Connections: Boris bikes, psychedelic rock and Dutch anarchists

This week, I interviewed Top Topham, founder member of the Yardbirds. At one point he told me: ‘I also remember seeing Keith West’s Tomorrow, who had Steve Howe (later with Yes) on guitar. He was brilliant, a completely different style. They were a very interesting experimental band. ‘My White Bicycle’ was quite infectious, very ahead of its time.’

Tomorrow were a fascinating mid-60s band who had close ties with the London counterculture, regularly performing at head venues like the UFO Club and the Roundhouse.

‘My White Bicycle’ was inspired by the Dutch anarchist group the PROVOS. Counterculture writer Stewart Home explains:

‘The PROVOS announced in a leaflet that white bicycles would be left unlocked throughout the city for use by the general population. The prototype of this ‘free communal transport’ was presented to the press and public on 28th July 1965 near the statue of Lieverdja. The plan proved an enormous success as a ‘provocation against capitalist private property’ and ‘the car monster’, but failed as a social experiment. The police, horrified at the implications of communal property being left on the streets, impounded any bicycle that they found left unattended and unlocked.’

You can read more about the PROVOS at the British Library. Here’s a nice picture of them and their bikes from the International Institute of Social History.


I wonder if Boris Johnson knows that his bike scheme is at least indirectly inspired by a bunch of sixties anarchists?

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5 responses to “Connections: Boris bikes, psychedelic rock and Dutch anarchists

  1. Choon! Great post, Pete, thanks.

  2. I am sure Boris would be most displeased to find out…

  3. And I’d always believed the received wisdom that the idea had failed because all the bikes were stolen, rather than impounded by the police. Thanks for an excellent article.

  4. Less cute than the white bikes project was feminist Andrea Dworkin’s experience of the Provos – she married a member of the movement but, as one of her obits put it, “In less than two years from the modest nuptials, Andrea is abused, battered and sexually assaulted by her husband which, in turn, forces her to flee from him. But running away did not prove to be Andrea’s ticket way out: she claimed that, for about a year after her escape, she was repeatedly tracked down by her former husband, raped, beaten, harassed and threatened.”
    Andrea Dworkin to Boris Johnson in three shorts steps…
    An up-to-date take on the danger of male violence being tolerated in radical movements is here: http://inciteblog.wordpress.com/2010/07/15/why-misogynists-make-great-informants-how-gender-violence-on-the-left-enables-state-violence-in-radical-movements

  5. The Female Eunuch had a lot say about misogyny and the counterculture as I recall.

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