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Lord Buckethead
Photograph: Samuel Ibrahim

Lord Buckethead: my part in his downfall

David Hughes, the man behind the mask of Lord Buckethead, reveals how a bad ‘Star Wars’ parody spawned an election-night icon

Written by
David Hughes
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Anyone with even a passing interest in British politics will know that it has always been a strange beast – especially recently. But even on a stage so routinely peopled by windbags, chancers and the kind of English eccentrics who willingly defer to ‘nanny’ in all key decisions, the electoral presence of a figure dressed in Darth Vader-like garb is going to cut a swathe on the hustings.

So it was on election night 2019 when Lord Buckethead, the villain in a low-budget sci-fi from, stood against Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the west London constituency of Uxbridge. And beneath the mask? Well… me.

Gremloids
Photograph: Earl Owensby StudiosGremloids’ official poster

How did a film journalist come to run for office as Lord Buckethead? The story starts with a poundshop Star Wars spoof called Gremloids (aka ‘Hyperspace’), directed by American filmmaker Todd Durham and released in 1984. I came across it eight years later while writing press releases for cult VHS distributor VIPCO. In a typically madcap PR stunt, VIPCO boss Mike Lee dressed up as the film’s villain, Lord Buckethead, painted the film’s title on his helmet, and ran against the then-Prime Minister John Major in the general election as candidate for the hastily-formed ‘Gremloids Party’. (Nothing in the electoral guidelines says you can’t use your candidacy as a marketing tool. In fact, the government pays for everyone in your constituency to receive a leaflet about your candidacy, and for £500 a pretty cheap way to advertise your business – with an annual bonus of £82,000 if you somehow get elected.)

Lee won 107 votes, 24 fewer than when he’d run against Margaret Thatcher for the film’s UK release in 1987. The publicity was fantastic, but the political movement had stalled. 

And that’s how it remained for 25 years, a stovepipe-hatted footnote in a tumultuous period in British politics. But then the character reappeared to run against the new Prime Minister, Theresa May, in her ill-advised snap election in June 2017.  

Buckethead’s election manifesto included nationalising Adele and bringing back Ceefax

With a manifesto that included nationalising Adele, bringing back Ceefax and ‘strong, not entirely stable leadership’, this new incarnation of Lord Buckethead captured the imagination of a jaded post-Brexit referendum, post-Trump electorate on both sides of the Atlantic. Buckethead made a surprise appearance on John Oliver’s HBO show and even opened for the Sleaford Mods at Glastonbury. 

But who was the man behind the mask, if not Robin Bloodworth, the actor who played the character in the original film, or Mike Lee, who was long since retired? 

A cursory examination of the Maidenhead election records would reveal it to be a man called Jon Harvey. A comedian and TV and radio producer, Harvey had been unaware of the character’s political past until a viewing of an old VHS copy of Gremloids led him to its IMDb trivia page. He was quickly inspired to follow in the bootsteps of the Bucketheaded One. 

With a handmade costume, a £500 deposit and ten qualifying signatures – which is all it takes to declare yourself a candidate for a UK election – Harvey was on his way to the hustings. He picked up 249 votes, smashing Buckethead’s previous record. ‘From Maidenhead to New York and Glastonbury – it was the maddest month of my life,’ recalls Harvey.

AAP-20170609-122509-0822.JPG
Photograph: AP Photo/Alastair GranLord Buckethead stood against Theresa May in the 2017 general election

Soon, Lord Buckethead had accrued a hundred thousand Twitter followers and millions of YouTube views. This sudden notoriety prompted Todd Durham, writer-director of Gremloids (and much later a credited writer on Hotel Transylvania), to claim copyright violation – a bit rich coming from a man whose entire career was based on a Star Wars knock-off and a cartoon based around Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and Quasimodo.

Fearing litigation from a Hollywood writer with deep pockets, Harvey stepped back. He looked on as Durham took back control and began leveraging this new-found fame. ‘I have been involved to some extent with all of His Lordship’s political activities since 1987,’ Durham told Yes! Weekly in late 2018.

Becoming Lord Buckethead hadn’t been on my bucket list, but what the hell?

Harvey disputes this: ‘Todd had nothing whatsoever to do with my 2017 election run as Buckethead,’ he says, ‘so it was sad to see him take advantage of that.’

