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A cup of tea, a BEX, and a good lie down.


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Bex, Vincent's and Aspro were the go-to pain relievers of the first two thirds of the 20th Century in Australia, and were made in Australia from the beginning of WWl.

 Packet of Bex Powders - MAAS Collection  Advertising Collectables SOLD  image.jpeg.b0747a06b0049977c73b92635a5a19c2.jpeg

 

The pain killers were composed of three ingredients, Aspirin, Phenacetin and caffeine.

 

Aspirin is the synthetic form of salicylic acid which has been known for centuries from willow bark. It is a pain reliever. It was laboratory synthesised in the 1803's and commercially produced in 1899 by the Bayer company of Germany. Phenacetin was also a Bayer creation of 1887. It reduces temperature rise due to the body's infection fighting processes. And caffeine comes from the coffee bean.

 

The Bayer products were sold worldwide, but at the start of WWl, they stopped being available. One of the effects of a declaration of war is that Patents held by enemy countries cease to be upheld, so anyone can use what the Patent covers.  On 17 September 1915 Prime Minister Hughes granted Shmith, Nicholas & Co. a licence to make and sell aspirin in Australia. The product was initially sold as Nicholas-Aspirin but George Nicholas, realizing that the name 'Aspirin' could be reclaimed by Bayer after the war, sought his own trade mark. In April 1917 the name 'Aspro' was adopted and registered.

 

Dr. Harry John Clayton (ca.1887 – 31 October 1928)of Macquarie Street and medical superintendent of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, took the headache remedy then in general use, composed of phenacetin and caffeine, and by experimenting with the addition of aspirin, arrived at what became the standard formulation known as A.P.C. powder. In 1919, at the insistence of his wife, Clayton founded a partnership consisting of Mrs Clayton, E. W. Wills, C. K. Probert, and J. A. Vincent,  who had been assistant dispenser at the hospital, and was at that time a pharmacist with a business. During the pneumonic influenza epidemic April to July 1919, Vincent offered many of his customers packages of the compound as A.P.C. powder, which may have been labeled "Vincent's A.P.C" After the partnership was incorporated, Vincent made up the compound, coloured pink, in premises adjacent to his chemist's shop, as 12 envelopes of powder in a box, or as 24 tablets in a small bottle, and labeled as "pain remedy". Printed instructions for use, supplied gratis by Clayton, were included with each package, bearing the company's trademark "Vincent's APC". 

 

The manufacturer of BEX was the firm of Beckers in Dudley Park in SA. It had the same formulation as Aspro and Vincents. A Cup of Tea, a Bex and a Good Lie Down was a comedy revue that opened at Sydney's Phillip Street Theatre on 18 September 1965. It was the longest running show at the theatre in 1966 and was performed over 250 times during its extended run. The expression "A cup of tea, a Bex, and a good lie down" had gained currency through much of Australia in the post-World War II period when aspirin became readily available. The revue reinforced the phrase "and the title quickly became a common Australian saying". It was often abbreviated to "go and take a Bex" and used in a pejorative sense to indicate to an over-eager person that they should take a more relaxed attitude to a situation.

 

Because the sale of these products was uncontrolled, they were available everywhere and cheap. They were "Mother's little helpers" and taken by many as stimulants. APC products were particularly seen as the housewife's drug of choice in the 1950s and 1960s. However, it became recognised that these medications were addictive, and Priscilla Kincaid-Smith, Director of Nephrology, Royal Melbourne Hospital  found that the large doses of phenacetin ingested by habitual users were responsible for widespread kidney disease. The phenacetin was removed from these products in 1975.

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In the early 70's I knew a bloke hooked on Bex powders. He would have as many per day as a smoker would have cigarettes, and explained that it was like having a smoke to him. I also remember in those days that pubs stocked a lot of Bex and Vincent's powders just like they stocked cigarettes. A lot of them also had hot water urns as a lot of old blokes drank rum and bonox.

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My Aunt died of renal failure from taking Vincent's. I remember her sitting down to a cuppa and unfolding a folded wrapper and tipping the powdery contents into her mouth. Obviously, because they were the go-to pain killer, I was given the odd Vincents or BEX. I remember that they tasted awful and dried in your mouth, like eating flour.

 

As I was researching the above, I came across a snippet of how Aspros were sold in paper strips, much like we get tablets in foils now. The strips were one tablet wide - white paper. Apparently there was much division amongst users as to which were the better, Vincents or BEX. A bit like men arguing over Resch's of Tooheys.

 

Since these concoctions were known by the generic term APCs, the abbreviation was also used to describe a quick wash to freshen up - an armpit and crutch.

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Apparently all side used drugs on their soldiers. I have just read a thriller where the drugs were from an old WW2 stash.

  Getting back to painkillers, how cunning is it for the puritans to declare the best painkilling drugs to be evil and against the wishes of their imagined deity?

And how gullible are the rest of us to accept this?

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  • 4 weeks later...
On 25/08/2020 at 1:30 AM, onetrack said:

I was quite surprised to find that the Nazis were heavy users of Speed (Pervitin) before and during WW2 - thus the reason the Panzer Blitzkreig invasion forces could go for 3 days non-stop, without sleep, to reaches the shores of France.

 

https://time.com/5752114/nazi-military-drugs/

Aparently the Allies used Benzedrine https://allthatsinteresting.com/amphetamine-use-world-war-2

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Dad prefered Bex but maybe they disapeared before Vincents. I can still remember the taste and unfolding the paper downed with then a coke. Another drug on the bedside table was the old Red and Yellow plastic bottle of Ford Pills. Ha I just googled and there is still a product called Ford Sena Laxitives.

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OME, I was surprised by your apparent skepticism about puritans and pain-killing drugs. My understanding has always been that puritans thought that any pleasure of the flesh was sinful. Why else was the entire anti-drug business done?

Personally, I think that puritanism is a seriously bad brain poison,( mind you some drugs are pretty awful too).  Australia in the 1950's was quite puritan and it still is but less so.

Anyway, it is not hard to find references about religious organizations opposing any relaxation of anti-drug laws. The Baptists are distantly related to the puritans and they are particularly opposed according to their publications.

While I do like your academic rigor, I find it just a bit like the insistence that the molested orphanage boys produce proof against the governor-general. Why was the onus on them when they had no resources and the governor-general had unlimited means?

 

 

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But about heroin being the best pain-killing drug: there was a documentary on tv where two senior physician-psychiatrists said how heroin was far better in every way, including being less addictive, than the legal drugs they were allowed to prescribe. The recording of this could be found by a good nerd.

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On 21/09/2020 at 3:10 PM, Bruce Tuncks said:

OME, I was surprised by your apparent skepticism about puritans and pain-killing drugs

I wasn't being sceptical. I was simply asking for what supports your statement. You may well be correct.

''Grit your teeth and bear it like a man."

"Pain can be useful as a warning; stop whining and be grateful."

"Appreciate the gift of pain; it builds character.''

 

These are value judgements; they are based not on science but on a particular perspective on life. Many religions believe that suffering can lead to growth, there's no value in attributing  that belief to Puritans alone. That suffering can lead to growth is a long way from deliberately inflicting suffering to make the patient grow.

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The anti-drug business is newer than we think. Before that there was alcohol prohibition in the US, but it was here too to some extent. My paternal grandfather was not religious, but he never allowed any alcohol into his house.

However, grandfather was a bit unusual. Most of the temperance movement was supported by religion. They morphed into the anti-drug lot very easily.

I reckon there is some reasoning that drugs interfered with the operation of the soul, and thus were anti god.

Islam is a modern remake of puritans, and they certainly are anti-alcohol.

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