‘Swingeing London’: Art, Drugs and Wormwood Scrubs

Harriet Vyner

Harriet Vyner gives a snapshot of 1967: the age of Sergeant Pepper, peace protests and birth control. But beneath the excitement lay a conflict between a new youth culture and the old establishment. Richard Hamilton’s Swingeing London 67 depicts an iconic moment in the backlash against popular culture and its figureheads. In the work’s many versions, the art dealer Robert Fraser is shown handcuffed in the back of a police car next to the Rolling Stones’ frontman, Mick Jagger. Vyner tells the story of how a star-studded, drug-fueled party sent an art-world VIP to Wormwood Scrubs prison and asks what else Hamilton’s depiction of this incident has to say about the atmosphere of the times.


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[Voiceover from BBC footage] The rather grim scenes of Mick Jagger and Robert Fraser appearing handcuffed together at the Chichester court this morning are surely an unnecessary humiliation.

Swingeing London ’67 shows Robert Fraser and Mick Jagger handcuffed together in a police van, going from prison to court. It captures a moment in England when the rigid post-war society, threatened by the freedoms of the young, was clamping down as harshly as it could. The Rolling Stones were symbols of this dangerous new freedom.

[Mick Jagger] You look even more beautiful than ever…

Robert Fraser, also known as Groovy Bob, was the owner of an art gallery in London, open from 1962-1969, and it was the centre of ‘Swinging London’ as pointed out by Time Magazine in their famous article. In February 1967, the police raided Keith Richards’ Sussex House, Redlands. They found a variety of guests including Marianne Faithful naked in her fur rug, Mick Jagger, Christopher Gibbs, and art gallery owner Robert Fraser. On Fraser, they found 24 tablets of heroin. By then he had a serious addiction. And when it came to the trial there was non-stop coverage, it was a huge celebrity circus. It was the start of celebrity culture as we know it now.

[Voiceover from BBC footage] Marianne Faithful, Mick Jagger’s girlfriend, lunched today at the same hotel in Chichester as Keith Richards. After Lunch, Mr Jagger had changed his bright green jacket to one of charcoal grey, and Mr Richards had changed out of a jacket with thick black and white stripes into green.

One of the photographs in the tabloid newspapers was taken by John Twine and this was the photograph that Hamilton used for the image of Swingeing London. Robert admired Richard Hamilton. Hamilton already had made quite a reputation as a brilliant and ground-breaking artist, so Robert was desperate to have him as part of the gallery.

On the 29th June, Robert Fraser was driven here to begin a six-month sentence for heroin possession. Hamilton was outraged that anyone should be imprisoned for heroin addiction.

[Words of Richard Hamilton] There have been a few occasions when I’ve been moved by some event. When you’re compelled to act in the only way you can act, as an artist. You have to express it in the medium you know. And I think that Robert Fraser and Mick Jagger handcuffed together in a police van has a kind of iconic feel to people. A symbol of the period.

Hamilton made seven paintings and associated studies. A poster and five prints. Fraser was delighted to be able to sell one to the Tate. The irony being that this image, which rocked the establishment would end up in one of its most important art institutions.

This is Swingeing London ’67 (Poster). It shows how the press covered it in a variety of ways. The News of the World made a huge splash announcing the story and when it came to trial, there were tabloid pictures of all description, as is seen in the various versions of Swingeing London.

[Words of Richard Hamilton] The Swingeing London thing I did while Robert was in jail. It’s become quite a famous picture. Among the pieces that I used for the collage, there was a phrase that struck me very forcibly, a remark made by the judge in the case, who said – ‘there are times, when a swingeing sentence should be administered’. So, it was a pun on ‘Swinging London’ and the swingeing sentence. I felt that it was the only way that I could express this indignation that I felt.

This is one of the versions of Swingeing London. Each time, Hamilton emphasised something different, this time, it’s very dark and ominous and those handcuffs are telling us what’s going on. Some people suggested they’re shielding their faces in shame and other people say they were brandishing their hands as a defiant gesture. And I think it’s probably the latter.

It’s marvellous for me looking at these early variations. It brings back memories of meeting him for the first time. I was about 18, his goddaughter introduced me, and she kept saying: ‘you know, you know, he’s the guy in that famous painting’, and he definitely wasn’t the usual grown up as I would have seen people in those days. Robert’s parents were modest contemporary art collectors and from a very young age Robert was obsessed with art. He went to work in New York for various art institutions to learn about the business of art dealing.

