Over the last half century it has been the subject of books, documentaries, a classic Clash song – and a great deal of mythologising.
Now Operation Julie, the police drug bust in mid-Wales that broke up a global LSD supply ring, has been turned into a musical with a strong eco message created with the help of some of those at the centre of the saga.
Billed as Breaking Bad meets The Good Life, the play tells the story of the extraordinary undercover operation to track down the hippies and scientists – the microdot gang – who produced and supplied huge quantities of LSD in the hills around Tregaron in the 1970s.
On one hand, it is a rip-roaring, comic tale of a police operation in a time before the internet and mobile phones hampered by sheep nibbling through communication cables and detectives unconvincingly disguised as birdwatchers.
But on the other, it seeks to tell the story of a bunch of idealists deeply worried about the state of the planet who believed that taking LSD would help the human race see a path to a better, more sustainable way of living.
“It’s a brilliant story,” said writer and director Geinor Styles, of the company Theatr na nÓg, “Many of the headlines at the time were about the amount of LSD found [enough to make 6m tabs apparently] and the millions of pounds supposedly hidden in the hills and in Swiss bank accounts but what the producers of the LSD were really trying to do was change the world for the better.”
Styles said the key for her came when she found a copy of a doctrine written by Richard Kemp, the brilliant chemist who produced the LSD from his remote cottage, where he lived with his partner, Christine, a doctor and goat breeder. “He was saying 40 years ago that temperatures will soar, waters will rise, that we’re consuming too much. We’re on the edge of all that now.”
She accepted that some people had expressed concern about the company producing a play that focused on criminal activity. “But I think most local people are excited. Everyone has a story about Operation Julie. I spoke to someone the other day who said they were conceived on Julie LSD. Other people tell the tale of Bob Dylan coming here, though I haven’t met anyone who actually saw him.”
At a rehearsal this week, Alston “Smiles” Hughes, who was jailed for eight years for his part in the LSD supply chain, giggled at the jokes and sang along as the actor playing him, Steffan Rizzi, performed Winter Wine by the prog/psychedelic rock band Caravan.
Now 74 but still radical and a smiley believer in the power of mind-altering substances, Hughes agrees with Styles that the story is an important one to tell. “I think the motivations back then are as relevant now, if not more so. As a species we have got ourselves into a terrible state because of our behaviours and it needs to change.” He insisted the LSD ring was not about making money. “The idea was if you change consciousness of the people, you can change the direction of travel. Look at the state of the world now. They should have bloody listened. One feels a little vindicated now, to be honest.”
Lyn Ebenezer, a local newspaper reporter who covered the bust at the time and has written a book on Operation Julie, said most local people still regarded those like Hughes, who came to mid Wales from England in search of the good life, with fondness. “You won’t hear a bad word said about them. They weren’t seen as dangerous and people didn’t know what the hell LSD was.”
Dafydd Rhys, the director of Aberystwyth Arts Centre, which is presenting the play with Theatr na nÓg, said Operation Julie was part of the folklore of the area. “So many myths have grown around it. You don’t know which are true and which aren’t, and it doesn’t really matter.”
+ Operation Julie will premiere at Aberystwyth Arts Centre with performances running from 30 July and will then tour to Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon, and Lyric Theatre, Carmarthen.
July 19, 2022 at 04:10PM Steven Morris