Tuesday, 20 October 2015

In court with the Naked Rambler

[Note: you’ll see that I’m not drawing the characters, just casting them from Spotlight.]

Someone has left a startling amount of male and female imagery lying around outside Winchester Crown Court. 

It's a bracing reminder that we're here because of the Naked Rambler's genitalia and buttocks, frequent sightings of which have excited magistrates' opprobrium to such a degree that he now has his own special ASBO which leads with lumpen logic to a potential infinity of jury trials - this is his fourth - and custodial sentences.

'Prometheus', Gustave Moreau, 1868

He’s a huge burden on the taxpayer: a one-man Trident but with arguably less deterrent effect.

Before the jury are admitted, The Naked Rambler aka Steve (Jim Dale) is summoned from the deep. 

I hear shackles rattling à la Marley’s ghost - surely he isn’t chained? The usher assures me that it's the jangle of the accompanying official’s keys to the cells. But later I’m told that, when out of sight, he’s in handcuffs.

Steve must have been wearing clothes occasionally - his forearms and neck are darker than his bony chest and shoulders. He is thinner and rangier than the last time I saw him, in August; his beard is on the march again. 

From my viewpoint, only his top half is visible. In the dock he is shielded by a wooden screen below, glass above. He gazes up to heaven like a grizzled terrier or leans forward, straining to hear, his nose against the glass. 

He rubs off the condensation from his breath and a fragment of Yeats, writing about Keats, comes to mind:

I see a schoolboy when I think of him,
With face and nose pressed to a sweet-shop window,
For certainly he sank into his grave
His senses and his heart unsatisfied

Hmn, a bit dark for Steve, but it’s there.

To my mind, the only person truly naked in this court is barrister Matthew Scott (Tim Piggott-Smith), who has been Steve’s loyal brief in the past.

Inaccurately billed as 'leading QC' on the front page of the latest Sunday Times, Scott is nevertheless top man - nobly standing on the sidelines as an unofficial amicus curiae without brief, wig, robe or ability to raise an invoice, because Steve wishes to represent himself. But that’s impossible if you aren't allowed in court at the same time as the jury. Steve won’t promise to remain seated - with his genitals out of the jury’s sight - so he is sent back to the cells.

Prosecuting counsel: ‘Mr Gough does have a wish often to stand up.’

Judge: ‘We can’t ask a prison officer to chain his legs to the floor.’

A Police Community Support Officer (Billie Piper) is looking after cellophane packets containing a pale grey marl top and tracksuit bottoms, ready for Steve to pop on if he relents.

Steve when at liberty

During one of the longueurs triggered by attempts to fit Steve’s caprice into court procedure, Scott asks his pupil (whose duties may not have been explained adequately at interview) to stand fully clothed in the witness box, then in the dock, ‎and scrutinises him to assess whether the offending genitalia really could be seen by the jury. Then Steve himself is summoned back to the dock for the same exercise. When Steve stands up, ‘The top of the pubic hair is visible, my lord.’

Judge love

The judge (Timothy West elided with Ronnie Barker) is humane and authoritative. He is particularly considerate towards Scott and expresses profuse gratitude: to represent this, in my notebook, I sketch a heart and a flower, then realise with horror that I have drawn in the court, my biggest fear as it’s illegal to do so.

It’s tempting to glamorise Steve as Joan of Arc or Peter Grimes or Job (‘Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither’) but that would be false.

I won’t regale you with Steve’s Fotherington-Thomas comments about the human body because I think they are irrelevant. I spend a lot of time drawing people who are naked as models or performers. Whether professional or enthusiastic amateurs, they embrace discipline and stick up notices on doors to the outside world saying NO NUDITY BEYOND THIS DOOR.

Steve hasn’t found the door. He isn’t even looking for it. His struggle is not concerned with some right to be naked in Asda, but with an eccentric compulsion to challenge authority.

He is using nudity as a figleaf.‎

‘The arguments against me have no foundation,’ he says.

The judge questions his intransigence: ‘Do you think something is going to change in your lifetime?’
‘Probably not.’
‘You’ll just get older and colder?’

In the court cafeteria, the clock has stopped. 

Steve is remanded in custody awaiting a psychiatric report and sentencing.



  1. Thankyou for taking the time to attend the trial and for writing this account Isobel. Hoping the court and the kind Judge Cutler who, upon realising that the repeated use of a hammer simply results in damage to the vulnerable victim of the wrong tool rather than any positive progress will take a good look in their toolbox for the right sized screwdriver.To be honest my heart breaks for Steve - it's getting rather late in the day.

  2. So far as who might have a way to tackle it - try Prof. Baron Cohen or Tony Attwood or one of the many experts on the Autism Spectrum for I believ that Stephen Gough has undiagnosed Asperger's syndrome along with the physical, psychological and emotional damage done by around 10 years of segregated incarceration in HMP.

  3. This whole saga is becoming more and more like a Gilbert and Sullivan Operetta. Which is a shame, because at the heart of it all, is one man's struggle to have an identity as a Free Naked Man, as is his legal right, and the State's obsessive-compulsive urge to suppress that identity through the use of labyrinthine and barely-legal mechanisms to deny Steve the right to walk free.
    I'd argue that Steve is the only sane man in Britain today. Let's not diminish his struggle by giving him a label.

    1. Baiterboy- I would suggest that Stephen Gough has been given all kinds of unhelpful labels by all kinds of people throughout the years which diminish his struggle - The Naked Rambler being the most commonly used. I argue that neither he nor his struggle would be in no way diminished if were identified with Asperger syndrome. Anyone really familiar with high functioning autism would likely not consider the recognition of it's existence in a person as a negative - some of our very greatest minds would share this 'label.' If the courts were to acknowledge ASD and knew a little about it then they would likely understand him a little better and could repond more appropriately. Perhaps you could do some research into Asperger's yourself. . .different does not equal less.

  4. TRIAL BY JURY - As with most Gilbert and Sullivan operas, the plot of Trial by Jury is ludicrous, but the characters behave as if the events were perfectly reasonable. This narrative technique blunts some of the pointed barbs aimed at hypocrisy, especially of those in authority, and the sometimes base motives of supposedly respectable people and institutions. These themes became favourites of Gilbert through the rest of his collaborations with Sullivan. Critics and audiences praised how well Sullivan's witty and good-humoured music complemented Gilbert's satire.

    "The Legend of Stephen Gough" certainly measures up to a Gilbert & Sullivan Comic Operetta as you say, Baiterboy!