Category Archives: Suicide

The continuing fascination with suicide

suicideblogI have written this blog since May 2010 and I have a rough idea how the hits on it work.

On the day I post a blog, it gets big hits.

Slightly less hits the next day.

By the third day, the hits have pretty much stopped.

After that, pretty much – nothing.

Only rare, sporadic hits.

So I find it interesting that, almost every day, one particular blog I wrote pretty much two years ago – on 15th January 2015 – is still getting daily hits.

Not big hits in any way. Small numbers. But steady hits.

The blog was headlined:

THE PRACTICALITIES OF PUTTING YOUR HEAD IN A GAS OVEN: MY 2nd SUICIDE ATTEMPT

These are the figures for hits over the last fortnight. They seem fairly steady. The fact there are any at all for a two-year-old blog is extraordinary. The fact that they are regular and fairly steady is interesting.

Sunday 20th – 38
Monday 21st – 23
Tuesday 22nd – 22
Wednesday 23rd – 12
Thursday 24th – 15
Friday 25th – 26
Saturday 26th – 29
Sunday 27th – 38
Monday 28th – 46
Tuesday 29th – 28
Wednesday 30th – 34
Thursday 1st – 68
Friday 2nd – 59
Yesterday – 39

I have no idea what this means sociologically, but it must mean something.

The blog is HERE.

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Death of comedy critic Kate Copstick

Earlier this evening, I was chatting with comedy critic Kate Copstick at her Mama Biashara charity shop in London’s Shepherd’s Bush. This is what she said:


Kate Copstick in London earlier this evening

Copstick in London earlier this evening

All the way through my teens and 20s, maybe into my 30s, I knew I wanted to be pretty much in charge of when I die. And I still do. When I die, I reckon it will be when I decide I’m going to die. So I had this plan.

I always thought the icky stuff is being found a bloated, ghastly mess after the deed.

So my plan was that I would build, or have built for me, a bomb – small but powerful.

They’re probably available now. I could probably get Chris Dangerfield to get me something on the Dark Web.

I would take a train to Rannoch Moor in Perthshire in Scotland. It is very, very, very remote and there’s miles and miles of bleak… Well, it’s just a great place to die.

So I would go to Rannoch Moor and it would be winter. I would die in winter. It’s all part of the plan.

When I was a teenager, I always had this big jar of pills – painkillers and Valium and Librium and all that sort of stuff. It was my safety thing. Every time I got crazy – which I did quite a lot – I would look at the jar and think: Nothing ever needs to get too bad. Because, if it gets too bad, I take these pills. It made me feel very In Control.

So, I would have my big jar of pills and I would buy a litre of vodka.

I would get the train to Rannoch and I would get a taxi out as far as a taxi could take me and say: “Bye! It’s alright, I’m meeting somebody here” – unlikely as that would be – and then I would make my way to some place high but not too obvious.

The Black Mount seen from Ranch Moor in winter (Photo by Pip Rolls)

The Black Mount seen from Rannoch Moor in winter (Photograph by Pip Rolls)

Then I would take off any jacket I was wearing, would take the pills and wash them down – just slowly, slowly, so I didn’t throw up – with the vodka and I would lie on top of the bomb, which would be attached by wires not to a timing device but to a rectal thermometer.

I would insert the rectal thermometer and then what would happen would be that, obviously, the pills and the vodka would take effect and I would die and that would be helped by the exposure because it’s bloody freezing on Rannoch Moor in winter.

I would die of hypothermia, drug overdose, whatever.

When my core body temperature sank low enough for the rectal thermometer to register the fact I was dead, that would trigger the bomb and my body would be blown to smithereens and the little bits that landed here, there and everywhere could be eaten by birds, rats, whatever is around there… and there would be nothing left. I would just literally disappear from the face of the earth.

That is still how I would like to go.

I want it to be a little bit like Logan’s Run, where you just walk in and disappear. None of this icky nonsense with bodies and funerals and people pretending that they liked you.

I’ll go when I feel it’s time.

In control.

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Filed under Death, Suicide

‘Sick Girl’ Mel Moon Dicing with Dr Death for Edinburgh Fringe Comedy

Mel Moon with her Bassett hounds

Comic Mel Moon at home with her Bassett hounds yesterday

In this blog last month, critic Kate Copstick mentioned that she was involved in an Edinburgh Fringe show about suicide with Philip Nitschke of Exit and stand-up comic Mel Moon who, Copstick said, “suffers from a horrible endocrine disorder. She joined Exit with a view to topping herself before she turned into a puddle.” So obviously, yesterday, I chatted to Mel Moon.

“What’s your disease?” I asked.

“PGF – polyglandular failure, but mine isn’s auto-immune.”

“POLYglandular failure” I said. “Every bleedin’ gland?”

“It’s like a big series of collapses,” explained Mel. “It basically means my endocrine system shut down.”

