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Raving loonies: the first 30 years

JUST DAYS after the Christchurch by-election this Thursday, a historic political event: Screaming Lord Sutch celebrates the 30th anniversary of the first time he took to the hustings.

As a 22-year-old in August 1963, the top-hatted, megaphone-wielding self-styled loony contested Stratford-upon-Avon - the seat hastily vacated by John Profumo - for the National Teenage Party, which later went on to become the Monster Raving Loony Party.

'I told Christine Keeler that the Monster Raving Loonies would never have been formed but for her,' says Sutch, whose platform was for votes at 18, the legalisation of commercial radio, the abolition of the 11- plus and the replacement of road tax with a levy of tuppence on a gallon of petrol. 'She said, 'Oh no. They'll blame me for that as well.' '

Whatever happens on Thursday Sutch, who has now unsuccessfully contested 33 by-elections and lost his deposit every time, can at least claim one important footnote in British political history. In the 1990 Bootle by-election, the Monster Raving Loony Party sounded the death knell for the SDP by gaining more votes than the official SDP candidate. After that humiliation, David Owen resolved that enough was enough and wound up the SDP - a decision that put a stop to damaging by-election challenges in seats also being contested by the Liberal Democrats.

AN advertisement in the Pets & Livestock column of the Times on Saturday: 'Blond, blue-eyed lady (widowed), pretty and petite, many interests, seeks cultured, com(passionate), sincere gentleman (50+) to share love and companionship. Photo apprec.'

Vegetable's scoop

THE GERMAN weekly Der Spiegel ('The Mirror') prides itself on being the magazine to read in Germany. One of its biggest stories in recent weeks has involved allegations against Jose Ignacio Lopez, Volkswagen's number two and formerly the purchasing chief at General Motors.

Not unnaturally, Detroit - the home of General Motors - has been taking a keen interest in the affair as Volkswagen's share price has started to slide. The Detroit News reported the allegations against Mr Lopez in what the paper described as 'the feisty weekly German news magazine Der Spargel', which it correctly pointed out to its readers, translates as 'The Asparagus'.

STAFF at a Highgate estate agency were somewhat alarmed the other day when two police officers strode purposefully into their office. 'Sorry to bother you, mate,' said one. 'But can you tell us where that Chris Evans (presenter of Channel 4's The Big Breakfast) bought his house? I read it in the paper and it's been bugging me all day.'

Carry on Carryover

A CONFIDENTIAL internal memorandum circulating in the Cleveland police region suggests that our emergency services may not be entirely on the ball when it comes to coping with major disasters. Inspector Ron Turnball of the Hartlepool division reports on Exercise Carryover, an operation in the town earlier this year, when the emergency services were mobilised to cope with escaping chemicals from the local Tioxide plant.

First, the actors who were due to play casualties in the disaster arrived late. Then, a police traffic car inadvertently alerted the plant's staff that the secret exercise was about to take place by asking employees for directions. The chemical emissions alarm was subsequently activated but not transmitted to the police or fire brigade. The latter had to be called by telephone and the police were not contacted for half an hour after the alarm had rung.

As if this were not enough, a fireman fell down a staircase, a volunteer casualty suffered an asthma attack on a high gantry, and three other volunteers became victims of hypothermia after being drenched with fire brigade hoses. The exercise was aborted.

IN HIS latest column for the Rutland and Stamford Mercury, Quentin Davies, Conservative MP for Stamford and Spalding, describes old-age pensions and unemployment and sickness benefits as those originated by 'Beverage'


27 July 1793 John Syme writes to a friend about a tour undertaken with Robert Burns through Galloway: 'I must tell you that Burns had got a pair of jimmy boots, which the wetness had rendered it an impossible task to get on. The brawny poet tried force, and tore them in shreds. A whiffling vexation like this is more trying to the temper than a serious calamity. Mercy on me, how he did fume and rage. Nothing could reinstate him in temper. I tried all I could think of; at length I got a lucky hit. Across the bay of Wigtown I showed him Lord Galloway's house. He expectorated his spleen against the aristocratic elf, and regained a most agreeable temper. I have about half a dozen capital extempores which I dare not write. We reached Kirkcudbright about one. Burns' obstreporous independence would not dine but where he could, as he said, eat like a Turk, drink like a fish, and swear like the Devil.'