So, yesterday I was having a chat on the phone with the delightful Keith Martin, a TV announcer whom I encountered during his 27 on-and-off freelance years at Anglia TV.
“…when I went to prison for the only time in my life,” was the end of one sentence. So, obviously, I asked for more details…
KEITH: I was working at Anglia at the time. How or why we were invited to go to the prison, I just don’t know. I went with another of the Anglia announcers. This was probably in the late 1980s.
It was quite a modern prison – Wayland. It opened in 1985; Jeffrey Archer was imprisoned there for perjury in 2011. But I was there, as I say, I think in the late 1980s…
It wasn’t a high security prison but, as we went into one section, the door was locked solidly behind us before they opened the next door. It was that kind of prison.
JOHN: Why were you there?
KEITH: Probably some promotional thing for Anglia. I actually never knew. It was arranged last-minute. But, for some reason, we were there to watch the prisoners performing a pantomime.
JOHN: Oh no you weren’t.
KEITH: Oh yes we were. We went into a hall, not a particularly large hall. I can’t remember if the chairs were screwed to the floor… In fact, I think we were probably sitting on big, heavy benches.
JOHN: What was the first thing you noticed when you entered the prison?
KEITH: The smell. When we entered the inner sanctum of the prison, there was a very strong smell.
JOHN: Of what?
JOHN: What was the inner sanctum?
KEITH: As we approached the recreational area.
JOHN: Recreational drugs?
KEITH: Indeed so.
JOHN: If there was a strong smell of drugs, the prison officers must have been aware of this too?
KEITH: I had the impression it was one way of pacifying the inmates. They allowed a certain amount of it to go on.
JOHN: Did someone actually tell you that?
KEITH: The way I would prefer to phrase it was that it was implied at the time that this was… tolerated… that this would be allowed to happen.
JOHN: How did the prisoners get the drugs in?
KEITH: Well, I found out one way years later when I went to a second-hand mobile phone shop in Clapham Junction where they gave you money for your old phones. I told the man: “I’ve got one of the original Nokia phones,” and he said: “Oh! They’re very popular… because people use them for other purposes!”
“What?” I asked.
“They stick them up their arsking-for-it,” he told me… And that’s how they were smuggled in to prisons back then. With a contraceptive. They put the Nokia phone inside a contraceptive.
(This would have been around 1999/2000.)
JOHN: It would be embarrassing if the phone rang in transit.
KEITH: I don’t know what the signal strength would have been like.
JOHN: Do you still have a Nokia?
KEITH: Yes, the old one and it still works.
JOHN: Where do you keep it?
KEITH: In a safe place. As a back-up. But, as I’m sure you know, this was why they put certain people on the potty.
KEITH: They used to put them on a potty and then wait until they did ‘an evacuation’.
JOHN: What?? In prison??
KEITH: Didn’t you know that?
JOHN: No. They did that in case a Nokia fell out?
KEITH: Other brands are available but, yes, this was part of the security thing. Maybe they used German toilet bowls.
KEITH: When I worked for BFBS in West Germany and West Berlin, there was a ceramic platform at the back of the toilet bowls onto which your evacuation fell so you could inspect it before you flushed and the water gushed it down the hole. Some Germans are obsessed about what’s happened to their poo.
JOHN: Up the Ruhr?
KEITH: Enough, John.
As a sign of how things have changed, a 2017 report in the International Business Times revealed that inmates at Wayland Prison were now being allowed to use laptop computers to order meals from their cells and had been given in-cell telephones to keep in touch with relatives in the evenings.
All the prison’s cells had telephones and the prison was “also planning the limited introduction of ‘video calling’ to friends and family later in the year.”
“However,” the report continued, “in common with most prisons, HMP Wayland continues to battle a tide of contraband flooding into into the jail… So far, in the first six months of this year, the jail’s seized haul includes over a kilo of drugs, 177 mobile phones and almost 500 litres of alcohol, most of which was illicitly brewed inside the premises.”