“And,” I said, “this is curable because Western medicine can cure anything…”

“No,” said Mel, “it’s not curable.”

“But it’s not necessarily terminal?” I asked.

“It kills,” said Mel, “but it’s not terminal because ‘terminal’ means there’s a natural progression to death whereas, with my disease, it would be very sudden. It would just be BASH! – Game over. My life is shortened as a result of the medication I take. That’s just the way it is – part of the risk of taking the injections that mean I’m able to get up and about.”

“And your partner Chris gives you 14 tablets every morning?” I asked.

“Yes, to get me going and then I take over. In the afternoon, I take another 6 tablets and then another 10 at night. And I also have an injection at 6 o’clock every day.”

“In your bottom?” I asked.

“No. The behind injection is the emergency one, which is a bit weird – I’ll be incoherent, dizzy, babbling, unable to make sense, but I’ve got to inject myself in the behind. Whereas the other injection that’s not life-saving is dead easy.”

“And your Edinburgh Fringe show in August is with Philip Nitschke, who is the founder of Exit?”

“Yes.”

“Not to be confused with Dignitas in Switzerland?” I asked.

“You don’t go to die at Exit,” explained Mel. “They advise you on the tools to die at home. Most people don’t want to have to go to Switzerland.”

“If you do a comedy show about this,” I suggested, “it’s going to be a difficult idea to get the balance right .”

“Yes. We do want to preview it a lot,” said Mel, “because, with the content being quite sensitive, we are going to need to tweak it to make sure nobody is overly affected. What we don’t want is to glamorise the subject in any way – and we certainly don’t want people coming to the show who think they are going to receive an education in how to kill themselves. It is not about us projecting our views onto them.

“We want to preview it at some good comedy venues, because that’s the audience we are aiming for: the everyday person who is a bit curious and I guess death is the ultimate thing we’re curious about – we know it’s going to happen.”

“You used to be a musical comedian,” I said. “How long have you not been gigging now because of the illness?”

“I took two years out,” said Mel, “but I’m back working now.”

“And the experience has changed your comedy?”

“Massively. You can’t go though something like this without being changed. I still love nothing more than getting out the keyboard and singing a few filthy songs. I love it and I love getting up there and being funny about things that don’t really matter. But I’m not playing any music in the Edinburgh show; there’s no comedy songs, no comedy poetry.”

“You originally intended this as a sitcom,” I said.

“Yes. A sitcom called Sick Girl, which would look at the hilarity of a complete family unit having to cope with something tragic. Every family at some point has experienced tragedy and that’s where the comedy is. There’s a lot of humour there. In how they deal with it. It’s whether they fall apart.

“The actual fact is your family fall apart before you do. My mum actually said these words: Why is this happening to me? I remember looking at her and thinking: This is not happening to you, it’s happening to me.

“I distinctly remember saying to her when I got diagnosed: Don’t tell anybody. I want to get this through my head first. Cos grief does two things. It can act as a repellant: people just run a mile from it. Or it can magnetise those that really like to bask in grief. I saw my sick friend today. Oh, it’s awful… Oh, it must be so hard for you. Can I have a picture? – Can you bollocks! No, I’m pissing blood in the toilet at the minute.

“I wanted to discuss that: friendships and relationships and how they are severely affected when someone faces something which may take their life – what happens with your partner, your kids, your friends. They all want the best for you, but they can come at it in a completely inappropriate way. Everybody thinks they can cure you. Have you tried nettle tea… I read a book: you don’t want any acid in your diet… Someone said: You know, a lot of people take marijuana for pain. And I thought: I take that much bloody morphine every day I’ll give it a go. But I can’t say it had much effect.”

“You’re prescribed morphine?”

“Yes. I’m on oxycontin – which they call the posh man’s heroin because it’s pure – and oxynorm. Two types of morphine – slow release and fast release.”

“So what is the structure of your show with Philip Nitschke?” I asked.

“It’s called Mel Moon Dicing with Dr Death and it’s about a doctor/patient relationship. Most doctors want to heal you, whereas this doctor actually assists you in ways to snuff out your life. It’s like a dual autobiographical account of our stories in chronological order. There is a tiny section about who I was before and then we move into my diagnosis and other reasons people might choose this particular way. Then we move into medications and drugs that help and also ones that… get the desired result.”

“Can you legally say that on stage?”

“Well,” replied Mel, “everyone knows that (she named a drug) is the number one choice for that sort of thing. But you can’t get it. It’s impossible to get it. So we can freely talk about it.”

“How will you present the show?” I asked. “Both of you standing on the stage together?”

Philip Nitschke

Philip Nitschke, founder of Exit – aka Dr Death

“I will be at one side of the stage. He’s at the other. The spotlight interchanges between the two of us, with a central point where we can step in and do something together. And we can use a screen behind us to show photographs.”

