It is easy to forget now how innocent young people were in the early 1960s. We had perhaps heard about drugs but we had never seen any, not in Richmond, Surrey certainly where I was a reporter on a local newspaper. However, by a strange quirk of fate, I found myself at the centre of a major drug scare which rang alarm bells well beyond the town hall and the local police station.
When I left school at 17 I had a variety of jobs, imagining all the time the terse paragraph that would describe me on the back of my first novel. After working as bus conductor, petrol pump attendant and shop assistant Weightman devoted himself to writing.....Nearly all of my friends went to university and by the time I was twenty I was beginning to feel a social distance from them. While I wore a suit to work they dressed how they pleased and they could experiment with drink and drugs in a way I would not have dared.
I married very young and while working on the local newspaper had a wife and two children. We lived in a rented house which had been bought by the council to be demolished for a road widening scheme. ( The house still stands). As I had a place to stay I would be visited from time to time by old school friends. It was on one of these visits that I learned about the alleged hallucinogenic properties of the attractive climbing flower Morning Glory. A friend at university in the north of England had read a scientific paper which said that the seeds of the flowers, whatever the variety, contained lysergic acid, in other words LSD.
Intrigued by this we bought some packets of the seeds from Richmond Garden Shop and I ground them up in the baby mouli. I did not eat any myself but my friend had some on bread and jam. He behaved oddly for a while, giggling a lot although I was not at all convinced he was hallucinating. In fact I was pretty sure he was stone cold sober but intent on giving the impression that he was in fact "tripping."
At the time one of my duties on the newspaper was "Kew Calls". This was a lovely day out in the summer, down by the Thames to visit the Port of London Authority station to see if any whales had been sighted and then a stroll over to historic Kew Gardens in search of some plant stories. I had access to the library and thought to look up Morning Glory seeds. Surprisingly I found a reference to a study of their drug content which confirmed the lysergic acid belief of my friend from college.
This was all I needed for my story. I could reveal that Kew Gardens had a "dossier" –this term was popular with hack's at the time–on Morning Glory seeds. I cannot remember quite how the story appeared in my newspaper but it was quickly picked up by a local freelance. He sold it to the People and I can still remember the first paragraph which brought me out in a cold sweat: " Party going teenagers have found a new source of hallucinogen drug LSD: it is being sold openly in Richmond Garden Shop....."
Within days we heard on the radio: " Here is the News. Morning Glory seeds: the Home Office has called for a full report......" My friend, back at University was angry and anxious. I kept my head down. It did not take the Home Office long to discover that about a ton of the seed was required to produce on little dose of lysergic acid. The story faded away.
On the paper it was considered a great scoop and I was encouraged by the other young reporters to put in for a pay rise. I was smartened up and prepared for a showdown with the editor, a white haired, retiring gentleman who spoke with a kind of nasal whine. I knocked on his door and was told to come in. He was writing at his desk, perhaps a little gem for the Across the Walnuts and Wine diary column. "Yes?" He asked. " Mr Grove, " I said:" Do you not think I am worth more than £16 10s a week?" Without any hesitation or discussion he replied: " No Mr Weightman".
I was encouraged by my fellow reporters to teach him a lesson. " Get another job." There was one going on the Brighton Evening Argus and I got it: working in the Bognor Regis office. I had not been there long when I got a call from a woman journalist on the Daily Mail. She worked for the Charles Greville column. Could I tell her about the Morning Glory seed story which had just been officially dismissed as of no consequence. I told her the whole thing without imagining it would make a story.
Then it appeared with headline: " How a drug story, took root, flowered, withered and died...." Naively I complained to the Press Council that I had not been told that they were planning to publish anything. I got little sympathy. I was, after all, a fellow journalist.