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Felix Dennis

Felix Dennis is a self-made publishing tycoon with a personal fortune of 550m - the 56th richest man in Britain.

He's been addicted to crack cocaine, kept 14 mistresses (at the same time), bred rare pigs, collected books, commissioned bronze figurative sculpture, planted trees and spent '200 - 300m' on living 'an incredibly selfish and hedonistic life'.

Now he has turned his energies to poetry.

During the '60s Felix was in the front line in the fight against the conservative establishment. As Editor of counter-culture bible Oz Magazine, he was even jailed (and worse, given a forcible haircut), albeit briefly. Instant celebrity - and a burning passion to make serious money - were the rewards of martyrdom for our underground hero.

Dennis Publishing was born. Felix discovered he possessed a phenomenal talent for trend-spotting. The rise of the PC, the Kung Fu craze, the Star Wars and ET blockbusters - Felix got there first, published a magazine, sold it and made a fortune.

Today his portfolio boasts The Week ('heroin on paper') and Maxim (the biggest selling men's lifestyle magazine in the world) amongst others.

Felix remains an independent maverick genius, refusing to sell out to 'disgusting spotty worthless' city analysts, he is both revered and feared in the publishing world. Twenty-five million people read a Dennis Publishing magazine each month.

Then he nearly died. Twice. It was in recovery, at the age of 53, that he wrote his first poem. 'Once I had started I couldn't stop. It was as if a dam had broken'.

But despite his counter culture credentials, and his steadfast refusal to sell out to conformist corporate culture, Felix's poetry is doggedly conservative. It rhymes, it scans, it plays by the rules. Sonnets, villanelles, sestinas - it even includes archaic language.

The man who published Oz in a typeface so avant garde it was barely legible is today spitting blood at modern poetry and retreating into the past. 'For me most great poetry ended with Dylan Thomas and W.H. Auden'.

Felix is a master of creating controversy as a marketing ploy - but has he got a point? Has modern poetry buckled under the weight of academic obscurity and wilfully abandoned its audience? Do paltry sales reflect paltry talent? Or is Felix's poetry the well-marketed musings of a man who has grown used to being indulged?

As Felix continues to delve deeper, write faster, he is facing his own nature - 'I am not a very nice man' - and the process is proving personally uncomfortable. And professionally compromising: his business empire demands he "sit across a table from a guy that wants to rob me. In other words someone I'm negotiating with. And by writing this book of poetry you know I am handing him my bloody head on a plate."

This South Bank Show explores the poetry and life of this immensely complex man, and the issues surrounding poetry which he has used his wealth and passion to force to the table.

Michael Frayn
14/11/2004 22:45
The Darkness
21/11/2004 22:45
Iggy Pop
05/12/2004 22:45
Ruth Rendell
12/12/2004 22:45
Mary Poppins
26/12/2004 22:45