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Devizes Festival: Howard Marks at the Corn Exchange
It seems the best and quickest way to achieve celebrity these days is to serve a prison term, then write a book on it.
That is the career path of Oxford graduate Howard Marks, who brought his show, Scholar, Smuggler, Prisoner, Scribe, to Devizes.
I would call Mr Marks a reformed drug smuggler, but he is clearly unrepentant about taking vast quantities of marijuana into the United States and Europe – up to 30 tonnes at a time – and being sentenced to 25 years in jail by the US justice system.
The evening began with a lengthy video compilation of news coverage and interviews before the “great man” appeared on stage.
One got the impression of a massive ego, seeing himself as a folk hero; an impression shared by Marksists in the audience who cheered him, usually after one of the foul-mouthed descriptions of his nefarious career.
He is quite shameless about smuggling drugs into the UK with the help of the Provisional IRA and his justification for doing so is jaw-droppingly naive.
He told the audience: “I hate every kind of violence, but I thought it better for everyone concerned that the IRA would be better smuggling in hashish than arms.”
Some airheads cheered this, forgetting the IRA was working with Marks to get the money to buy arms.
Then there was his self-praise for working with inmates at the Terre Haute penitentiary in Indiana, teaching English before it was pointed out he didn’t have qualifications to do so.
“But I’ve got a Masters from Oxford University,” he told the governor.
One almost envied the man on the front row who was ignominiously ejected by security for an unknown offence.
Mr Marks may dub himself Mr Nice, but he is not. He is a criminal who considers that drinking, smoking and taking drugs are cool.
The festival brochure explains: “He brings the story up to date with his current career as a best-selling author and national treasure.”