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50 years ago: Teenage kicks for Eccles schoolboy with ‘purple heart’ pills in bus stop sting


As the so-called ‘Swinging Sixties’ got underway in Salford, youths enjoyed more freedom than ever before.

Excitement grew over new music, new clothing, the prospect of full-time employment and even the illicit thrills of taking ‘pep pills’.

One 15-year-old Eccles schoolboy seemed eager to embrace this new found freedom, sadly he was to come a-cropper thanks to a zealous bus conductor.

Throughout the Second World War, long-suffering pilots, tank drivers and infantry had been supplied with liberal amounts of amphetamines like benzedrine, dexedrine and methedrine.

These drugs made their way into doctor’s surgeries and from the 1950s were often prescribed as a kind of anti-depressant, better known as ‘Mother’s Little Helper’.

I am old enough to recall the days of pep pills in the mid 1960’s and the upsurge in break-ins at local chemists by suppliers wanting to get their hands on prescription medication.

They found their way into popular culture too, with The Kinks’ 1966 song Big Black Smoke: “And every penny she had/Was spent on purple hearts and cigarettes”.

Advert for Dexamyl (known as Drinamyl in the UK)

Advert for Dexamyl (known as Drinamyl in the UK)

More: Moral panic in Salford as 16-year-old girl faces ‘Black Bomber’ pep pill charge

The unnamed schoolboy, who lived on the Brookhouse estate at Peel Green, appeared at Eccles Juvenile Court charged with possesion of 51 drinamyl tablets, or purple hearts as they were better known.

These pep pills – a combination of amobarbital and dextroamphetamine – were often given to women to treat anxiety or to help with weight loss, incredible as it may sound today.

They weren’t purple, or heart-shaped, but these triangular speed pills would still go for 9d a pop and were the Mods’ drug of choice.

benzedrine

The police had been evidently keeping tabs (sorry – Ed.) on the lad, as he was stopped on Brookhouse Avenue by PC Massheder at 11pm on a Tuesday night.

The diligent officer asked him whether he had any “dangerous drugs” on him, the boy – and I can imagine his look of mock shock and surprise – said, “I don’t know what you mean.”

While playing dumb, the boy agreed to toddle off to Green Lane police station to clear up the matter of what was no doubt a case a mistaken identity.

Sadly, the boy had failed to dump his stash, and when searched, police pulled out a cigarette packet with a little brown envelope inside stuffed full of purple hearts.

A local chemist was summoned to the station to identify the drugs, and by midnight that night top cop Chief Inspector Leadbetter had his answer.

The full story unfolded in court.

The boy announced that he bought the pills from a youth named only as ‘Ricky’, on Market Street in Manchester, and paid £2 and 10 shillings for the lot.

He then struck up a conversation with a bus conductor on the ride back to Brookhouse who agreed to meet the schoolboy the following night at the Brookhouse bus terminus.

But the deal would quickly go sour when it appeared the boy’s new friend had set him up in a classic sting.

As the boy approached the parked bus, the conductor legged it off in the other direction and, as if by magic, PC Massheder appeared to pounce and arrest him.

Now in court, the boy was full of contrition and no doubt fearing a spell behind bars he admitted: “I realise it was a stupid thing to do, I had heard about them and decided to try them.”

Much chastened, he added: “Then I read in the papers that they were dangerous and I wanted to get rid of them.”

The Chairman of the Bench, Mrs Hannah, told the boy: “I hope that you have learned your lesson.

“It’s a terrible thing to start, a really most dangerous thing, you have been found with these tablets and you will be fined £5.”

To the despair of swinging teens everywhere the tablets were ordered to be confiscated and destroyed.

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Tony Flynn

SalfordOnline.com's Local History Editor and Senior Reporter.