Friday, July 25, 2008

Frank Serpico in Corwen

Talking of Frank Serpico - as unlikely as it might sound - he lived for a time (1979-80) in Corwen, north Wales. The original hippie cop co-founded an alternative learning centre there, based at a former workhouse. Students who attended Orissor College took courses in natural healing, the mind, the environment, and self-reliance skills.

As an undercover cop Serpico had worn his hair long, grown a beard, and generally looked like a hippie. So, it is interesting to note that after leaving the force he embraced some of the new age philosophies adopted by his undercover persona. According to writer Grahame Davies, who first alerted me to Serpico's sojourn in Corwen, the college was a source of curiosity to locals. It was also an open secret that Frank Serpico was in residence there.

Another source says that Serpico eventually had a disagreement with Orissor College and moved into a local bed and breakfast establishment. One website records Serpico's observations on the local police's technique for dealing with children who jumped off a bridge into the river: "The cops wouldn't say anything to them as long as others were around, but as soon as it got dark the police pounded the shit out them."

In the early seventies Serpico famously exposed corruption in the NYPD and even got shot in the face for his troubles. His biography Serpico (1973), penned by Peter Maas, became a best-seller and was adapted into a hugely successful film starring Al Pacino. After leaving Wales, Serpico eventually returned to upstate New York. He now lectures on the environment and has his own website.