“And this is in the Comedy section of the Fringe?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Well, come on. What’s the best friend of tragedy? Comedy. They’ve been together forever. Pathos is a wonderful friend of comedy as well. There is nothing funny about death and, believe me, I would know. We’re not laughing at me or what Philip has done with other people. We are laughing at the general reaction to the things that have happened and also, when you give an autobiographical account of something like this, the comedy is in the detail.

“It might not be funny that someone has to have a life-saving injection in order that they don’t snuff it and leave behind two small children, but it is funny that someone has to draw a cross section in a biro pen on someone’s backside because otherwise they don’t know where to give the injection.”

“You told me the other day,” I said, “that you might have a problem with one section.”

“Yes, there is one section that I’ve tried reading out to my family and, as yet, I’ve not made it through without crying. There are some sections of the show where I’ve deliberately flowered it up a little bit to make it easier for me to deliver.

“It’s about the night I made a decision to end my life. You could put years between me and that moment and it will always be emotional and I have to get up there on stage and somehow not get emotional to allow the audience to.”

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Filed under Comedy, Death, Drugs, Medical, Suicide

The practicalities of putting your head in a gas oven: my 2nd suicide attempt

Me... when I was aged eighteen

Me… when I was aged eighteen

The second time I tried to commit suicide was by gassing myself. I was 19.

I had tried overdosing on tablets about eight months before, but that had proved a bad idea as I was shit at Chemistry at school and I just ended up having my stomach pumped – not pleasant – and being briefly in a mental home until I discharged myself.

It was all over a girl, of course. Well, two girls. Nothing serious. Just silly teenage angst.

If you want to gas yourself, you need a gas appliance. The traditional appliance is a cooker and all you have to do is switch it on and put your head in.

Except it is not as simple as that.

If you put your head in a gas oven you have, of necessity, to open the oven door of the cooker. This means a lot of the gas which enters the oven will escape. Presumably most of the gas. And, once in the room, unless you have very good double glazing, some of the gas will escape through little cracks round the window frames, doorframe, even the keyhole.

Now, dear reader, you probably think this must be all bollocks. Because gas does not flow into the oven, does it? The oven is just heated up. The gas fumes only exist if you light the hobs on top of the cooker and you then extinguish the flame. But this was in olden days when gas really did go into the oven.

When you are obsessed enough to want to kill yourself, your brain is befuddled.

And sometimes the befuddlement lasts.

And I know my memory is shit, so I had to phone up my friend Lynn – who has a gas cooker – to ask if even my memory of trying to kill myself was befuddled. She reassured me that putting my head in a gas oven when I was 19 was, indeed, a practical thing to do. She did not give her opinion on whether is was a good idea.

Anyway, I know my 19-year-old thinking process went that you have to cover the cracks and potential cracks with towels and dishcloths. And you need quite a lot of those. If you are in a kitchen on a corner, as I was, it has two exterior walls and sets of windows.

Then there is the not-inconsiderable matter of how you put your head in the gas oven.

Gas ovens are not primarily designed for suicide attempts. So the height of the oven is wrong.

Very often, under the gas oven, there is a storage space for trays and suchlike. This may be as much as eight inches high. This means you cannot just lie on the floor and put your head in the gas oven.

It means you have to kneel on all-fours. But the top of the storage area under the oven (which creates the ‘floor’ of the gas oven, compared to the distance between your on-all-fours knees and your torso when bent over, when taking into consideration the height of the ‘ceiling’ of the oven, means that you cannot just easily kneel down with your head in the oven. It means you have to kneel with your head bent slightly but not remotely wholly down.

And then there is this factor of kneeling with your head slightly down in an oven in a room with towels and clothes round window frames and door (how do you attach a towel to the vertical edges of windows and doors?) and the fact a lot of the gas is escaping out of the cooker into the room.

How long does it take for the escaping gas to fill the room and/or the gas remaining inside the open oven to combine with it to have an effect?

Eventually, after about half an hour or so, my memory is that the incongruity of the whole thing overwhelmed my suicidal self-absorption and I gave up.

A few years later, I read the great Dorothy Parker’s poem Resumé:

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)

The young Dorothy Parker (1893-1967). Died aged 73.

I don’t regret my first attempt at suicide. The one with the pills. Pity it did not work. Pity I had no natural aptitude for nor interest in Chemistry at school. But, of course, in the un-self-obsessed light of day, you morally can’t kill yourself anyway – because it would affect other people. Even if only slightly and only a few. But it would. Bit of a bum fact of life, that. You have to laugh.

Norman Wisdom, a future hero of the Albanian people, tries three ways to kill himself 10 mins 27 secs into his comedy film The Bulldog Breed:

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Why I am interested in comedians

Today’s issue of Metro

Today’s issue of the daily Metro newspaper

Today’s Metro newspaper contains a feature on The Giants of Comedy to which I was asked to contribute a piece on “the weirder acts to look out for”. Metro describes me as an “alternative comedy champion”.

