Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll in W. Sussex

Keith Richards and Mick Jagger on their way to court.
Keith Richards and Mick Jagger on their way to court.
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THE eyes of the nation were on Chichester as Mick Jagger and Keith Richards went into the dock following the Great Rolling Stones Drugs Bust, as it became known, at Richards’ West Wittering home in February 1967.

It was a tale that had everything - sex, drugs, rock and roll and a huge slice of British social history.

At its core were four pep pills, a Sunday tabloid, two celebrated rock stars and a court case that changed popular culture forever.

The nation watched as the hedonistic poster boys of the counter-culture went head to head with the British establishment in a battle the establishment had picked and was determined to win.

Jagger and Richards were duly jailed. The judge who sat in Chichester that day later remarked that he had been intent on crushing them.

But the severity of the sentences inspired an enormous backlash, as East Grinstead author Simon Wells explores in his new book Butterfly On A Wheel - The Great Rolling Stones Drugs Bust.

Simon’s title refers to the celebrated editorial by the editor of The Times William Rees-Mogg, on July 1 1967 in which he was highly critical of the court’s decision.

It concluded: “If we are going to make any case a symbol of the conflict between the sound traditional values of Britain and the new hedonism, then we must be sure that the sound traditional values include those of tolerance and equity. It should be the particular quality of British justice to ensure that Mr Jagger is treated exactly the same as anyone else, no better and no worse. There must remain a suspicion in this case that Mr Jagger received a more severe sentence than would have been thought proper for any purely anonymous young man.”

As Simon says, it’s a fascinating story - and remarkable that it hasn’t been told in book form before. In consequence of the case, the laws - which had stood since the war - relating to recreational drug use were revised in a more liberal light.

“It was the classic clash between the old guard and the new. These youngsters had attracted the attention of the world, and the stage was Chichester. I don’t think that anyone ever really imagined that for the small amount that Mick was caught with - and Keith was just charged with allowing his house to be used - that they would both go to jail. But they did - and the global spotlight fell on Chichester.

“Judge Block later said that he went out to crush these Stones - about two months later, after they had been freed by the court of appeal. It was a clash between the new and the old which was just not able to deal with it. You just have to look at how extraordinary and colourful these characters were by 1967.

“It was only 20 odd years since the war had ended, and the establishment was populated by people that had fought in it. To them, it was an affront that the Rolling Stones garnered so much attention. The freedoms that they believed they had fought for during the war were the freedoms that now allowed Mick and Keith to strut around in the way that they did.

“Every move the Stones made was monitored by the press. Chichester Magistrates Court had never seen anything like it. Actually, Judge Block acted within the law. The sentence was within his remit. But he had a discretion which he didn’t want to use. It was the Stones’ bad luck to come up against him.

“Ultimately the whole thing embellished Mick and Keith’s rebel status.

“Unfortunately for Marianne Faithfull, it started off her downward spiral, which ended up with her dereliction.

“She feels that the demonisation of her helped to precipitate that. But for Mick and Keith, it just added to their enigma and status as rock and rollers - and ultimately they were able to look back on the whole thing and laugh the whole thing off. I don’t think it really touched them. They had access to the best legal team in the UK.

“The irony is that the establishment in the end saved the Rolling Stones. There was a feeling that it had gone too far.

“The Lord Chief Justice stepped in. The legal system was under the enormous spotlight of global interest, and many questions were being asked. Many people were asking whether they would have got such a sentence if it had been just two ordinary young men.

“I think at the time Keith rolled with it quite easily. He had the cocky assurance that they would get out. But Mick was clearly distraught and comes across as quite a sensitive young guy. I think he was actually deeply traumatised by the whole thing, but ultimately he was able to laugh it off.”

Butterfly On A Wheel - The Great Rolling Stones Drugs Bust is published by Omnibus Press at £14.95 (ISBN: 9781849389952).