London: The West End

The West End History of drugs

The late 60s was the start of the era of the festival and the free concert. I well remember going to see bands like The Rolling Stones, King Crimson, Blind Faith and Pink Floyd in Hyde Park on a Saturday afternoon. The drill was always the same, the ‘Dilly first to score and then on the tube a couple of stops to Hyde Park Corner and meet the straight girlfriend at the venue. Yes, girlfriends had to be straight as one habit was quite enough to be going on with, thank you very much.

The 1970s
The new decade ushered in a totally different mindset. Rip-offs were on the increase and the police stepped up their efforts to discourage people from using the environs of the tube station to score or sell drugs. Consequently, people crossed to the other side of the Haymarket away from the station to do their thing. By this time Gerard Street was in full swing. Prices had remained fairly static for a year or two but were now on the increase. Gone were £1.00 bags. £3.00 – £5.00 was now the norm. Up until around this time some of the best drugs in the world were obtainable in London but this was now in decline.
Since then I have only seen Chinese heroin on the very rarest of occasions. Also at about this time, diaconal was becoming the drug of choice of many users as the street price was cheap but getting them from a croaker (doctor) was obviously a fraction of the street price. The first time I ever used diconal (three of them) I was well pleased with the buzz – they’d only cost £1.00 each. The rush could be significantly enhanced by usid to facilitate the cooking process, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), cing ritalin in conjunctiing on with the diconal. Using this combination could sometimes brabout severe paranoia (check out Chris’s story ‘Last Train to Woking’-it’s a classic. BP no 1-Ed).There were, of course, private doctors only too willing to prescribe these drugs. Typically, 50 ritalin and 50 diconal were £5.00 and another fiver to have it dispensed in the chemist. If one made the effort, they could even get them on the NHS.

The Busts
With the decade wearing on the police, especially the British Transport Police, became more active in the precincts of the station with users being nicked for obstruction, attempting to procure drugs and all kinds of similar bullshit charges. To get away from this harassment knots of people began to loiter across the road on the Haymarket. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before plod made himself busy once more and another move was in order. As almost everyone bought their bits and pieces from Hall’s on Shaftesbury Avenue, it was the obvious place to do the business. However, when they closed at 11pm and one still hadn’t had a result, Bliss’s in Kilburn was the last resort as they were open all night.

Brown Heroin
In 1978-79 a new type of heroin appeared on the scene. When the Shah of Iran was deposed by the Ayatollah Khomeini, the younger refugees fleeing to this country seemed to bring in their wealth in the form of heroin as all their money had been confiscated. The main difference between this and Chinese heroin was that it was not water-soluble and required the addition of some form of acitric acid, acetic acid (vinegar) all worked in varying degrees. Kensington, where there was an Iranian hostel and Chelsea, were pretty much the starting point although it wasn’t long before it was available all over London.

As the 1970’s drew to a close, shoplifting, the main money generating occupation of the male users, became hairier with the installation of more and more closed-circuit TV cameras and the employment of whole regiments of security guards and store detectives. The number of arrests increased and police stations like Marylebone were working overtime just dealing with the hoisting charges. For the female user, hustling was always an option and was dealt with in court more leniently than thieving. Unless a girl had a whole string of previous it was rare to receive a custodial sentence. Burgling chemist shops, which had been fairly common during a previous couple of decades was now also in decline due to the increased fortification of the DDA box and ever more sophisticated alarm systems. Gone were the days when two or three guys could spend the weekend drilling through from the premises next door or above.

The final year or two of the decade saw private doctors writing larger and larger scripts and as a result attracted even larger numbers of patients on to their books. Obviously, this didn’t go unnoticed by the establishment and as the 70s ended, pressure from the tabloid press, in particular, was being brought to bear to rid the city from the scourge of these drug peddling purveyors of death. Not a very happy state of affairs to bring in the 1980s. We were heading the way of Thatcher, ‘Ronny Raygun’ and the following of more inane, unjust US drug policies. Welcome to the 21st century.

