Remembering John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s bonkers TV show ‘Free Time’ from 1971
John Lennon and Yoko Ono found themselves in some curious positions with the pursuit of their artistic message. Whether it’s in front of the world’s news, naked in their bed or screaming into microphones to try and make music, the pair weren’t shy about sharing.
So when they were offered the opportunity to take over an hour of television on TV station WNET they jumped at the chance with all the will in the world. This was another opportunity to spread their message of peace.
The local TV station opened its doors on October 14, 1971, happy to give it’s broadcast away their show to the two artists. The duo were the most famous couple in the world at the time and the publicity was too tempting to avoid. It meant that those tuning in saw Yoko Ono, John Lennon, and Jonas Mekas’ give a wild performance of excerpts from Ono’s ‘Of a Grapefruit in the World of Park’. The curious performance offers a glimpse into the working mind of John and Yoko—it’s a strange and liberating place to be.
Free Time was a beautiful concept in itself. It offered artists, bands and people from all walks of life the opportunity to create some memorable television. The show, shortly before this piece aired, was due to go under a new bohemian makeover and this was the perfect opportunity to make that point loud and clear.
James Day describes Free Time in his book ‘The Vanishing Vision: The Inside Story of Public Television’: “[The] original concept was an open studio—anyone with the desire to be seen and heard would be welcome to drop in—but that gave way to the more practical concept of a thrice-weekly, late-night (10:30 P.M. to midnight) live show with a minimum of structure and maximum of provocation.
“Abbie Hoffman ‘moderated’ a panel on the press; the consuls general of India and Pakistan debated the war in Bangladesh; and Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda aired their unpopular views on the Vietnam War. The show’s tissue-thin budget produced lots of talk: open-ended discussions by Bronx street gangs, New York cabbies, black film producers, women writers, domestic help, telephone operators, and other denizens of a world rarely glimpsed on the tube. […]
“On one memorable evening, Free Time featured the spiritually inspired films of Yoko Ono, including a film consisting only of the movements of a fly on the nipple of a woman’s breast. The attention to the film was broken, however, when her husband John Lennon put in a surprise appearance, set up a ladder, and invited the studio audience to join him in ‘lying’ off the top rung. One hapless ‘bird’ sustained a broken arm.”
One imagines that the producers of the network reconsidered the new bohemian outlook following Ono and Lennon’s performance. To see the beautifully batshit episode of Free Time, just take a look below.