For his part, Durham had been upset by Harvey’s unauthorised use of his creation. Now he needed someone new to step into the suit. Given my 30-year history with the character, he called me. Becoming Lord Buckethead hadn’t been on my bucket list, but what the hell?

On Durham’s dime, I hired a propmaker to make a helmet, bought some leather gear and hefty boots at London’s famous Camden Market, and fashioned a cape out of an EU flag. My intention was to make my Bucketheaded debut at the anti-Brexit ‘People’s Vote’ march in early 2019. Lord Buckethead was back – and this time it was official.

The perils and pitfalls in political cosplaying quickly became apparent. Firstly, even in a city as well stocked with telephone boxes as London, it’s hard to find somewhere to secretly change into costume. Secondly, visibility is limited. I could barely see through the visor, turning every kerb and street crossing into a potential death trap, especially while being mobbed by selfie-hungry crowds.

Buckethead
Photograph: Samuel IbrahimLord Buckethead cameoing on UK TV’s ‘The Crystal Maze‘

Feeling that Durham and I were capitalising on the work he had done to bring Lord Buckethead back into the public eye, Harvey threw down the gauntlet. ‘People should know it’s not the same person,’ he told the Guardian. ‘It’s being run by an American from Beverly Hills.’

When an election was called for December, Harvey announced that, ‘following an unpleasant battle on the planet Copyright’, he would be running as a new receptacle-headed political hopeful called Count Binface. Binface would run against Boris Johnson in Uxbridge. 

No sooner had the ink dried on his nomination papers, however, than the new Lord Buckethead announced his own candidacy for the same seat. I would be running on behalf of long-standing political mavericks the Monster Raving Loony Party. First, I needed ten signatures from Uxbridge residents and a £500 deposit. Trickiest of all, as it turned out, was getting a proper cape made. The stage was set.

Buckethead
Photograph: Samuel IbrahimLord Buckethead ran against his fourth Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, in the 2019 election

December 17, 2019 was a rainy night in west London – and a stormy one for the Labour party in Uxbridge and across the country. It was a good one for incumbent MP Boris Johnson, who squeaked past both novelty candidates, securing 25,351 votes against Lord Buckethead’s 125 and Count Binface’s 69. ‘I must be the first person to fight for election against not just the Prime Minister but also effectively himself,’ notes Harvey.

The resulting encounter – during which Binface drowned out Buckethead’s interviews by singing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’, and Buckethead flipped Binface off as the results were announced – will not go down in the annals of gracious election night concessions.

Uxbridge will not go down in the annals of gracious election night concessions

It prompted me to wonder if Durham’s account of my predecessor’s copyright-infringing shenanigans were correct? I contacted Harvey to heard his side of the story. His experiences chimed loudly with my own. 

Then something strange happened. In October 2020, the official Lord Buckethead Twitter feed posted a tweet, in which the dark warrior appeared to reveal the intergalactic truth. ‘Humans of Earth, I have a confession. I’m not the spacelord you’re looking for,’ it read. ‘I took control of the @LordBuckehead account after it got famous. The space warrior you knew and loved has respawned as @CountBinface. Follow him and help him rule the galaxy. ALL HAIL COUNT BINFACE!’

Just a few hours after the tweet was posted, presumably by a rogue element, it was deleted – along with my log-in credentials, oddly enough – but the secret was out, louder than before. The Lord does indeed move in mysterious ways.

The account has remained largely silent since, although the official website (still run by Durham), invites ‘legal citizen[s] of the United Kingdom’ to volunteer for future campaigns. ‘His Lordship’s campaigns have always been and always will be run, financed and performed exclusively by UK citizens,’ it states, presumably to thwart accusations of foreign interference in British elections; ‘while UK performers change with every election, the intergalactic Space Lord character does not retire and remains a decades-long British tradition.’

In other words, Lord Buckethead could be anyone – even you. Or maybe, given that it’s 2021, and precedents have been set by Doctor Who and 007, it’s time for Lord Buckethead to step aside and pass the helmet and cape on to a woman. Lady Buckethead, your time has come.

Todd Durham was invited to contribute to this story.

Lord Buckethead will return at a UK election soon. Gremloids is not currently available on Blu-ray, although it is on YouTube.

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