In this blog, I try to tell short stories with a rounded ending about interesting people doing interesting (mostly creative) things. Very often they are comedians. Very rarely do I write about myself although regular readers might be able to make up a patchwork impressionistic picture of my life.

You might wonder why am I interested in weird comedy acts.

Or you might not.

I have mentioned in past, dimly remembered blogs that I tried to commit suicide when I was newly 18 and that I was briefly in a mental hospital.

So why do I enjoy watching comedy?

Throughout my life, most of my income came from the promotion departments of TV companies. I was employed to write words and edit trailers which would persuade people to watch TV programmes – trying to manipulate their perception so that the ratings would be higher.

I am interested in the use of words and the manipulation of perception. So I am interested in how sentences and performances can be structured to make audiences laugh and the different reasons why people laugh – or, indeed, cry – timing, surprise, unexpected twists, incongruity, recognition, whatever.

Occasionally but rarely, in random spurts, I have kept diaries.

Dave Lee Travis (Photograph by Brian Milnes)

Dave Lee Travis (Photograph by Brian Milnes)

This morning, because of the Dave Lee Travis court verdict yesterday, I looked up my diary for around the suicide attempt/mental home time. The reason – possibly pompous – was connected to two quotes which came to my mind:

1) “The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.” (L.P.Hartley)

2) “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” (Lots of French people)

These are some edited extracts from my diary. The first is when I was in hospital after my failed suicide attempt. I tried to kill myself with tablets on a Friday.

“My parents visited me every day in hospital. On the Sunday, they brought me fruit. And, to cut it, one highly-polished, silver-shining, sharply serrated-edged knife. And, after they had gone, I looked at that knife and looked and looked and picked it up and looked. I ran my finger along the serrated edge and looked and ran the edge along my wrist and looked. And felt the point against my finger and against my wrist. And I only just managed to give it to a nurse.

“Which is why, when I got out of hospital, I panicked and my insides were like kitchen crockery in a house above a tube-train tunnel. And it was very difficult to keep a straight face. I could not think straight and my mental reactions were so slow. That horrified me. It was like being in Death Valley with the noonday sun three times closer than it should be.”

At that time, if you tried to commit suicide – especially aged 18 – I think there was a tendency to suggest you might want to go into a mental home.

And I did want to rest, to be away from people, because I was so nervy and because I was afraid of what I might do if I did not go in.

When I went in, a doctor ‘interviewed’ me and suggested I could talk to his students when he gave a lecture later in the week. But I just wanted to be alone.

They gave me ‘happy pills’ and sleeping pills that first night and I went from deep depression to a sky-high high before I went to sleep. But I did not want to be high.

Claybury Mental Asylum in Essex (Photo: English Heritage)

Claybury Mental Asylum in Essex (Photo: English Heritage)

In the mental hospital, I wrote this:

“The Mad Hatter pops in: a James Joyce with a blue Embassy cigarette coupon stuck in his greased hair. The lights go on at a quarter to four and then go off again. No-one has entered the room. The mad room.

My Little Lady by The Tremeloes plays at quarter volume on the wartime radio. When I came in last night, it was violins and classical music on the radio, like a TV play about old people dying, dead in seaside boarding houses in the off-season.

“My right side throbs. It is Visiting Hour. Or something. People talk in whispers. It is late afternoon and the afternoon has gone to greyness.

“This morning, an enormous pigeon threw itself against the windowpane of the door, saw where it was and fled away. Before I arrived here, the clear-skinned 23-year-old boy threw the red vinyl table through the window and was caught by a nurse. The friendly, backward boy gets violent occasionally. He throws teacups and saucers, matchboxes and plastic orange juice bottles.

“When he talks to me, he keeps wanting me to be the active, adventurous type. He keeps saying how active he was and how he liked exploring, finding ruins and exploring remote bogs. He and his family – his three sisters and one brother – were nomads around Europe in the last, hard decade.

“He tells me his mother is such an incredible mixture. His girlfriend Evie is from Chelmsford. He tells me he met her in Occupational Therapy. But now she has gone to OT in Exeter. She used to visit him.

“He sings the song Me My Friend as Be My Friend. With gusto. He says he misses Evie. He tells other people I am his friend and keeps telling me to tell him if he talks too much. He sits there in his wheelchair with his eyes of water. Sparkling. Nothing else. Just water.”

There is a clip on YouTube of Family singing Me My Friend.

“The male nurse in the ward tells me he has a strong right hand. He says he ‘does it’ twice a day or twice a week. Depending on how he feels. He asks have I ever let anyone else do it. He goes on and on. He tells all the patients this and talks about going to out-buildings with them.”

I discharged myself from the mental home after a day but nothing that happened there seemed strange.

Several years later, I went back to Claybury Asylum to interview a doctor for a piece I was writing. As I sat waiting in the corridor, the only way you could tell patients from staff as they passed by was the speed at which they walked: the patients walked slower, because they were sedated and had no purpose.