Chris Drouet

The ‘Dilly’ – Piccadilly Circus. To the older generation of users – an evocative place name from the past. The ‘Dilly has changed so much over the last 35 years, that Black Poppy thought it important that some of these changes are recorded – not only for the drug user history books but for the area itself. Chris Drouet looks at the 1960’s and ’70’s in W1.
It’s not an exaggeration to suppose that just about every user in London must have had some sort of experience in the West End at one time or another.

In the mid-1960s when I initially frequented the West End there seemed to be a completely different atmosphere to today, not just on the drug scene but throughout the whole of youth culture. There was an air of optimism everywhere. After all, it was ‘swinging London’. To be at the cutting edge of fashion one had to be a mod – tab collars and tonik mohair suits. ‘Ravel’ was the only shoe shop in town. Scooters by Lambretta or Vespa adorned with all manner of chrome accessories. Parkas and going to the coast on the Bank Holidays. The drug of choice was speed, Drinamyl. We called them ‘purple hearts.’ They looked very attractive, pale blue and kind of triangular in shape. They were freely available in the West End clubs such as The Scene and the Discotheque. Originally they were 6d each -£1 for 40 but it wasn’t long before they doubled in price. Carnaby Street and Kings Road were the places to shop if you were a ‘dedicated follower of fashion.’

Between money for clothes and money for drugs, there wasn’t much leftover for buying records. The musical preference of the mod milieu was soul with bands like The Temptations, The Miracles and solo acts like Otis Reading and Aretha Franklin. Ska or bluebeat music was becoming increasingly more popular and evolved into what we know today as reggae
By the time 1966 came around the whole mod ethos was losing its sparkle and I began to drift away from that scene but not from the West End. My musical preferences were also changing and I was listening to blues music more often than anything else. By this time I had been smoking a lot of hash and the Marquee club had become a favoured place. Speed was slowly losing its allure as it wasn’t really compatible with the likes of Robert Johnson and Willie Dixon.

The Drugs
By 1966 heroin, cocaine, methedrine, physeptone etc. were readily available in the West End. Dry amps were rarely seen at this time and pharmaceutical heroin was dispensed in small, white, water soluble 10mg tablets that we called ‘jacks’, 6 jacks made up 1 grain ( 2/6d each or 8 for £1). Coke was the same price and was packaged in the same way or alternatively as a crystalline powder in small 5g jars. Physeptone amps were also the same price. 1.5 ml amps of methedrine were 5/- or 25p. At this time purple hearts were being phased out as the medics thought that they were too attractive a shape and so they were replaced by regular shaped tablets we called ‘blues.’ Also known as ‘doobs.’

The Doctors
At around this time I became aware of private doctors in the Harley Street area. Names like Isabel Frankau, Petrie-Newton, Dale-Becket and Dr Petro spring to mind and they
too, have found a prominent place in the drug users history books. If Dr Petro had a surgery I didn’t know its whereabouts because I used to see him in the ABC café in Baker Street tube station where he would write scripts on a serviette or any other convenient piece of paper. A typical script from him would be 20g (g=grains) of heroin, 20g of cocaine, 100 amps of methedrine and 200 blues- £2.00. To have it dispensed in the chemist would be around £3.00. If this seems ultra cheap one must bear in mind that the average weekly wage was £18.00 per week

Chinese Heroin
In around 1967-68, Gerard Street was beginning to have an impact. If one wanted pharmaceutical drugs one went to the ‘Dilly. If Chinese smack was the choice then Gerard Street was the place to score. Generally speaking, there were two types of Chinese heroin on offer. ‘Elephant’ was the number one choice with ‘rice’ a close second. As the name implies it did resemble grains of rice in a way, where as elephant was more ‘rocky’. 1/4oz of elephant was £35.00 and purchased in that kind of quantity it would actually have a picture of a white elephant on the packet. £1.00 bags were available, and the gear was such that a whole one could constitute an OD. Indeed, it was so popular that people would sell their scripts in order to score it.

By 1968 methedrine was discontinued and Ritalin, (10 mg methylphenadate hydrochloride) tablets became the substitute used by many. Cocaine was no longer available on script. ’68 also saw the introduction of the clinic system and the abolition of free prescribing. The clinics removed the GP’s discretion in the prescribing of controlled drugs. Here in the UK the powers that be had always regarded the drug problem as a medical concern while in the USA it had always been perceived as a police matter and was dealt with accordingly.


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