WHEN American film stars visit Worcestershire they are usually accompanied by a fanfare of trumpets and a choir of angels masquerading as publicity agents. But if rumour is to be believed – always a moot point – during the middle decades of the 20th century two of Hollywood’s finest dropped by incognito.

The first was supposed to have been Clark Gable, who during the Second World War was allegedly seen legging it away (either through embarrassment or fear of an explosion) from the wreck of an American Air Force plane which had crash landed at Perdiswell, then a wartime airfield on the outskirts of Worcester.

Whether it really was the star of Gone with the Wind or just an aircrew who looked like him was never really nailed down because the character ran so fast no one could get near him.

Twenty years later an equally handsome matinee idol was claimed to have been in the county, although under rather less auspicious circumstances.

It was said that Cary Grant – who was actually born Archibald Alec Leach in Bristol, but later took American citizenship – visited Powick Hospital at the height of its use of the drug LSD to treat mental illness.

Having been born and brought up in the local area I know well the frequent gossip about “famous” names who were supposed to have sought help at there, chart-topping pianist Russ Conway was another banded around at one time, but the Cary Grant story gained a few extra legs in 1995, when my former colleague Nick Watson interviewed a lady who had worked at the hospital at the time as an occupational therapist and maintained the claims were true.

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Doreen Speare said that although she had not personally seen the American star, it was common knowledge in the hospital and she had seen his car parked outside. Grant had attended Powick with one of his wives, Betsy Drake. 

The story could ring true, rather more so than the Clark Gable episode, because Cary Grant freely admitted using LSD. He said he took it more than 100 times during the late 1950s and early 60s in an effort to “find himself”, having been introduced to the drug by Miss Drake.

An LSD treatment unit was established at Powick in 1958, in which Dr Ronald  Sandison administered the pioneering therapy until he left in 1964.

Medical Superintendent Dr Arthur Spencer then continued the programme until 1970 when it was discontinued, partly as a result of a World in Action TV documentary.

Powick Hospital, which opened as Worcester County Pauper and Lunatic Asylum in 1847, eventually closed in 1989 and the land covered by a housing estate. Although its notoriety for running a national LSD clinic still lingers.