Lee Harris (South African artist)

Lee Harris (born 1936 in Johannesburg), is a South African writer and performer.

He was one of the few white members of the African National Congress, where he helped with the Congress of the People and met Nelson Mandela. He acted with Orson Welles, Dame Flora Robson, wrote for the British underground press including International Times, helped found the Arts Lab and has been an instrumental figure in the British counterculture movement since the seventies when he published Brainstorm Comix and Home Grown magazine.


Harris was born in 1936 in Johannesburg, South Africa of Lithuanian Jewish parents.[1] He was one of the few white members of the congress movement opposing racial segregation at the time when the apartheid system was being enforced by the National Party who came into power in 1948. Harris helped with arrangements for the Congress of the People gathering in the summer of 1955, held at Kliptown, Soweto. The crowd of thousands was surrounded by 200 armed police.[1]


Harris arrived in London, England in 1956. He studied acting at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art. In 1960 Harris got a role in the Orson Welles Shakespearian adaptation Chimes at Midnight, in which Welles both acted and directed. Harris also worked with Dame Flora Robson understudying the lead and playing a small part in The Corn Is Green.

Harris then started writing plays. One called Buzz Buzz and his first full length play Love play described by Lee as "A boy's journey through the underworld of emotional revelation" and a review from the Sunday Times 18 May 1969 entitled "Fragments of Love" by John Peter said "Lee Harris's Love Play (Arts Laboratory) might have been inspired by some of Artaud's equivocal, visionary phrases: The theatre as “The truthful precipitate of dreams” : “The human body raised to the dignity of signs.” The play was awarded an Arts Council bursary in 1966 and was performed at the Arts Lab which Harris helped found in Drury Lane in 1967 with counter culture figures Jim Haynes and J.Henry Moore. The Arts Lab was hugely influential and saw Lee working as a make up artist for Frank Zappa and travel on tour with Folk Rock group The Fugs.

During this time Harris also wrote various articles and reviews for many underground publications such as IT (International Times) including an interview with San Francisco beat poet Michael McClure and in IT issue 52 Lee Harris reported on a new play by Jane Arden at the Arts Lab[2] and he also wrote various pieces for magazines Oz and Frendz.

Middle years


In 1972 Harris opened a shop in the Portobello Road, London called Alchemy[3] – named after The Alchemical Wedding. The shop currently sells items such as incense, postcards, pipes and smoking accessories, vaporisers as well as others. It remains a focus and gathering point for alternative Londoners to the present day and is London's oldest culture shop.

In 1990 Harris was sentenced to three months imprisonment for selling items such as cigarette papers and pipes ‘believed to be used for the smoking of cannabis’. The sentence was quashed on appeal, and headshops opened all over the country.[1]

Brainstorm Comix

It was in the first year of Alchemy when Lee met Bryan Talbot. After reading his work Harris decided to publish Bryan's first work Brainstorm Comix which followed the protagonist Chester P. Hakenbush on his psychedelic cerebral journey. It is regarded as the last major British Underground Comic and garnered compliments from Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee "I got a kick out of it and turned it over to the bullpen so they could bask in its magnificence, just as I did" 1997.

The Chester P Hakenbush trilogy was then republished in one volume in 1982 and then another edition in 1999 titled Bryan Talbot's Brainstorm: The complete Chester P Hakenbush and other underground classics which has now been translated and sold in Italy. Bryan Talbot has gone on to become one of the worlds renowned graphic novelists, creator of The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, The Tale of One Bad Rat, and his latest work Grandville. There was also Brainstorm Fantasy Comix which had one issue published in 1977 which was a new direction and included work by Brian Bolland, Hunt Emerson, Angus McKie and the first-published work of John Higgins.

Home Grown

In 1977 to 1982 Harris started and edited Britain's first counter culture and drug magazine. Home Grown[4] was a breakthrough magazine that represented a defining moment in British underground culture. Lee was reporting on psychedelic happenings and Home Grown magazine was one of the few publications to support the Operation Julie defendants which included work from Timothy Leary, Michael Hollingshead, Harry Shapiro, Brian Barritt, Mick Farren, Bryan Talbot, Julie Burchill, Peter Tosh and Tony Parsons. Minimal profits, a dwindling market and apathy made the magazine unviable and the enterprise folded.