Today’s Metro reports DJ DLT faces prison

Today’s Metro reports DJ DLT faces prison

Yesterday, DJ Dave Lee Travis was found guilty of groping the breasts of a woman – then a TV researcher, now a ‘TV personality’ – for around 15 seconds in 1995. On TV last night, a Sunday Times reporter (who never brought charges and was not involved in the court case) said he groped her too. It seemed a very 1960s or 1970s thing to do. But it happened in 1995.

The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

So why do I like comedy?

Because I am laughing at life, not with life.

I like dark humour. I am fascinated that ‘unacceptable’ and non-funny subjects like rape, murder, death, drug addiction and madness and all the rest can be made to be funny. And I like surrealism : the twisting/manipulation of reality into meaninglessness. For example, in this morning’s Metro, I mentioned that The Human Loire says he is the only French river playing the UK comedy circuit and that his act includes enunciating passages in Middle English from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales while pouring milk onto Corn Flakes inside his trousers. It also includes using a hammer to nail grapes onto a large cut-out of Justin Bieber’s face while gargling Sophocles’ Ode To Man using Listerene antiseptic mouthwash.

When he does this, the surrealism makes me laugh.

When other people TRY to be surreal by doing equally meaningless things, I do not laugh.

Why?

I do not know but I would like to know.

So I watch comedy.

At the recent Edinburgh Fringe, there was one show where I laughed out loud (a rare thing) throughout. It was Johnny Sorrow performing as part of the Bob Blackman Appreciation Society. A couple sitting to my left sat mostly stone-faced throughout.

When Johnny imitated the sadly mostly-forgotten comedy act Bernie Clifton prancing around in an ostrich costume I laughed out loud. When he said Don’t talk to me!… Don’t talk to me! I laughed out loud.

Why?

I do not know. I just found it overwhelmingly funny.

The other factor in being interested in comedy, of course, is that people who perform it well – who have true originality and who are not just copying what they have seen on TV as part of a business plan – are mostly, in some way, damaged.

Damaged people are interesting people.

But then, when you get to know them, most people are damaged.

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Filed under Comedy, Mental health, Mental illness, Suicide

Doubts over non-investigation into the suicide of surreal musical/comedy act The Amazing Mr Smith

Joe Stead, an old codger, remembers...

Joe Stead, an old codger, has some facts

In December last year, in three blogs, I mentioned the death of musical/comedy act The Amazing Mr Smith who died after jumping off a cliff near Bridport in Dorset.

The inquest into his death was last month.

Yesterday, I received the below from Joe Stead, who was Derek Smith’s friend and sometime manager. Joe has been talking to Derek’s daughter Rosie and to others who knew Derek. He says: “This is my own interpretation of events as I see them.”

___________________________________________________

The Amazing Mr Smith, in a recent Vimeo mini-documentary

The Amazing Mr Smith, in a 2013 Vimeo mini-documentary

The inquest into the death of my good pal Derek ‘The Amazing Mr Smith’ took place on Wednesday 19th February in Dorchester. The coroner, Mr Nicholls, said: “One of the matters which the inquest needs to address is whether Mr Smith deliberately took his own life. For that conclusion to be recorded, the evidence has to be such that the coroner is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt. Having looked at the evidence in this case, I am going to return an open verdict because I am not satisfied on the evidence I have before me that Mr Smith intended to take his own life.”  And with that the proceedings were closed.

It is important we get the facts straight.

I had known Derek since 1970. I was his best man when he got married and I made numerous trips from Yorkshire to Dorset after his wife Viva died in April 2009. I guess I drove down every couple of months. He was great fun to be with and we had a lot of laughs together.

On the Monday before Derek died, his doctor prescribed Paroxetine/Seroxat, a drug that can, on occasions, cause suicidal tendencies. It is a treatment for depression which Derek never had. Paroxetine is also prescribed for anxiety.

For at least a couple of months before he died, Derek was suffering severe toothache that general medicines could not prevent. Anyone who has suffered severe toothache for just 24 hours will know just how depressing that can be. But Derek was NOT depressed. Lack of sleep and pain made him anxious – NOT depressed.

According to a specialist at Dorchester Hospital there was, in fact, nothing clinically wrong with his teeth although Derek believed that his jawbone had become infected. The maxofacial specialist he saw explained that this was not the case and told him that he had problems with the muscles in his jaw and it was this that was causing the severe pain in his jaw. Initially, this made Derek a lot happier.

I visited Derek in November exactly three weeks before his death.  He was in great spirits and very much in love with his girlfriend Annette. There was no indication at that time that he might jump off a cliff, but he did complain each morning that he had slept badly because of his teeth.

