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Felix Dennis

Publisher

Publisher

Born: May 27, 1947; Died: June 22, 2014.

Felix Dennis, who has died aged 67, was a publisher who hit the headlines at the beginning of the 1970s as one of the editors of the underground magazine Oz. The team found themselves in court accused of conspiracy to deprave and corrupt the nation's youth, although the judge accepted Dennis was, in his words, very much less intelligent than his co-accused and was more lenient with him.

The trial was a cause celebre. It became a landmark in the battle against censorship and the convictions were quickly quashed on appeal.

And the unintelligent Dennis -whose association with Oz began when he was hired to sell it on the streets - went on to launch a string of publications that tapped into new fashions and trends, from kung-fu to personal computers.

Ultimately he headed a huge media empire that included Computer Shopper, Auto Express, Maxim and Viz. He acquired a personal fortune estimated to be around £500 million, with houses in England, the US and the Caribbean, and he spent millions on wine, women and song, or more specifically wine, crack cocaine and prostitutes.

He reckoned he spent $100 million in the pursuit of such pleasures. But then he did have 14 prostitutes on his payroll and would bed them four at a time. Or so he said.

He was known to embroider the odd tale. A few years ago he told one journalist that a friend of his was being abused by her partner, so he met the man and pushed him off a cliff to his death. He later claimed he was drunk and made the story up.

With his long hair and beard, Dennis was a distinctive character, even in his later years, looking more like Bilbo Baggins than Rupert Murdoch.

Latterly he reinvented himself as a poet and his verse, which was underpinned by a dark sense of humour, secured favourable reviews. He counted Stephen Fry among his fans, went on tour, like a rock star, and enticed people to come along with the promise of wine from his cellars. In fact the tour was called Did I Mention the Free Wine?

He was born in Kingston-upon-Thames, in Surrey in 1947. His father was a tobacconist, who went off to Australia when Dennis was three. He enrolled in art school, but dropped out to pursue a music career in London, while also arranging window displays in department stores.

Oz was first published in 1963 in Australia and its founder Richard Neville launched an English version in 1967. With its left-wing politics and frank approach to sex and drugs, the magazine was controversial from the start, but it was the Schoolkids Issue in 1970 that led to the famous court case.

Neville was on holiday, Dennis and Jim Anderson were left in charge and they essentially turned the magazine over to school pupils to produce. Contents that included a sexualised version of Rupert the Bear brought the authorities to their door.

Dennis had Rumpole of the Bailey author John Mortimer as counsel and the defendants turned up dressed as schoolgirls.

David Hockney produced engravings of the defendants in the nude and John Lennon recorded a single with Dennis and others to raise money for the defence.

The trial boosted Oz's profile and circulation, though sales fell away again and the magazine closed in 1973. However, the following year Dennis had worldwide success and laid the foundation of his own publishing empire when he tapped into the success of the Bruce Lee film Enter the Dragon and launched Kung-Fu Monthly.

Which Bike?, a magazine for motorcycle enthusiasts, followed in 1976 and provided the template for other specialist consumer publications.

Dennis remained the sole owner of Dennis Publishing, which has a turnover of around £80 million a year. However, much of his wealth came from MicroWarehouse, a computer company he co-founded in 1987. It is now part of Dixons.

He was diagnosed with throat cancer and had surgery to remove a tumour in 2012. He is survived by his long-term partner, Marie-France Demolis.

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