John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins sat in a corner of the tiny Notting Hill cinema, illuminated by a single lamp.
White curls poked out from underneath his blue leopard-print cap. Behind him, a psychedelic fusion of photos and neon colours flashed on the screen to a hysterical Frank Zappa melody. Hoppy is, in effect, what every punk-rock artist failed to achieve this side of the 1960s.
The tiny arthouse cinema is the Lexi, a purple building nested among Edwardian townhouses and organic vegan bistros. Two weeks ago, this was where Hoppy made a personal appearance to talk about politics, art and 1960s London.
Some of his early photographs were there too: fresh-faced Rolling Stones, pipe-smoking singers and aspiring rockabillies – iconic snapshots of a bygone era, which wouldn’t have been discovered if a friend of Hoppy’s hadn’t gone poking under his bed one day.
Hoppy is in his seventies, and his resumé is impressive. A former nuclear physicist and squatter, an artist, a photographer, a radical and a writer. Founder of the UFO Club and the London Free School. Partially responsible for the existence of the Notting Hill Carnival. Hoppy may be unfamiliar to members of the Generation X crowd, who are still hung up on Liam Gallagher and the commercialisation of Banksy. Hoppy’s mark on London, however, is still tangible today.
Whether humbly or simply out of exhaustion, Hoppy didn’t talk about his life or his opinions. He showed us a few clips: early experiments with video cameras for the BBC – promptly terminated after discovering single-frame pornography spliced into the material. One particular video, Hoppy says, has been created using ‘slow-scan technology’, the equivalent of making a movie with a fax machine. Today, these seem laughably low-tech, but fascinate the ageing hipster audience who catch glimpses of memory lane.
‘Video is a political tool,’ Hoppy said. Indeed, in 1969 the implications of creating an objective record of an event were monumental. Beyond being just an art tool, video became a massive two fingers to the biased he-said/she-said tactics of the police. It’s odd to think that the only people who challenge the police today are knife-wielding yobs. Has the world changed so much that standing up for our rights is no longer relevant? Nobody asks questions. Everyone sits in awed silence.
The problem here is that the people who were in attendance knew exactly who John Hopper was and what he did for London. They understood his pop-culture references and probably remember the UFO club the first time around. A short closing documentary by Natasha Hoar also failed to explain anything on a global scale. These were all snippets of history, miniscule puzzle pieces of someone else’s life.
Hoppy is without a doubt an inspiring character and a colourful fragment in West London’s history. But maybe someone could have come up with a more coherent, relevant tribute – preferably while a straw effigy burned to a kick-ass soundtrack by Pink Floyd. Anyone?
John Hopkins appeared at:
The Lexi Cinema
194 Chamberlayne Road
Tel: 0871 704 2069
Image © John Hopkins courtesy of Idea Generation Gallery, Shoreditch