The club Megatripolis was at the forefront of a post-psychedelic counter culture resurgence in the nineties Harris was asked to become a consultant to the club where he brought many people to speak including activist Caroline Coon, writer and raconteur Howard Marks, poet and New Departures founder Michael Horovitz. The club scored a major coup when in 1995 Harris organised ground breaking poet Allen Ginsberg's last live performance in London after being greatly inspired by Ginsberg at the International Poetry Incarnation at the Royal Albert Hall in 1965.

Later work

Harris started being asked to do spoken word performances in chill out rooms around the UK. In 2002 he decided to release a celebration of his thirty years of counter culture in the form of a compilation album including many of the artists, producers and musicians he had met along the years such as acclaimed producer Youth also Raja Ram & Simon Posford collectively known as Shpongle, Howard Marks, The Mystery School Ensemble, JC001, Bush chemist and more. This culminated in an event at Subterania in Ladbroke Grove to celebrate the album's release.

During this period he met Hicham Bensassi, who had also performed at the event. A few years later River Styx invited him to record something for a project he was working on and quite organically the album Angel Headed Hip Hop was born. They brought in special guests such as writer Brian Barritt, rapper JC001 and Hicham Bensassi wrote the music, performed vocally on four of the album's songs and remixed the song "Three men in a boat" with Howard Marks originally released on the previous album 30 Years of Counter Culture. The album was released in 2009 on Arkadia Productions and was distributed by Gene Pool/Universal Music Group.

Harris and Bensassi travelled the UK and Europe on the "Don't Hate, Create Tour" which included a special performance in Paris for the 50th Anniversary of the publication of William S. Burroughs' seminal work Naked Lunch which was organised by Oliver Harris, Andrew Hussey and Ian Macfadyen accompanying the Naked Lunch @50: Anniversary essays edited by Oliver Harris & Ian Macfadyen. This was the inspiration for Lee Harris & Hicham Bensassi behind the experimental piece Hunterland.

Various footage of Lee Harris has recently been included in a documentary Echoes of the Underground which also features Jim Haynes, Brian Barritt, Henk Targowski and Youth. The score for the film was written and performed by The Moonlight Convention.

After making the album Angel Headed Hip Hop and performing live through the UK, Hicham Bensassi started to digitise and compile Lee Harris' articles, play scripts and underground writings. This process took over three years to complete and Lee Harris' work is now available in the form of the book 'Echoes of the underground: A Footsoldier's Tales' published by Barncott Press.

Echoes of the Underground: A Foot Soldiers Tale is a collection of ‘underground’ writings by Lee Harris, the majority of which were originally published in the ’alternative press’ of the 60s and 70s; International Times, Oz, Home Grown and ‘Other Scenes’. The collection includes writings on the ‘Beat Generation', William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, the 60s theatre revolution, and the South African apartheid era (Lee was one of the few white members of the 'African National Congress'and met Nelson Mandela).

Also included are rare interviews with beat poet Michael McClure, the director of the musical HAIR Tom O'Horgan, the man who 'turned on' Timothy Leary by giving him some L.S.D, Michael Hollingshead, and Harry Shapiro, author of 'Waiting for the Man' and the Jimi Hendrix biography 'Electric Gypsy'.

London mayoral election, 5 May 2016

Harris stood as the Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol candidate in the 2016 London Mayoral election. He was positioned in ninth place out of twelve candidates, obtaining 20,537 first round votes (0.8%),[5] and 67,495 second preference votes.[6]


  1. 1 2 3 "ILLEGAL! Presents: The Cannabis Activist". volteface.me. 7 March 2016. Retrieved 11 May 2016.
  2. "The Great Penis Question" IT 52, 14 March 1969
  3. "About Lee". Lee4mayor.com. Retrieved 2016-07-01.
  4. "Mayoral candidate: Lee Harris". London Elects. 2016-05-05. Retrieved 2016-07-01.
  5. "London Elections 2016:Candidates & Results". BBC News. 10 May 2016. Retrieved 10 May 2016.
  6. "Results 2016". londonelects.org.uk. 10 May 2016. Retrieved 10 May 2016.


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