He visited the doctors again (Thursday afternoon, December 5th) and Annette accompanied him. He pleaded with the doctor (a different doctor to the one who had prescribed Paroxetine) to give him something to “knock me out for 24 hours” (Derek’s words). The doctor was, however, alarmed at Derek’s state of mind and immediately told him to stop taking Paroxetine/Seroxat because he believed it had made Derek suicidal.

Derek followed the second doctor’s instructions, but there can be little doubt that the medicine would have remained within his body for a good few days after he stopped taking it. That very morning he had told Annette he had been twice to West Bay with the intention of taking his own life but was relieved because he could not go through with it. This was the reason they had made another visit to see the doctor.

Derek certainly felt anxious. He was still in pain. His doctor had not satisfied his needs for pain relief, nor had he obliged in giving him the 24 hours sleep he so desperately needed. Having seen the doctor, Derek now understood his irrational thoughts and behaviour of the previous night. Apparently he was in reasonably good spirits and Derek promised he would tell Annette if he felt suicidal again.

But within 24/36hours he fell to his death from the cliffs at West Bay Bridport.

Waking that Sunday morning Annette, finding herself alone, drove immediately to West Bay fearing the worst.

When Annette, who was with Derek during his last days, was summoned to give evidence about events leading up to his death, the only thing that the coroner was interested in was: “How long did it take you to drive to West Bay?”

Why was only one question asked and why such a stupid question that did not even pertain to his actual death?

The doctor who had prescribed Paroxetine/Seroxat only five days before Derek’s death was not called. Indeed no doctors were called. Evidence about his medication and visits had been submitted, but the coroner chose not to include this information in the medical evidence he mentioned at the inquest.  When Annette, at the end of the inquest, asked the coroner why the doctor who prescribed Paroxetine/Seroxat was not called he refused to answer on the grounds that the inquest was now closed.

To sum up then…

No-one from the medical profession was present at the inquest.

No mention was made of the fact that Derek had been to his GP’s surgery twice in the last week of his life due to a long-standing problem with pain in his jaw, which was preventing him from sleeping and causing anxiety.

As mentioned above, he went first on Monday 2nd December to get help for the pain, lack of sleep and consequent anxiety and was prescribed Paroxetine.

He went back three days later and saw another doctor after becoming suicidal immediately after taking Paroxetine.

Nothing was said at the inquest about the second doctor telling him to stop taking Paroxetine because it was making him suicidal or about the fact that he was then prescribed Mirtazapine.

Instead, the coroner presented irrelevant information from almost a year ago, describing how Derek had attended a mental health course offered by the NHS – even though his scores on measures of mental health were zero, which indicated he had absolutely NO mental health problems at the time.

Why was this insignificant detail from almost a year before mentioned, yet recent and important information about the visits to his doctor and his medication omitted?

We have to wonder why the coroner chose not to mention that the second doctor had stopped the Paroxetine because it had made Derek suicidal.

Curiously the local paper The Dorset Echo, which reported the inquest, seems to display a similar timidity when it comes to reporting anything which might possibly upset GlaxoSmithKline (the manufacturers of Paroxetine) and implicate Paroxetine.

The Dorset Echo‘s original online headline for its report on the inquest was:

QUESTIONS OVER ’SUICIDE DRUG’ LINK TO MUSICIAN’S DEATH

yet two days later this was quietly changed to:

QUESTIONS OVER PRESCRIPTION DRUG LINK TO MUSICIAN’S DEATH

The original wording in the article was also changed from describing Paroxetine as “a drug with links to suicide” to the more cautious description of it as “a drug with alleged links to suicidal thoughts”.

I understand Paroxetine is no longer prescribed to young people because of proven links to suicide in this age group and long-standing campaigns exist to stop Paroxetine from being prescribed to all ages because of links with suicide.

It is odd that some changes to the online report of Derek’s inquest appear to have been easily achieved, possibly in order to appease GlaxoSmithKline and avoid lawsuits, but, when Annette and Derek’s family requested corrections to the numerous factual errors in the article, no changes were forthcoming.

Consequently the report which appears online still contains inaccurate, misleading and distorted information about the evidence given at Derek’s inquest. For example, it says “An inquest heard that the 65 year old had a history of depression”.  

Four pieces of evidence were presented and not one of them described Derek as being a depressed man with a history of depression. In fact, two of the pieces of evidence described Derek as being happy and one piece of evidence showed that he scored zero on clinical measures which indicated that he had no depression.

The question I ask myself is the same question Annette asked the coroner: Why was the doctor who prescribed a drug that has side effects that can cause suicidal tendencies not called?

Frankly the whole thing has a nasty smell of a cover-up by the coroner to protect the doctor or perhaps because of the controversy surrounding Paroxetine/Seroxat.

So we who were his friends are still left wondering:

(a) Why Derek was prescribed a drug that encouraged suicide?

and

(b) Why the doctors involved were not called to give evidence?

