"Who Takes the Blame?" Retail chemists, doctors, and the control of "dangerous drugs" in inter-war Britain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In inter-war Britain, a complex set of rules dividing medical and recreational use of intoxicants controlled the business of retail chemists (as community pharmacists are known in the UK). While chemists generally welcomed raised safety standards, they criticized encroachments on their practice and the traducing of their professional integrity that resulted from increased efforts by the Home Office to criminalize unauthorized possession and use of intoxicants. Using cultural, medical, and politico-legal analysis, this paper argues for the importance of the British retail chemist in the narrative of intoxicants and drug regulation. It blends cultural representations of intoxicants, particularly through Agatha Christie's writing, to assess contemporary views of chemists' work. The Chemist and Druggist trade journal revealed increasing anxieties about the new legislation, ranging from worries about scrutiny by Pharmaceutical Society officials to fears of doctors competing in the local medical marketplace. Failure to observe the myriad new rules with their complex bookkeeping arrangements could end in court and in the disgrace of media headlines. Chemists worried that legislation arising from public and state concern about intoxicants could potentially criminalize and punish, not only the addict, but also chemists who, even inadvertently, violated complicated rules and regulations. They feared it was too easy “to blame” chemists when anything went wrong.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-38
Number of pages20
JournalPharmacy in History
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 14 Aug 2020


  • dangerous drugs
  • retail chemists
  • controlled substances
  • community pharmacies


Dive into the research topics of '"Who Takes the Blame?" Retail chemists, doctors, and the control of "dangerous drugs" in inter-war Britain'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this