It perhaps reflects the absurdity and idiocy that surrounding last week’s UK General Election – which, lest we forget, ended in the sort of ongoing politcal chaos that it was supposed to clear up – that the biggest story to come out of the whole damn thing has been the return of Lord Buckethead, who stood against Prime Minister Theresa May in her Maidenhead constituency and scored a decent 249 votes on a manifesto promising “strong, not entirely stable leadership” and which actually contains some sensible policies (read them here and tell me you wouldn’t vote for him). Buckethead has become a media sensation, appearing on the John Oliver show in the US and generally being the only thing about the whole election debacle that everyone can relate to.
But the Buckethead story started thirty years ago, when he stood against then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1987, and continued in 1992 when he competed with John Major. Or at least, a Lord Buckethead did.
The original Lord Buckethead was video distributor and film producer Mike Lee. Lee had been the owner of VIPCO, one of the earliest indie home video labels in the UK. VIPCO were effectively wiped out of business by the Video Nasties hysteria and subsequent Video Recordings Act – unsurprising, as they had released censor-baiting titles like Zombie Flesh Eaters, The Driller Killer, Death Trap, Flesh for Frankenstein, Shogun Assassin and others. In fact, the gory press ads for The Driller Killer are widely seen as one of the catalysts of the Video Nasty scare.
By 1987, VIPCO was a dead duck (it would return in 1992 and has sporadically popped up since), and Lee’s hopes of becoming a film producer floundered with the unsuccessful Twisted Souls (aka Spookies). He was running rather more anonymous and less controversial labels in 1987, when the election came along just in time to gain some free – or at least cheap – publicity for his latest release.
Hyperspace was a 1984 US science fiction comedy – a satire of Star Wars, in which Darth Vader-alike Lord Buckethead mistakenly ends up on Earth in small-town America while chasing a space princess. Lee released the film on the Showchannel label, and retitled it Gremloids, in order to cash in Gremlins (which was already two years old at this point), and because he has a bit of a thing for fiddling with film titles – he would later rename Turkey Shoot as Blood Camp Thatcher, FleshEater as Zombie Nosh and The Changer as The Nostril Picker amongst others.
In Britain, there is a grand tradition of ‘novelty’ candidates in General Elections, perhaps best personified by Screaming Lord Sutch’s Monster Raving Looney Party. In 1987, a deposit of £500 was required to stand for election. You lose this if you get less than 12.5% of the vote. But £500 was probably a lot less than the price of a press campaign for an unknown science fiction film on a small label. And so Lord Buckethead, representing the Gremloids Party, stood for election against the prime Minister, and sure enough, Gremloids was afforded a mention on news reports for weeks.
In 1992, a revived VIPCO had Gremloids on its release slate, and sure enough, Lord Buckethead was back in that year’s election, again standing against the Prime Minister. With all Gremloids publicity exhausted – and, more importantly, the film rights probably having expired – Lord Buckethead was then absent from elections for 20 years. Until now.
The current Lord Buckethead is not Mike Lee – his identity has not been officially revealed, though rumours have included the outlandish idea that he is David Cameron in disguise. Rather disappointingly, he was identified as one Jonathan David Harvey by the Maidenhead returning officer.
But unlike in previous elections, this year Buckethead has caught the public imagination and become a cult hero – possibly because for once, he seems only marginally less absurd than his rivals, and a lot more trustworthy. How could an intergalactic space Lord be any worse than what we currently have?
UPDATE: Gremloids director Todd Durham seems to think that there is commercial capital in the popularity of the Buckethead character, and has imposed his copyright over it. Sigh. Not to be defeated, Harvey has rebooted his version as Count Binface, which perhaps doesn’t have the same snappiness to it. But fans will be glad to hear that, as per tradition, he is standing against Boris Johnson in the 2019 general election. As George Galloway might say, we salute his courage, his strength and his indefatigability.