The king of Loonies is dead. Long live the Loony Party

HE DIED on Wednesday, the nation briefly mourned and that, most of us thought, was that. Goodbye to the Monster Raving Loony Party.

But the party created by Screaming Lord Sutch isn't going away. In Ashburton, a pretty, ever-so-respectable and not-at-all-loony town on the edge of Dartmoor, the party grandees are planning the succession. The leader is gone; the cause remains.

The papers portrayed Lord Sutch as a British eccentric. A man who, wearing trademark top hat and leopard-skin suit, deflated the pomposity of politicians, demanding heated toilet seats for pensioners, and who wanted fish bred in a European wine lake so they could be caught ready pickled.

Eccentric he was, but much more as well. He was actually rather shy and, strange though it may seem, he really believed in "loonyism". And in Ashburton he discovered he was not alone. Here they are mourning the death of a man they felt privileged to call a close friend.

The Official Monster Raving Loony Party, which he headed for more than 30 years, has its headquarters in the town's Golden Lion hotel. The landlord, Alan Hope, a former rock'n'roll singer, was the party's deputy until the tragic events of last week. He has assumed leadership and will carry the OMRLP forward until its 19th annual conference this September in the hotel.

Inside the Golden Lion an election placard showing Lord Sutch in classic pose outside 10 Downing Street, loudhailer in hand, has been propped up against the bar. "The king is dead; long live the king," said Mr Hope. "But may the legend be even greater than the king."

Pictures of Mr Hope and Lord Sutch hang above the bar, while a large cabinet displays the departed leader's autobiography and an LP. Posters advertising Lord Sutch's occasional gigs testify to his rock-playing origins. OMRLP badges are liberally sprinkled around the bar area.

"We'll keep it going. I think we have to," said Mr Hope, who has been shattered by the death of his closest friend. "It's a terrible tragedy, a real shock. He died on my 57th birthday. I always thought I would get a phone call telling me that he wasn't alive any more but I didn't expect him to hang himself."

Lord Sutch's depression was widely known. He had taken medication and was deeply affected by the ill health of his mother, Nancy, who died on the eve of polling day in May 1997. But Mr Hope had believed his friend's fortunes had taken a turn for the better. "He had got himself sorted," said Mr Hope. "He'd just secured an advert for Coco Pops and he was bubbling and bouncing."

Calls of sympathy and condolence have come to the pub from across the world, testifying to the warmth Lord Sutch inspired in those he met. "He would have loved this reaction," said Mr Hope. "Politicians loved him. He shook Harold Wilson's hand and Margaret Thatcher thought the world of him. I don't think he realised what he's left behind."

Mr Hope wants a national memorial to his friend. "I'd like there to be a monument to Lord Sutch right in the middle of Parliament Square, next to Winston Churchill, who was his hero. And they made a postage stamp of Freddie Mercury when he died, so why can't they do the same for him?"

Lord Sutch (he was not a hereditary peer - he changed his name by deed poll) was due to visit the pub this weekend. A teetotaller, he was popular with regulars, who talk of a shy, laid-back man forever clasping a large mug of tea. "He always had time to speak to people," said James Bresin, a Golden Lion regular. "He didn't make a distinction between the powerful politicians and people like us. He always shook our hands."

Mr Hope bought the Golden Lion in 1977. "They brought a lot of trade to Ashburton," said Peter Sear, another regular in the Golden Lion. "Without them this town would be a lot worse off."

The party's influence does not stop there. Mr Hope, a local councillor for 13 years, was recently re-elected mayor for a second term of office. "I was unopposed when I first stood for election. That was important because if I'd got a single vote I would have had to resign from the party for being too serious."

Mr Hope's election as mayor also kept within the Loonies' sacrosanct, though unwritten, electoral code. The first choice dropped out and Mr Hope was nominated by the vicar and an undertaker's wife. His re-election was equally fitting: "The vote was 4-4 and as I had the casting vote I voted for myself. If I'd been elected by a majority then the party would have taken a dim view of it all."

The citizens of Ashburton are entirely happy with his reign, he asserts. "It doesn't matter what your politics are or if you come from Mars if you're the right man for the job," he said. He points out that some of Lord Sutch's ideas - all-day pub opening, abolition of the 11-plus and voting at 18 - have become mainstream.

But for the time being Mr Hope has other things on his mind. He expects to be involved in the funeral arrangements of his friend of 42 years. "It won't be a funeral," he declared. "It will be a rejoicing in his memory."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Sport
Raheem Sterling of Liverpool celebrates scoring the opening goal
footballLIVE: Follow all the latest from tonight's Capital One quarter-finals
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Scandi crush: Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

Th Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need
Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Its use is always wrong and, despite CIA justifications post 9/11, the information obtained from it is invariably tainted, argues Patrick Cockburn