Another week, another famous Harrowvian – and this one perhaps one of the most colourful that the borough ever produced.
David Edward Sutch was a famous politician and musician of the 1980s and 1990s – founding the Official Monster Raving Loony Party and standing for it in numerous elections. Coining himself the 3rd Earl of Harrow, Sutch is perhaps one of the strangest figures to have his name attached to the area, and yet also one of the most memorable.
Sutch was not born in the borough, however. Rather, he was born in Hampstead in November 1940. Sutch’s childhood in Hampstead was a harsh one. When he was just ten months old, his father – a war reserve policeman – was killed in an accident. With just his mother left, Sutch was raised in relative poverty in Kilburn for the next fifteen years, living out of a shared flat whilst his mother worked as a cleaner and shop assistant. Sutch formed a close bond with his mother during this time – and when he finally finished school in 1956, they moved out of their impoverish flat in Kilburn, swapping it for South Harrow, with Sutch finding work as a window cleaner for the local area.
Whilst living in the borough, Sutch began his first forays into what would be his first career – that of music. During the 1960s, Sutch gained renown as a national rock and roll attraction – and it was now that he took on his famous name, despite having no connection with the borough’s peerage. As ‘Screaming Lord Sutch, 3rd Earl of Harrow,’ Sutch became a popular entertainer – putting on a horror-themed stage show in the 1960s with the help of his band the Savages, dressing as the notorious nineteenth century serial killer Jack the Ripper on a number of occasions. During this time, he became a frequent customer for the recently reopened Ace Café in Wembley – visiting the café on his motorbike until it closed temporarily in 1969.
With the 1980s and the government of Thatcher, Sutch made his debut in politics with the foundation of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party in 1983 – what has since become a popular mode for satire and an avenue for protest votes. Sutch stood for the party in its first election in the Bermondsey by-election, and – though failing to find victory – he would go on to take part in over forty elections, funding his campaigns on the backs of his concerts. Despite the nature of his party, Sutch did come to have an impact on British politics in this period, when in the Bootle by-election in May 1990 he secured more votes than the Continuing Social Democratic Party’s candidate – a defeat which contributed to the SDP’s dissolution in the days that followed.
His subversive career in politics continued into the 1990s – in 1997 Sutch running for the more local constituency of Uxbridge (and gaining 1.3% of the vote in the process). Yet in the same year, a tragedy struck that, it seems, Sutch was never able to quite overcome. The death of his mother in April 1997 – for whom had been his only family for all his life – provoked a destructive spiral of decline in Sutch, that soon, unbeknownst to the rest of the country, gave way into ‘manic depression.’ In June 1999, this depression claimed the beloved entertainer and politician, with Sutch hanging himself in his South Harrow home.
In the days that followed, remembrance of Harrow’s 3rd Earl poured out – going as far as 10 Downing Street. ‘Screaming Lord Sutch will be much missed,’ a Downing Street spokesman said at the time. ‘For many years he made a unique contribution to British politics. Our elections will never be quite the same without him.’ More locally, Sutch was immortalised in 2001 at Ace Café upon its reopening, with a plaque dedicated in his honour being placed on the side of the building, and a remembrance service being held in his name.
Sutch, then, and his story, is one of the most vibrant, memorable, and also most tragic figures that the borough has produced of that. From his early days in the borough as a bombastic entertainer and musician, to his later career as a subversive politician, Sutch’s life is one that will stand the test of time. When next you see the Monster Raving Loony Party, be sure to remember it as the enduring legacy of one of the borough’s most colourful figures – David Edward Sutch, the 3rd Earl of Harrow.
Written by Harry Turner.
Image Credit: Alchetron.com