Charles Radcliffe, former Situationist

Charles Radcliffe, former Situationist, radical journalist, international hash-smuggler, associate of Howard Marks, jailbird and author of the much-ignored but brilliant memoir, Don’t Start Me Talking: Subculture, Situationism and the Sixties, died 10 July 2021, aged 79. In July 2020, hoping to initiate a dialogue, I wrote to him:

Dear Charles,
Congratulations on your book Don’t Start Me Talking, which I greatly enjoyed.
I am the writer of Acid: A New Secret History of LSD (2001 – earlier edition, 1997) , which you slag off in an appendix. I’m not complaining. My book was under-researched and has been misused by various whackos and conspiracy theorists since it came out. I have now attempted to put things right by publishing a follow-up to this work, entitled Psychedelic Tricksters: A True Secret History of LSD (2020), which is newly available as both as ebook and a paperback on Amazon. In revisiting the FrendzMcCann business in this new book I have hopefully corrected some of the errors of that previous work.
As a friend of Dave Wise, I’ve recommended your book to him.
I hope this note finds you well.
David Black

A reply came from his partner and carer, Carolina, in Valencia.

Dear David,

Thank you for your message…
Charlie lives since December 2018 in a residence in Bournemoth, UK, after spending some18 years in Valencia, Spain.
Charlie suffers from a neuronal degenerative disease that keeps him prostrate in a bed all day, although sometimes he sits in a wheelchair. But he needs assistance for everything.
I mention all this to put you in context of the delicate and dramatic situation (hardly he has 78).
I told him about your mail and he was very excited. He maintains all his cognitive faculties, although he suffers from chronic tiredness and his voice is affected too.
I live in Valencia and I used to visit him every 4-6 weeks. With this pandemic situation, my last trip to visit him was 18 weeks ago. I hope come over around September…
Thank you very much for your interest.
Best, Carolina.

Extract (1)from Charles Radcliffe, Don’t Start Me Talking: Subculture, Situationism and the Sixties, Bread and Circuses. Kindle Edition.

Our final visit, to Paris to meet Guy Debord and other Paris-based Situationists, would decide whether Chris and I would join L’Internationale situationniste, as we hoped, or whether we would be dismissed, hurled centrifugally into pro-situ orbit, like countless others before and after… We spent most of our time in a typical, old Paris apartment in rue St Jacques, small, comfortable and over-crowded with Situationists. Wine was poured immediately and often. Whenever you stood your head was thrust into a richly aromatic Gauloise cloud. Guy, no longer the studied left-bank dandy of the much-used early photograph with Pierre Feuillette, had put on some weight, was noticeably more jowly and had adopted an altogether more anonymous sartorial style…

Guy, revelling in being the centre of devoted attention of assembled Situationists and would-be Situationists, was at his most urbane, amusing and charming. His talent for vituperation was evident. Most denizens of the French left and cultural avant-garde seemed, almost to a person, to qualify as “stupid, completely cow-like, little cunts”, “cretins” or “imbeciles”. In London it tended towards ‘peace and love, man’, so this flood of scurrilous epithets was both slightly shocking and undeniably refreshing, particularly since the squibs were delivered with a sense of humour. He meant it, but they were also delivered as lines for assenting nods and laughter of the attendant gallery, which included not only his former long-term companion and co-worker, Michelle Bernstein, and his current companion Alice Becker-Ho, a beautiful French-Chinese woman, but Mustapha, René Vienet, Donald Nicholson-Smith and his very attractive girl friend Cathy (Pozzo di Borgo). (There was no sign of Debord’s ‘austere cell’ so elegiacally rhapsodized by the aesthete Tim Clark in his introduction to Anselm Jappe’s Guy Debord.) Much, but not all of what Debord said was too quick for me but was invariably greeted with rapid assent or appreciative laughter from the assembled Sits.

We drank a lot, ate well, talked a great deal (in my case mostly with Michelle Bernstein, who spoke good English and was highly sympathetic, intelligent, widely interested and attractive, and Donald, the bluff, bearded and affable established English member of the group), and wandered around Paris. We enjoyed potato and onion soups at Les Halles and ate horse steaks and cous-cous in Algerian restaurants near the Gare du Nord. Perhaps it was the wine, but I began to feel more relaxed in this strangely rarefied world. I would have loved a joint, though.

Extract (2) – on Howard Marks and James McCann

(When, in late-1972, Charles Radcliffe, complained that his share of the profits from the Howard Marks-James McCann cannabis-smuggling scam through Shannon Airport didn’t seem to be forthcoming, he got a telephone call from McCann, which he recalls in Don’t Start Me Talking.)

‘I’m giving ya warning ya fucking Belfascisti, English Prot cunt. Don’t threaten H’ard anymore. He owes ye nothing. Ye get no more. Ye got that? No more! When ye talk to H’ard yer talking to me… I hear ye just got a baby girl. One more call to H’ard and ye can watch her fucking die. Yer sweet little daughter first, then yer fucking wife and then ye can choke on their blood – all of ye get one way tickets to oblivion. Got it?’

(Radcliffe got it. That was last time he heard from McCann. He writes:)

‘Marks and McCann deserved each other. I expected nothing else from McCann – our distaste was mutual and I could easily forgive him for living down to his standards. I resented Howard. Passing on my home phone number without my consent was another dealing precept ignored. Getting McCann to make threats for him was worse.”

Charles Radcliffe at Housmans bookshop, London in 2012


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