In 1972, the first Barsham Fair was held at Roos Hall, Beccles. To the amazement of the organisers it was an enormous success, not just in terms of numbers and public enthusiasm. Clearly there were many like-minded souls in the area, with the stated need to stay in touch – not least for preparation of another Fair.
This was an era before mobile phones or the internet. It was decided that a monthly newspaper was the best way forward, and the Clarion was launched with a grant of £100. Led by Sandra Bell’s drive and journalism expertise, the paper embodied the ‘Do it!’ ethos of the era, and went on to become an essential element that held the alternative community together. It attracted writers, designers, environmental activists, local readers, and those in search of the latest news on folk, cinema, music and the Fairs. In retrospect, one of its main achievements was to cover lucidly topics then on the fringe but which entered mainstream thinking 20-30 years later.
The Clarion ranged far and wide in its coverage, but certain key themes kept recurring throughout its existence. Among these were:
• The Fairs
• Growing your own food
• Rural housing
• Local schools
• Energy issues, notably nuclear and its alternatives
• Organic agriculture
• Local rail and bus services
• The promotion of cycling
• Alternative theatre
• The local music scene
• ‘Borderline Science’ especially ley lines,
• Real ale
• Standing stones and ghosts
• Local walks
• Broadland and its future
• Day in the Life’
• The relevance of Local History
• North Sea fishing and its future
• Nuclear missiles (not mentioned until Dec.’79, but a dominant theme for 2-3 years after).
• What is the ‘Alternative Society’ and what should it do?
Although the Clarion was usually steered by an inner group of 6-10 people, it was supported by an astonishingly wide group of writers, advertisers, designers, distributors, musicians and readers, all of whom came to think of it as ‘their’ paper. It kept to high standards of design and content, and featured regularly in descriptions of the alternative press, achieving national fame in the ‘Sunday Times’ colour magazine. Its life-span paralleled that of the Fairs, a unique period of freedom and creativity within recent East Anglian history.