It has long been a cliché to say that history is written by the victors, but in terms of the London counterculture it would be far more accurate to state that to date accounts of this scene have largely been composed by the squares; individuals who failed to penetrate the truly hip inner circles because they are too straight to know about them. Since I started researching my mother’s life, I have come across a massive amount of material that was missing from histories of the period. The most amazing oversight is without doubt the Victor James Kapur acid manufacturing bust (my mother’s friend Detta Whybrow persuaded the chemist to make the LSD, and organised its distribution in London); fortunately after I turned Andy Roberts onto newspaper accounts of the court case, he did further research and included it in his book Albion Dreaming (2008).
Many beatnik faces are still overlooked in histories of the sixties because publishers and television producers think all anyone wants to hear about is the rather less sophisticated hippie scene. Likewise, the real hipsters were rather less interested in publicising their activities than interlopers like Steve Abrams. In this blog I’m going to look briefly at 1960s west London beatnik face Phil Green, who – in tandem with Alex Trocchi – made an early stab at translating French Situationist texts into English. That said, while Trocchi’s French contacts liked to drink wine and smoke a bit of weed, these London hipsters were more into smack; and this is as true of Phil Green as anyone else.
On 12 March 1962 The Times carried the headline ‘Drug Charges After Raid On Café’ above an article that mentioned Green among others, then on 26 March 1962 the same paper followed this up with ‘C.N.D. Supporters Given Drugs’, concluding on 26 April with a news story entirely devoted to Phil Green entitled ‘Youth’s Beard A Part Of Façade’. Philip John Green then aged twenty was one of ten men and women arrested for their involvement with a ‘drug ring’ centred on The Peace Café in Fulham Road, Chelsea. At the time Green worked at this establishment as a chef. He pleaded guilty to possession of Indian hemp and twenty grains of opium, as well as ‘hubble bubble pipes’ used for opium smoking.
Green’s defence lawyer said that there was no question of him being ‘a conduit pipe for this stuff or a distributor of it’. The Magistrate assented it did rather look as though everyone was experimenting together. Green was told he’d been caught in possession of a substantial amount of opium, and it was a serious matter, requiring a full medical report. He had his hair cut and trimmed his beard, and upon his return to court for sentencing was given two years probation. The beak told Green: “You have got to get a regular job. Set your sights a little higher than the kitchen and try to trim your appearance to the job. I think you are capable of doing it, having been to a public school.”
Despite assuring the law he’d mend his ways, Green had no intention of doing so. He just wanted to stay free. Jamie Wadhawan caught him on camera at Alex Trocchi’s Arts Lab event of 13 April 1969 in the documentary Cain’s Film; and one of the women present at the event told me recently that Green promised he’d come off junk if she’d sleep with him, but she politely declined the offer. I’m also told, by other sources who likewise wish to remain anonymous, that during this period Green specialised in doing over chemists to support his drug habit. However, after coming out from a spell in Pentonville Prison he met and married a millionairess who hoped to reform him; and moved to Amsterdam with her.
That said, Green kept up his more important London contacts after he left the city. Nina Trott who squatted in the flat above my mother and her common-law husband Bruno de Galzain in Tottenham Court Road in 1975/6 told me: “An old junkie friend of Julie and Bruno called Phil Green came over from Amsterdam and stayed for a while.” While another squatter from a few doors down added: “I remember meeting Phil Green at Julie’s flat, with Bruno, sometime in 1976. Phil was a photographer and a smackhead.”
Since my mother Julia Callan-Thompson died in 1979, I haven’t attempted to follow Green’s evolution from that point on. However, I’ve been led to believe he is now dead. Further anecdotes about Green, particularly if they relate to his involvements with my mother and/or Trocchi, are of course very welcome in the comments below.
Jeff Nuttall in Bomb Culture (Paladin, London 1970, page 181) mentions Phil(ip) Green by name and provides a sketch of the scene he belonged to. After mentioning the appearance by William Burroughs and Alex Trocchi at the Edinburgh International Writers conference and dating this as 1963, Nuttal continues: “Together he (Burroughs) and Trocchi moved down to London. In London they became the pivot round which a number of people revolved – Charles Hatcher, Tom Telfer, McGrath, Philip Green, myself. They were not, however, the beginning of the Underground in England. Towards the end of the great days of Aldermaston certain of the whackier and younger CND followers had gathered in the Peace Cafe in Fulham Road, eventually closed through notoriety for drugs, and formed a cultural nucleus that looked mainly towards America and the Beats for its model. Prominent figures to emerge from this group were Dave Gunliffe, Lee Harwood, Ian Vine, Neil Oram, Spike Hawkins, Miles and, most important, Mike Horovitz and Pete Brown…”
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!