___________________________________________________
That was what Joe Stead sent me yesterday. If you look up the Wikipedia entry on GlaxoSmithKline it currently includes this:

Paroxetine is an SSRI anti-depressant released by GSK in 1992 and sold as Paxil, Seroxat, Aropax, Brisdelle, Pexeva and Sereupin. The company’s promotion of the drug for children was one of the grounds for the 2012 fraud case in the United States.

For 10 years the drug was marketed as “not habit forming,” which numerous experts and at least one court found to be incorrect. Approximately 5,000 US citizens have sued GSK after using paroxetine; lawsuits have also been filed in the UK. The lawsuits allege that the drug has serious side effects, which GSK downplayed in patient information.

In 2001 the World Health Organization ranked paroxetine as the most difficult antidepressant to withdraw from. In 2002 the FDA published a new product warning about the drug, and the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations said GSK had misled the public about paroxetine and had breached two of the Federation’s codes of practice. In early 2004 GSK agreed to settle charges of consumer fraud for $2.5 million; the drug had $2.7 billion in yearly sales at that time.

The legal discovery process also uncovered evidence of deliberate, systematic suppression of unfavorable Paxil research results. One of GSK’s internal documents said, “It would be commercially unacceptable to include a statement that efficacy [in children] had not been demonstrated, as this would undermine the profile of paroxetine.”

In June 2004 FDA published a violation letter to GSK in response to a “false or misleading” television commercial for Paxil CR, writing: “This ad is concerning from a public health perspective because it broadens the use of Paxil CR [beyond the conditions it was approved for] while also minimizing the serious risks associated with the drug.”

GSK said that the commercial had been reviewed by the FDA, and that it would not run again.

In March 2008 the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency concluded that GSK should have warned of the possible ill effects of taking paroxetine a lot sooner. GSK could not be prosecuted under the old legislation. As of 2008 GSK’s prescribing information acknowledges that “serious discontinuation symptoms” may occur. Court documents released in October 2008 indicated that GSK “and/or researchers may have suppressed or obscured suicide risk data during clinical trials” of paroxetine.

The suppression of the unfavorable research findings and the legal discovery process that uncovered it is the subject of Side Effects (2008), a book by Alison Bass.

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Why comedy act The Amazing Mr Smith committed suicide by jumping off a cliff

A fortnight ago, I blogged about the death of music and comedy act The Amazing Mr Smith. And followed it up with comedian Martin Soan’s memories of him in a second blog. His friend and former manager Joe Stead now tells me: “His state of mind the last nine months had actually been very good. He had a wonderful new girl friend. I popped down to Dorset regularly after his wife Viva died in 2009 to keep an eye on him. I was last there (twice) in November when he was in good spirits except for toothache.

“He had undergone tooth surgery in Hungary in July. Yes! Only Derek would choose Hungary over Guy’s Hospital in London and things were not quite right. He went back to Hungary for further remedial treatment in September and had been in pain on and off since then. The specialist he saw in Dorchester (private) hospital advised him there was nothing wrong, he was simply chewing incorrectly. Apparently if he chewed up and down like normal people – and not sideways like cows – his pain would disappear in a couple of weeks.”

Now Joe Stead has posted memories of an Amazing man in his own online blog: The Ramblings of an old Codgerwhich I reprint with his permission below:

* * * * *

Joe Stead, an old codger, remembers...

Joe Stead, an old codger, remembers…

Derek (The Amazing Mr) Smith was born a genius on the 1st April 1948.  Now whether you believe in astrology or not you have to admit that out of the 366 days in which Derek could have chosen to be born that year, he chose the 1st of April. A pretty toxic mix don’t you think?

He had an IQ of over 160 and history is littered with people of equal or near intelligence all of whom walked the fine line of normality as they knew it.

 Spike Milligan was another hyper intelligent man who had spasms of deep depression that plagued him throughout his life.  There was a time in the sixties when Milligan was living with his then wife near me in a house in Blackheath, London. Spike lived upstairs, his wife lived downstairs. They weren’t really talking to each other. But Spike would phone her up every time he wanted a cup of tea.

 Educated at a grammar school in South East London, Derek went on to Bristol University graduating sometime in the late 1960s with an honours degree. 

He went to work at Burroughs Wellcome in Beckenham (later to become GlaxoSmithKline) as one of their top scientists specializing in heart diseases. 

The Amazing Mr Smith, in a recent Vimeo mini-documentary

The Amazing Mr Smith, in a recent Vimeo mini-documentary

He stayed in that employment until 1994 when he and his wife Viva bought the house down in Loders, Dorset. One of the first things he did, to fill his spare time when he arrived, was to take Pure Maths at University Degree level. He took two exams and got 95 and 99 percent marks. He was genuinely annoyed he didn’t get 100 in both exams because he couldn’t see anywhere, in his reasoning, where he had gone wrong.

He was, of course, an inventor par excellence. And most were quite simple inventions that you and I would never dream of. The condom bagpipes being just one example.

