Script Doctors and Vicious Addicts: Subcultures, Drugs, and Regulation under the 'British System', c.1917 to c.1960

Hallam, Chris; (2016) Script Doctors and Vicious Addicts: Subcultures, Drugs, and Regulation under the 'British System', c.1917 to c.1960. PhD thesis, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. DOI:

Text - Accepted Version

Download (1MB) | Preview


This thesis focuses on drug use and control in Britain, and on the previously un-researched period between the late 1920s and the early 1960s. These decades have been described by one Home Office Official as the ‘quiet times’, since it was believed that nonmedical drug use was restricted to a few hundred respectable middle class individuals. Subcultures, inhabited by those whose lives centred on drugs, were thought not to exist. The thesis also engages with the historiography of the British System, named by US liberals to denote the medical approach to addiction in Britain in contrast to America. The research on which this thesis is based, however, including heretofore unexamined archives of the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police, indicates otherwise. It locates what is best understood as subcultural drug use, which, despite important differences, resembled and prefigured the hedonistic drug use of the 1960s. In order to understand subcultural use, one must explore its inception in the 1930s and the surrounding regulatory architecture, consisting of both medical and police functions. Utilising case studies, the thesis traces the interwoven development of two opiate networks, based respectively in Chelsea and London’s West End, the Home Office Drugs Branch, and the Chemist Inspection Officers and broader drugs work of the Metropolitan Police. In addition, it examines the ‘script doctors’ supplying the addict subculture, medical regulators such as the Regional Medical Officers and the General Medical Council, and the attitudes of prominent addiction specialists working on the 1938 Committee on Addiction of the Royal College of Physicians. The thesis conceptualises drugs as symbolic categories standing in for objects of social anxiety or promise, and over which social and cultural conflicts played out. These are illustrated though the tensions between and within the drug control machinery and the nonmedical drug users.

Item Type: Thesis
Thesis Type: Doctoral
Thesis Name: PhD
Contributors: Berridge, V (Thesis advisor);
Faculty and Department: Faculty of Public Health and Policy
Research Centre: Centre for History in Public Health
Funders: Wellcome Trust
Grant number: 096640/Z/11/Z
Copyright Holders: Christopher Hallam


Download activity - last 12 months
Downloads since deposit
Accesses by country - last 12 months
Accesses by referrer - last 12 months
Impact and interest
Additional statistics for this record are available via IRStats2

Actions (login required)

Edit Item Edit Item