BORN into an upper-class lifestyle, he went from house parties and skiing trips with Princess Margaret to smuggling cannabis, and rubbing shoulders with seasoned criminals Kenneth Noye, Gordon Goody and even one of the Krays.
Francis Morland’s memoir, The Art of Smuggling, is at least, is honest. Morland leaves no stone unturned in the account of how he turned his back on an enviable upbringing to become one of the UK’s most prolific drug smugglers.
Brought up on the outskirts of Glastonbury, and heir to a Quaker dynasty, Morland rejected the opportunity to join the family clothing business and squandered a promising career as a sculptor, in the pursuit of drugs and money.
He immersed himself in the underworld, and had a steamy affair with an ex-mistress of Nazi general Joseph Goebbels.
For a while during the 60s and 70s, Morland controlled 10% of the UK’s cannabis trade, a dubious honour that landed him six stays in jails across Europe.
Written by Morland’s friend, barrister Jo Boothby, The Art of Smuggling is the latest in a long line of smuggler’s memoirs. It fits the bill in terms of style and genre tropes, with little violence, few hard drugs, and only fleeting mentions of illegal activity, allowing readers to feel some empathy towards the smuggler.
Beginning with a police bust at Morland’s home in 1971, the book starts in the ‘most exciting period’ of his life. The police cuff him, find enough cannabis to lock him up, and then wheel him away in the blues-and-twos.
But, ever the optimist, Morland has other ideas. And skipping bail, he sets off on an epic road trip across France, down through Spain and then to one of his regular ports of call: Gibraltar.
Once on the Rock, he launches the single biggest operation of his life. In Gibraltar’s Sheppard’s Marina (now Ocean Village), he buys a 47ft boat, The Beaver, for £5,000 from a gay retired naval officer, and sets about transporting over a ton of cannabis to the Caribbean and then into New York.
“I have docked in Gibraltar many times,” Morland tells the Olive Press. “It was the obvious place to go. You could get a licence there easy enough, it was close to Morocco, and, being a duty-free zone, it was a lifeline to any fugitive.
“The boat I bought in 1971 was one of the more bizarre purchases. For the life of me I cannot remember the name of the colonel who sold it to me, but he offered me his Moroccan rentboy as ‘crew’. I laughed at first, then realised he was being serious and politely turned him down.”
He adds: “I like Gibraltar a lot. Although I spent most of my time there in the marinas I explored the place and found even the more squalid corners to have a certain charm about them.”
Throughout The Art of Smuggling, Gibraltar figures large in Morland’s many drug smuggling ventures, a key location along with Ibiza, the south of Spain and Morocco.
He says: “Spain was also good to me. I regularly drank Disco Sours at the Estepona Yacht Club, I have never been able to find them anywhere since.
“In my later years I operated out of Benalmadena and spent a lot of time on either side of the Straits of Gibraltar.”
“In those days,” he adds, “La Linea was rife with smuggling. I watched plenty of people dock on the beach in their wooden boats, unload and then scarper, leaving the boats to rot on the shore.
“In fact, I spent good times there myself, with my daughter Joyce, when she joined me on one excursion.
“We would go into La Linea for dinner or to ride horses along the front, it was a good time of my life and hers too, I think.”
Despite his criminal CV, Morland has always kept his distance from others he regards as ‘up to no good’. However, when you’re in and out of prison as much as he has been, criminals are sometimes hard to avoid.
Morland was introduced to train robber Gordon Goody by a mutual friend, and spent time in prison with one of the Krays. While at HMP Blantyre House, he was part of the same ‘walking group’ as cop-killer Kenneth Noye.
“I made it a general rule to stay clear of nefarious characters,” he says. “I met Gordon and found him to be a charming man.
“I didn’t have so much time for Noye, though. We had nothing in common, he struck me as an uneducated man, and it often baffled me how he ever made so much money.”
Now 81, with his life of crime behind him, Morland has resumed his early art career and survives in ‘pretty good poverty’ teaching pottery classes.
And, after spending time behind bars in every decade since the 1960s (with the exception of this one), Morland says he has ‘no plans’ for one last punt.
To purchase The Art of Smuggling for £14.39 visit www.milobooks.com