creator of the magazine Maxim and the first person to say a certain very bad word on British television, I was surprised.

As it turns out, the site belongs to The Heart of England Forest, a charity created to maintain and preserve native woodland, and is the latest chapter in the hugely varied career of this erstwhile counter-culture figurehead, poet and magazine magnate.

Felix Dennis (left) and his Oz co-editors. Image © Mirrorpix. Further reproduction prohibited without permission

This surreal arboreal moment prompted me to return to our resource Popular Culture in Britain and America, 1950-1975, which includes issues of the seminal alternative magazine Oz (for which Dennis and his co-editors were put on trial for “Conspiracy to deprave and corrupt the Morals of the Young of the Realm,”) and material from the Felix Dennis Archives with other publications such as Cozmic Comics and Friends. 

But my favourite object from this impressive collection is one of Dennis’ less controversial endeavours. In fact it has been cited as the commercial success that enabled Dennis to build what would become a publishing empire.

When Bruce Lee died in 1973 his popularity was steadily growing in the UK, and so, after the demise of Oz, Dennis decided to launch Kung-Fu Monthly, a celebration of the martial artist and his films. It was a huge hit, syndicated across the globe and translated into 11 languages; it made Dennis and his colleagues “rich beyond our wildest dreams”.

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The front covers of issues 1 and 5 of Kung-Fu Monthly. Images © Felix Dennis Archive. Further reproduction prohibited without permission

The content followed a winning formula of Bruce Lee facts and photos, short features on martial arts and more Bruce Lee photos in what was essentially a large poster folded to create an A4 zine.

Perfect in its simplicity, scrolling through the 60 issues of Kung-Fu Monthly available in Popular Culture you gain a real sense of the power of the zeitgeist and an insight into how the main players in the British underground-press movement made their way into the mainstream. But best (or worst) of all, it gives you some serious sweatshirt envy. Stay hot for Bruce people.

Image © Felix Dennis Archive. Further reproduction prohibited without permission

Popular Culture in Britain and America, 1950-1975 sections I and II are available now.

About the Author

Hannah Phillips

Hannah Phillips

I am an Editor and have been with Adam Matthew Digital since October 2012. I have worked on a range of fascinating projects including American Indian Histories and Cultures, World's Fairs and Medical Services and Warfare.

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