There were two pubs at the heart of the Torquay beatnik scene in the early and mid 1960s: The Melville Inn and The Rising Sun Inn. In a way these two pubs represent a paradigm of the decline of beatnik culture into hippy degeneration and drugs, gaol, and death.
For a couple of years in the early ’60s The Melville was home to the beatniks. Singing, guitar playing, and even the occasional poetry reading occurred, although the main attraction was cheap rough cider. As the older beatniks moved on, and the last generation appeared, the scene moved to the Rising Sun (now The Old Mill). There were never any poetry readings here. Although it was packed every night for four or five years, the scene degenerated into drunkenness and despair, reflecting that of the underground Torquay youth culture as a whole.
Nevertheless there were some good – even great – moments in the Sun, presided over by the landlords, Mr and Mrs Edwards, and their ever-faithful barman, Norman. What the Torquay beatniks were ultimately searching for was a sense of belonging (what they all had in common was fatherless-ness, most being GI babies) and, for a while, this could be found in The Melville and The Rising Sun. But joy turned slowly to despair, as the incursions of drugs grew ever greater. In the end (in the summer of 1968, I think) The Rising Sun was raided and the scene, in its last stages, collapsed completely. Mandrex, LSD, and heroin took a greater hold. There are still ‘acid casualties’ walking around Torquay to this day.
So the ’60s, for the Torquay underground, were initially wonderful and exciting, happy, and full of hope. As beatnik became hippy and all creativity ceased and as drunkenness and drug taking increased all happiness, joy, and hope disappeared. More people died, more people were sent to gaol, and more people literally lost their minds after too much lysergic acid. What initially had been the lifestyle to which everyone aspired at the age of 20; by 30 (if you were still alive) was the lifestyle which was at all costs to be avoided.
This collapse is observed in the best, and only, book about the Torquay beatniks. It is called The Golden Horseman (long out of print) by Michael A Williams and is a series of six long poems, written between 1967 and 1969. The book celebrates the town as well as the people and, better than any series of photographs, gives an insight into what was and, perhaps as importantly, what might have been.
Nevertheless it is hoped that this video, while emphasising the sense of loss which we all experienced as the years passed, evokes happier times in the life of a long-lost and almost forgotten Torquay underground youth culture. The two videos, Torquay Beatniks and Torquay Beatniks Revisited should be seen as parts of a whole.