In the Sixties spirit of “letting it all hang out”, the place became a magnet for thrill-seekers and party animals.According to a former patient Francis Gillet, Laing would keep LSD (not outlawed in the UK till 1966) in the fridge as a “sort of spiritual laxative”.This anti-asylum ran for five years, made notorious by such cases as a schizophrenic called Mary Barnes who was later immortalised in the 1979 play Mary Barnes by David Edgar.
By the 1980s, around the time of the final split of his second marriage, he did succumb to heavy drinking.
And Laing revealed a refreshing common sense in the aforementioned Channel 4 television documentary when discussing his cognitive behaviour therapy techniques, a talking therapy that steered people away from negative thoughts and encouraged them towards positivity.
One of his patients was suffering from a feeling of catatonic immobility that meant she could hardly walk along the street, so Laing suggested to her that she might “market” her condition by becoming an artist's model – a crafty solution that broke the spell and restored her to full movement.
Yet nearly three decades later, in a 1989 Channel 4 documentary transmitted the year he died, Laing wryly remarked of his own legacy: “I feel I'm regarded [by my psychiatric colleagues] as a brilliant man who is pretty disturbed.” A man who challenged medical orthodoxy as much as he did was always going to make enemies within the Establishment.
Laing argued that the old Bedlam-based system of incarcerating people with mental illnesses and treating them with anti-psychotic drugs and inhumane electric-shock treatment had contributed to people's psychological and emotional distress and was therefore part of the problem.