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Niall Griffiths: Operation Julie still blows your mind

13 Aug 2022 6 minute read
Operation Julie: A Rock Musical

Niall Griffiths

And then there came the night of the greatest ever raid

They arrested every drug that had ever been made

They took eighty two laws

Through eighty two doors

And they didn’t halt the pull

Til the cells were all full

The Clash, ‘Julie’s Been Working for the Drug Squad’

Since you’re reading this, I’m assuming that you’re familiar with the story of Operation Julie; Tregaron, mid 70s, eleven police forces, the biggest LSD factory on the planet (6.5 million doses, apparently, worth £661 million in today’s money); 120 arrested and jailed. Ringleaders David Solomon, Richard Kemp, Christine Bott, Alston Hughes.

Detective Dick Lee of the Thames Valley Drug Squad. Songs, books, TV and radio plays, and now a musical written by Geinor Styles of Theatr na nÓg which I went to see recently and which gave me flashbacks; not acid flashbacks, no – something far more disturbing.

Also flash-forwards. Flash-presents. The play’s closing montage made me rue giving up hard recreational drugs (illegal ones, I mean; alcohol and nicotine remain conscionable, because, y’know, taxes, and their status as the chosen intoxicants of the law-makers).

Folk devils; societal bogeymen. The junkie in the alley with a baseball bat? His first tentative peer-pressured toke on a spliff drew him inexorably to this wretchedness. Be afraid. These demons lurk and wait to visit great harm on you and yours.

They threaten everything you have worked hard to attain. They hover outside the school gates, they make off with your laptops and flatscreens while you’re out at work. The piss they take would fill a lake. They smell. They have rotten teeth. They have opted out of the mainstream that you so diligently and responsibly contribute to and so they must be shunned and ostracised and despised.

The War on Drugs

So goes the doxa in the War on Drugs; the episteme would have it differently, as of course it would – who has ever been mugged or battered by someone on a hit of LSD? Why is the substance seen as vital in certain forms of remedial psychoanalysis? How many more lives does alcohol ruin and end in comparison (and alcohol is a unique drug in that you don’t have to be on it to be hurt by it)? But we live in an age of doxx.

General consensus in what the episteme even is has been entirely lost, as Aristotle warned it would be; the doxa is emotional and simple and satisfying and wrong, whereas the episteme is the direct opposite of all those things.

Squalidly opportunistic populists pounce on the former and this is a profound problem in certain Democratic processes, Aristotle tells us, from his time before mass media and Facebook algorithms and grubby Mekon-headed inadequates dissatisfied with the privileges into which they were born. The doxa reduces the world. It persuades you to vote for your own immiseration.

The addiction spirals, feeds on itself. The success of Operation Julie was a gateway drug into more self-righteousness, more sanctimony, more hypocrisy and, perforce, the propagation of yet more false fears.

The core sociopolitical lesson to be learned from the 20th century is surely that if you desire stability you need to minimise fear, not amplify or accelerate it, but for that lesson to be learned the addict must first acknowledge the destruction that his/her fixation on a particular high has caused, especially to those social strata outwith their own milieu of enablers.


And oh, what a euphoric high it must be, that toot on the crackpipe of power, in the snort of exceptionalist and salvationist nostalgia. You can see it in their fiery eyes, in their rictus of self-confirmation. So Operation Julie morphed into the Repetitive Beat clause, effectively the single instance of a youth movement being criminalised by a sitting government.

So it led to the Rwanda plan. The demonisation of the ‘economically inactive’, because that’s essentially what this is about; what are you doing, seeking to dissolve the ego and establish a connection with the life-force, the prime mover, what on earth are you doing chasing enlightenment when you should be on the wheel of production and consumption like the rest of us normal people?

Photoby Ben Johnson from Pixabay

The psychedelic dream

Of course there was a doomed idealism, born from naivety (itself born from fond but felt hope), in the psychedelic dream; for those in the thrall of a different high, kicking down the doors of perception would just make a mess of splintered wood that the maid would have to clean up.

And speaking personally, I have never expanded my consciousness, never experienced a spiritual rebirth or refreshment, during any LSD trip; indeed, the sensation – the temporary conviction – that nothing is what it seems, and that absolutely everything in existence is turning over into something that every cell in your being and every aspect of your experiential memory tells you it is not, is not one I wish to repeat.

But the chamber of the heart in which the dream was synthesised was one that yearned for betterment, for respect for all that is and a vision of interconnectedness that, if even only half realised, may have provided a counter-balance to rapacity and self-centredness and a solipsism so big as to eradicate entire species (even, potentially, all life on earth). Such was the first yearning and such was the fundamental aim.

Richard Kemp had prepared a speech to give during his trial. He never did, but he released it to the press, and only the Cambrian News (under Lyn Ebenezer’s tutelage) published it.

It is delivered verbatim at the end of the musical, anterior to an apocalyptic backdrop; we hear 50-year-old warnings of soaring and searing temperatures, rising and polluted waters, of a planet’s resources being exhausted and its wonders destroyed whilst, projected against the theatre’s back wall, we see images of exactly such nightmares, happening today, yesterday, and in whatever few tomorrows we may have left: mushroom clouds, forests ablaze, glaciers collapsing, acidic monsoons, acidulated and barren rivers, the obscene grotesqueries of Donald J Trump and Alexander Boris De Pfeffel Johnson.

Of course the dream was going to be thwarted; how could it not, given the infinitely more powerful drugs that were and still are on offer? Winter is coming. Winter always comes.

Anyway. Operation Julie, a Rock Musical, is fantastic. Go see it.

Operation Julie, a Rock Musical plays at Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon on 24-26 August and The Lyric, Carmarthen 31 August – 2 September 2022.

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Cathy Jones
Cathy Jones
1 year ago

I hear that when angry people gather together, things can happen… See youse at the Heat Bank and thence…?

1 year ago

Through underfunding of health services, through recession and through climate change, the best defence each of us have against more difficult times is a healthy body and mind. If you have the time and money to spend on drugs (including alcohol) then lucky you but you’re weakening your defence against what’s coming.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 year ago

Howard and Julie put Wales on the number one spot for a while…

1 year ago

DONALD TRUMP!????!!!!!???!

1 year ago

Saw it last night in Aber. Terrific, moving and actually, surprisingly, joyous. The latter due to the actors going seamlessly from staid roles to jumping jack flash.

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