Britain's king of the counterculture is killed in car crash

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The Independent Online
The man considered by most to be Britain's ecstasy guru has died in a car crash. Jason Bennetto, Crime Correspondent, considers the life of an extraordinary individual who epitomised the idea of counterculture.

Throughout his life Nicholas Saunders dared to be different. At one stage he lived in a house in London with a duck pond in the front room and a machine that blew giant bubbles into the road. The property was later destroyed after a Danish girlfriend set light to a papier mache igloo where she had been meditating.

Saunders, who died aged 60 in South Africa on Tuesday in a car crash, championed an unconventional lifestyle during the Sixties with the publication of the first Alternative London guide and later campaigned for the safer use of the drug ecstasy. He was also responsible for transforming Neal's Yard in Covent Garden into a Mecca for vegetarians, old hippies, and new trendies.

His three books, including E for Ecstasy, have become essential for drug users and researchers, and his Internet website, which displays pictures of ecstasy tablets is accessed three million times a year.

He started to rebel while still very young, attempting to blow up his school chapel at Ampleforth in Yorkshire. The bomb failed to go off.

His father, Sir Alexander Carr-Saunders, was director of the London School of Economics, which friends believe was partly responsible for turning his son against authority.

In London in the Sixties he took up squatting and in 1970 he printed the successful Alternative London guidebook, offering information on clubs, the women's movement and squatting.

He later developed an old warehouse in the then derelict Neal's Yard and opened the first wholefood warehouse in London that sold goods in bulk. This lead to a series of other shops including a coffee house, a bakery and a dairy.

In the 1980s he took his first ecstasy tablet, which was to transform his life again. On taking the drug he decided that he had been mildly depressed for the past decade and set about researching the properties of the new substance. This led to the three books and a wealth of original survey work.

On his website - - he published regular photographs of the various ecstasy pills on the market with warnings about what contaminated substances, such as brick dust and speed, they contained.

At the time of his death he was completing research into a book about natural drugs used by tribes throughout the world.

He died of a brain haemorrhage after the car he was being driven in overturned three times on a road at Kroonstadt, about two and a half hours from Johannesburg. His driver was injured and there are suggestions that the car had been deliberately targeted by roadside hijackers. Certainly robbers had rifled his pockets before the ambulance arrived.

Yesterday friends and drug experts paid their tributes.

Georganne Downes, a girlfriend of Saunders throughout the Seventies, and now the Countess of Uxbridge, added: "He was an alternative Richard Branson. Everything he touched turned to gold, although he always did everything on the cheap."