Answering the phone at the Weekly Post group of local papers where, in 1969, I
was a reporter, was never boring, and often rich in exclusive stories.
Snake-dancer Valerie would ring with details of her latest exotic – not to say erotic - activities; unknown Pinner singer Reg Dwight begged for publicity, aspiring pop group Sweet, assured me their new disc was a guaranteed chartbuster as their manager had ‘bought two thousand copies’.
Today it was a man who, given the chance, would have filled our next edition entirely with stories about himself:
‘It’s Dave here........grab a photographer, get down here.......my house is on fire, it’ll
be a great picture story.....!’
‘Dave’ was always David to me. His house was a few minutes' drive away.
‘David, by the time we get there the fire will be out.’
‘I haven’t rung the Fire Brigade – I’ve got a bucket of water here – when you arrive, you can get shots of me pouring water over the flames.’
November 10, 2020, would have been David’s 80th birthday. David, better known to the world as Screaming Lord Sutch, was the flamboyant showman and rock n roller – who reinvigorated his fading career when he reinvented himself as a mock politican, leading the Monster Raving Loony Party.
Snapper, Phil and I headed off for Wembley, arriving to find Sutch standing by his gate, buckets to hand, as neighbours anxiously watched lest their own properties should be engulfed by fire.
David had propped a ladder against the house, and climbed it, water bucket in hand, posing for Phil. Only then did he deign to call the firemen in.
We had our photo-story and he advanced his quest to ensure that everyone in the land knew who Screaming Lord Sutch was.
David was a far more private, quiet character than his alter ego. I watched him play at a local venue, the Clay Pigeon, flailing his way through his overwhelmingly un-pc ‘Jack the Ripper’ act, waving an outsize axe as he went.
At the Railway Hotel in Wealdstone, he broke off his performance to lead the audience outside, carrying with him an effigy of prime minister, Edward Heath, which he then tossed into a pre-prepared bonfire.......another front page story.
‘I’m not the world’s greatest singer’ he told me, ‘but I’m a good shouter.’ That, his on-stage antics and the ability to lure top musicians like former early Rolling Stones’ drummer, Carlo Little, superstar guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, future chart hit singer/actor, Paul Nicholas, Status Quo bassist Rhino Edwards and Procol Harum’s
keyboard player Matthew Fisher, to play in his backing band, The Savages, made him a big attraction.
He appeared at Wembley Stadium with Little Richard, was friends with Mick Jagger, Keith Moon, Rod Stewart, Simon Dee. His chart LP, ‘Heavy Friends’ – the only one – featured Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, and Noel Redding.
When Sutch began standing at by-elections I sponsored him on behalf of bookie William Hill, for whom I was by then working. Tony Benn and Neil Kinnock loved him – Dr David Owen, whose SDP he beat in Bootle in 1990, signing their death-warrant in the process - not so much. He also rubbed Maggie Thatcher up the wrong way and believed that she set tax officials on to him to ‘teach me a lesson.’
Monster Raving Loony Party Conferences were hilarious. At one in Ashburton, Devon, he gathered Party members about him and led us to the top of a local tor – addressing and welcoming us to ‘this Summit Meeting.’
I got him an entry in the Guinness Book of Records by laying him a bet at world- record odds of 15,000,000/1 that he’d become Prime Minister. David took part in a Loch Ness Monster Hunt I organised, offering a million pounds for proof of the existence of Nessie – his lure of British Rail sandwiches dipped in to the Loch as he paddled out as far as he could go failed to persuade the Monster to reveal itself.
Eventually, approaching 60, the death of his much-loved mother – in whose grave he had reserved a place for himself – accelerated his secret depression. Together in Wales in June, 1999, for an event at which he appeared annually, David told me he’d been booked to perform in Las Vegas, hinting that he was to marry girlfriend, Yvonne, there.
David performed a last gig with a local group of musicians at The Neuadd Arms pub in Llanwrtyd Wells on Saturday night. We said goodbye next morning and headed back to London. Yvonne drove him to his Harrow home, and went back to her place in Reading.
Two days later, he uncharacteristically missed a booked newspaper interview. Yvonne drove up to David’s house on Wednesday, June 16, opening the door at half three in the afternoon – ‘It looked like David was standing on the stairs. He was dressed in ordinary clothes. I called a greeting. He didn’t answer. I thought he was joking, so I took a photograph of him. I suddenly realised what he had done.’
Tied around his neck was a child’s multi-coloured skipping rope. David Sutch was dead, by his own hand.
He’d have revelled in the huge media coverage of his death, which made him front page/headline news, and in the colourful funeral – at which more than one guest asked me: ‘Do you think it could possibly be a huge publicity stunt?’ It wasn’t, but he’d appreciate the fact that Screaming Lord Sutch, the name he invented for his alter ego lives on.....