The Royal Albert Hall has always been a firm supporter of boundary-pushing arts, however between 1966 and 1984 the Council of the Hall made the decision to ban all events dedicated to poetry after one particularly chaotic evening.

A recently discovered report from the Manager of the Hall, Mr C R Hopper, reveals the controversial details of the New Moon Carnival of Poetry in The Round event, 18 June 1966, which caused such drastic repercussions.

New Moon Carnival of Poetry in The Round

The New Moon Carnival of Poetry in The Round brought together over 30 of the most active, alternative poets of the age, and is now considered the birth of English underground scene. An audience of some 2,500 flocked to the event to hear performers including Michael Horovitz, Spike Milligan, Brian Patten and Vanessa Redgrave.

New Moon Carnival of Poetry in The Round programme)

The event ran for over 3 hours, and at one point Spike Milligan invited the audience down into the arena to group around the poets’ feet, which caused complete chaos. The auditorium quickly disappeared in clouds of smoke, and arena was covered in laid-out audiences, flowers, glasses and cigarette butts.

Without a running order to follow or a compere to control events, the poets and performers, as well as audience members, harassed, heckled and barracked each other with loud hailers.

‘Obsenities were bandied about and at one stage one of the “comperes” appeared before the microphones waving a £5 note, which he declared would be given to the first girl under sixteen years of age prepared to come up to the microphone and expose herself.’
Manager of the Hall, Mr C R Hopper

Poetry at the Royal Albert Hall

During the performance a 10 gallon drum of paraffin oil and thirty homemade torches soaked in paraffin were found in the basement of the Hall, and no substantial answer would be given as to their purpose. The police were called to the Royal Albert Hall.

‘Rowdyism, bad language and the breaking of glasses and bottles marked an ad lib ‘poetry event’ at the Albert Hall on Saturday night. The Albert Hall management made strong complaints to the organisers of the three hour ‘New Moon Carnival of Poetry’. According to an Albert Hall spokesman, the event later deteriorated into ‘chaos and obscenity.’
The Daily Telegraph, 20 June 1966

Towards the end of the ‘Happenning’ Vanessa Redgrave appeared dressed in a Castro-type outfit, delivering a poem in support of Castro, after which the Cuban freedom song was sung.

‘a ceremony then took place involving the release of a number of moths into the building and the evening then broke up in complete disorder, but not before bottles, glasses, glass ashtrays, potted plants, flowers and greenery had been hurled across the arena.’
Manager of the Hall, Mr C R Hopper

The event eventually overran by three hours, leaving the Hall owed over £225 (equalling over £4,500 today) for their rental of the auditorium.

On 30 June 1966 a further discussion by the Council of the Hall decreed that ‘no further bookings of this kind should be accepted in the future’, a ban which was upheld for 18 years.

Poetry International 1984

Poetry International 1984)

The Royal Albert Hall’s ban on poetry events stuck until Poetry International 1984 on 21 April 1984, showcasing poets including Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Adrian Henri and Benjamin Zephaniah – an altogether much more sedate affair.