Absolute Beginners
George Melly, the jazz singer and critic (and author of an early work of pop sociology, Revolt Into Style) wrote A Jazzman's View of Dope for Homegrown, the British pot culture magazine of the late seventies, explaining how the Trad versus Mod split in the British jazz scene of the fifties meant that those, like himself, who resolutely championed the old New Orleans sound, denied themselves the opportunity to get high on pot chiefly because that was what beboppers did: "We'd smelt it, and seen it smoked, but few of us had crossed that barrier. It was associated with flattened fifths, sharp suits and turning your back on the audience."

George and the trad. crowd didn't dig that kind of thing, so they stuck to booze as their favoured social lubricant. This was despite the fact that Louis Armstrong, the grand old man of Storyville, was an inveterate viper, a daily toker, who was busted in Los Angeles in March, 1931, when he stepped out into the carpark of a big night club during the intermision to blast a joint with the top Hollywood drummer, Vic Berton. 'Satchmo' was looking at six months in prison, but he actually spent only nine days in the City Jail before receiving a suspended sentence.

In a letter to his biographers, Max Jones and John Chilton: Louis Armstrong (left) explained his fondness for marijuana: "As we always used to say, gage is more of a medicine than a dope. But with all the riggermaroo going on, no one can do anything about it. After all, the vipers during my haydays are way up there in age - too old to suffer those drastic penalties. So we had to put it down. But if we all get as old as Methusela our memories will always be of lots of beauty and warmth from gage. Well, that was my life and I don't feel ashamed at all. Mary Warner, honey, you sure was good and I enjoyed you 'heep much'. But the price got a little too high to pay (law wise). At first you was a 'misdomeanor'. But as the years rolled on you lost your misdo and got meanor and meanor. (Jailousely speaking.) Sooo 'Bye Bye,' I'll have to put you down, Dearest."
In fact, it was heroin and the social conditions of America that was providing the inspiration for the free form innovation of Modern Jazz, just as it was amphetamines and America that sparked the ignition of Rock and Roll. In fuddy duddy old Britain, drug use was confined to the immediate vicinity of US Armed Forces bases. The original Rockers were just as distrustful of "drugs" as the Trad. Jazz mob and the Ton-Up Boys who hung around transport caffs like The Ace on London's North Circular road got their kicks not so much from speed as from velocity, the thrill of the throttle. The only stimulant they approved of was a strong cuppa Rosie Lea.

Whatever attitudes prevailed in provincial Britain, the teenage modernists portrayed by Colin MacInnes in his trilogy of novels set in London in the late fifties certainly weren't adverse to the odd puff. The sweet, seventeen years old Suzette of Absolute Beginners is described as "spade-crazy". Like her real life counterpart, Christine Keeler, Suze liked hanging out with black men at low dives, where the music was loud and the air was sweet with pot smoke.

In City of Spades, published in 1957, Montgomery Pew, a diffident new welfare officer at the Colonial Department finds himself strangely attracted to a jive-talking Nigerian student called Johnny Fortune, who co-narrates the novel. Fortune is not long off the boat before finding himself something to smoke: "I sat on the bed, feeling pleased at the chance of blowing hay once more. For much as I care for alcoholic drinks of many kinds, my greatest enjoyment, ever since I was a boy, is in charging with weed. Because without it, however good I feel, I'm never really on the top of my inspiration."

Later, to Mr Pew, he elucidates: '"Liquor," said Johnny, "opens you outwards and gives you a foolish love of fellow men, the wish to chatter to them in a cheerful, not selective way. But weed, you see, turns you happily inward to sit silent in the greater enjoyment of your personality. Try some?""