He referred to his time in New York as being a garden of enchantment. New York was so different to London. For a start, modern art was taken seriously. He was discovering this exciting city, meeting artists and being able to buy their work, and suddenly he found his paradise really. He decided that the right time to open a gallery of his own in London. But London at that time was not by any means the centre of the modern art world.

[Footage voiceover] But they are all united in a common respect for their nation and for its traditions.

To open a modern art gallery was a bit of a daring thing to do. The gallery showed the best of European, English and American contemporary art. It became especially famous for Pop Art, and Pop Art was particularly irritating for those who didn’t get it because it seemed to be obsessed with silly subjects, such as advertising or vulgar cartoons. In a way, they saw it as part of the youth movement, threatening to disrupt their established ways.

It began to attract the new pop stars on the scene like Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, they were very interested in going there because this was new and young and exciting. Robert had a very serious minded approach to art as well as having rather groovy things like the gallery window taken out and a sports car put in its place.

[Footage voiceover] They’ve taken to motoring in the abstract – in a 200 mile an hour daub. Who ever heard of a man driving a painting? Well, this is art on wheels, alright!

And then in 1968 he had the John Lennon and Yoko Ono happening called ‘You Are Here’. They released hundreds of white balloons in the street outside the gallery.

[Words of Richard Hamilton] Robert’s was the best gallery I knew in London. There’s been nothing better. There was something about his gallery which was unique, marvellous.

Whilst it was open, the Robert Fraser gallery helped shape the creative revolution and social upheaval for which the decade is famous and whose effects are still felt today. Every time I look at this painting, it not only seems to be of a moment, but it seems something melancholy about it, is that mixture of freedom and oppression, sort of summarised in one painting. It seems funny and at the same time, rather sad. So, it’s got all of these elements and every time I see it, I find an extremely powerful work.

With thanks to…

Tate Britain

Brian Clarke Studio

Garry Cooper



Alamy Stock Photo

Associated Press Archive

BBC Motion Gallery

Brian Clarke Studio

British Pathé

Footage Farm

Getty Images

The Estate of Hans Hammarskiöld

The Estate of Richard Hamilton


Kathy deWitt


National Film Board


Yoko Ono Lennon



Garry Cooper





Full list of images shown:

Art and the 60s – Episode 1: Groovy Galleries

Directed by Vanessa Engle

BBC Four, 2004

BBC Broadcast Archive via Getty


Swingeing London ’67

Richard Hamilton, 1968–1969

© R. Hamilton. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2018.


Robert Fraser

© Hans Hammarskiöld, 1966


Rolling Stones Mick Jagger with Marianne Faithfull

Keystone Pictures USA, 1969


Christopher Gibbs

Photographer unknown, 1966


Swingeing London ’67 – poster

Richard Hamilton, 1967-1968

© R. Hamilton. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2018.


Swingeing London III

Richard Hamilton, 1972

© R. Hamilton. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2018.


Artist Richard Hamilton with Painter Rita Donagh at exhibition, Liz Goldfinger with gold earring London

Kathy de Witt, 1975


Just what was it that made yesterday’s homes so different, so appealing?

Richard Hamilton, 1956

© R. Hamilton. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2018.

Tate P20271


Just what was it that made yesterday’s homes so different, so appealing?

Richard Hamilton, 1956

© R. Hamilton. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2018.

Tate P11358



Richard Hamilton, 1964-5

© R. Hamilton. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2018.

Tate P04250


Fraser Accused

Fred Mott, 1967

Evening Standard via Getty Images


Richard Hamilton, Pop Artist, in his studio London, UK

Homer Sykes, 1968

Alamy Stock Photo


Richard Hamilton, Pop Artist, in his studio London, UK

Homer Sykes, 1968


Harriet Vyner with Brian Clarke

Courtesy of Brian Clarke Studio


Robert Fraser in Tijuana, Mexico

Dennis Hopper, 1965

Courtesy of Brian Clarke Studio


Interior II

Richard Hamilton, 1964

© R. Hamilton. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2018.

Tate T00912


Keith Haring at The Robert Fraser Gallery

Courtesy of Brian Clarke Studio


Art on Wheels

British Pathé, 1966


The Art Exhibition ‘You Are Here’

Yoko Ono and John Lennon, 1968

Colour footage

Courtesy of Yoko Ono Lennon


The Art Exhibition ‘You Are Here’

John Lennon expose a Londres, 3rd July 1968

Black and white footage

Institut National de l’Audiovisuel, France

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