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Off Beat artwork

Off Beat:
Jeff Nuttall and the International Underground

8 September - 5 March 2017
Open daily, free entry

Painter, poet, actor and sculptor, a man once described as "the only all-round genius most of us are likely to meet," Jeff Nuttall was one of the few people in the early 1960s to publish William S. Burroughs' most experimental writing.

He was also a performance artist, a pioneer of 'happenings' and author of nearly 40 books. As a cultural critic, his seminal work, Bomb Culture, was discussed in Parliament. Nuttall was at the centre of the International Underground scene driven by social dissent and the fear of imminent nuclear attack.

Yet, despite being a giant of the counterculture, the Lancastrian-born polymath is little remembered today. That is set to change with our Autumn/Winter exhibition. Off Beat: Jeff Nuttall and the International Underground reveals a network of artists and writers whose work was shared worldwide via the low-fi, self-published magazines of the "mimeograph revolution".

Chief among them was Nuttall's My Own Mag. Burroughs was both a contributor and collaborator and displayed in the exhibition is a rare edition showcasing a Burroughs cut-up text. Other countercultural magazines are featured, to which Nuttall himself contributed, including the one-issue only "newspaper" The Moving Times, and five of Nuttall’s books.

It is Nuttall’s combination of word and image, art and activism – and content that remains provocative and sometimes shocking – that made him a legend in his own time. As we face our own uncertain times, Nuttall's work feels as prescient today as it did five decades ago.

Please note: because of the adult nature of the content in this exhibition, it is not suitable for children.

A number of the digitised items can be viewed in our exhibition collection.

You can also view a handy leaflet that gives information on Jeff Nuttall, the Underground Beat movement, and the Language of the scene:

Off Beat leaflet

Share your experience: #jrloffbeat @TheJohnRylands

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Collections Encounter: Experimentations of the Counter-Culture

13 October, 18 November and 15 February 2017
2 - 3pm

Snipes Spinster cover‌An artistic and social revolution happened in the 1960s, a backlash against the authority of mainstream 'square' culture.

Experimentation in art and poetry exploded as artists began to rip-up rule books, during this collections encounter you will see some of these cutting edge works up close.

Learn more about how Allen Ginsberg, Delia Derbyshire, Ian Hamilton Finlay and Jeff Nuttall re-invented poetry and music.

No need to book, just turn up


Exposing the Off-Beat: A Curator Tour

24 September, 21 October, 26 November and 26 February 2017
11 - 11.45am

Mr Watkins cover art‌‌The Beat Poets were influential in the establishment-shattering 1960s counter-culture and in exploding the boundaries of poetry.

Our experts on the Beat Poets, Douglas Field and Jay Jones, will be sharing their knowledge and answering your questions as they take you on a bespoke tour of our Off-Beat exhibition.

Booking required. To book a place for this event, phone our Customer Services team on 0161 306 0555, or email



Exhibition curators:

  • Douglas Field, Senior Lecturer in 20th century American Literature, The University of Manchester.
  • Jay Jeff Jones, Writer and Editor.
  • Janette Martin, Archivist-Curator, The University of Manchester.

Assistant curator:

  • Imogen Durant.

With thanks to:

  • Amanda, Sam and Tom Porter, for their helpfulness and loan of materials.
  • Jill Richards for the donation of publications from Jeff Nuttall’s personal collection.
  • Veneta Haralampieva, Louise Leaver and Shih-Chen Chao for their work on the network map.
  • The Roger Birch Collection for their photograph of Jeff Nuttall.

Supported by:

  • School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, The University of Manchester.
  • Impact Support Fund.
  • Research Support Fund.
  • UMRI Pump Priming Programme.