I remember one time, before he moved to Dorset, visiting him at his house in Bromley. He had taken a standard dining chair, sawn the back off it, drilled holes up each leg and he had it hanging from the ceiling as a lamp shade.

I actually first met Derek around about 1970. It might have been a little later; I can’t remember the exact year. Derek had appeared on the folk scene in South East London performing as the guitarist in the group Wild Oats.

Wild Oats’ album cover with Mr Smith (extreme left) and future wife Viva

Wild Oats’ album with Mr Smith (left) & his future wife Viva

Viva was lead singer. Ray Tassie played mandolin, with Mike Flood on bass. Ray tells me that apparently Derek, not Viva, worked out the four part harmonies for the group and he did them all at the same time. Note by note. He was never wrong. He was able to work on four harmonies at the same time note by note – and the bloke couldn’t even sing!

Derek and I became the closest of friends and we did many crazy things together.  All instigated by Derek of course.

In January of 1982, Derek came to my flat in Greenwich to ask me if I would be his best man.

I said” “Certainly. When are you getting married?”

He said: “I don’t know. I’ve not asked Viva yet”

At the time I was his manager, so I said: “Right, look. You’ve got three weeks in May when you don’t have any work. If you marry Viva on May 9th (a Saturday) I’ll get you an American tour between May 13h and May 30th.”

He said “Right” and apparently went home, woke Viva up and said: “Joe says we can get married on May 9th and go to America on May 13h. He’ll get me some gigs there.”

Viva apparently said “Yes,” and went back to sleep.

A slightly off-the-wall marriage proposal I suppose. But, with Derek, I guess you would expect nothing less. And so it was, as his best man, I got him to the church on time – and only just, if I’m honest, as we couldn’t find the church.

I’ll tell you about some of the crazy things.

Mr Smith’s audition  in 1987

Mr Smith’s 1987 audition for Jonathan Ross

There was the time he showed up at my house just before Christmas one year to go out for a Christmas drink. In those days, Derek was always super untidy. When I opened the door, he was in full evening dress – bow tie, the lot – and carrying a parcel which apparently was my Christmas present. I was really very embarrassed that I had not thought of buying him a Christmas present until he explained it was my present to him

When he entered the house, I suddenly realised that his evening jacket was rent at the back, down the middle, from collar to hem. In fact, it was only the collar holding it together. It sort of flowed open at the back showing his white shirt. Apparently we were off to Welling on a pub crawl and I was to give him my present when we were in the first pub. At the pub, Derek dashed off to the bar to get the drinks, making sure at least half the occupants saw his jacket, while I sat at a table with the parcel. Not knowing what was in it. When he came back, he enthused really quite loudly that I had bought him a present. He opened up the parcel and therein was the most hideous jacket you could ever imagine any American wearing to church on a Sunday morning. 

Derek was, of course, delighted with it and he swapped jacket immediately putting the dinner jacket with the rent back straight back into the brown paper parcel. Thus we made our way to the next pub and the whole procedure was acted out again in reverse. We did that all night going round at least eight, maybe ten, pubs drinking half pints to try to stay as sober possible. This was an impossibility in Derek’s case because, in those days, it only took a pint or maybe two to get him completely pissed.

A bit childish you might think. Not for Derek. He was in his element. He had a great need to entertain people.

A rather shy, gentle man with propeller on his nose

A rather shy, gentle man with a propeller on his nose

I remember a time in Northolt High Street when he proceeded to water lamp posts, telegraph poles and phone boxes with a kettle he had filled in a friend’s kitchen. When he got to the bus stop, the queue all backed away from him by about three feet. And this was years and years before anybody tried making a TV programme like this.

One hot summer Sunday lunchtime in early May, we stopped off at Teignmouth for a drink at a pub by the dockside where workmen were laying huge pipes about 2 feet in diameter by about 45 feet long on the other side of the bridge. The pipes were stacked up on the dockside about 30 yards from the pub. A lot of people were drinking outside. Derek disappeared, ostensibly to go to the bathroom, but instead he appeared alongside the piping. Bending down, he sung into the pipework: “Day-o; Day-o, Daylight come and I want to go home” very loudly.  He then ran the 45 feet or so to the end of the pipe, cupping his hand to his ear to hear the sound come out the other end.

He did this at least half a dozen times, always from the same end, much to the amusement of the people drinking on the dockside, not to mention the workmen who were all totally non-plussed.

I heard somebody nearby murmour: “The lunatic must be drunk”. 

I turned and said: “No, it’s just a man with an IQ over 160 acting quite normally”.

His humour camouflaged a creative, sensitive, vulnerable man who, with careful artistry, consistently challenged his own inventiveness and put everyone, including himself, outside of their comfort zones.

He never ceased to amaze.

SO WHY DID THE AMAZING MR SMITH COMMIT SUICIDE?

East Cliff, West Bay, Bridport in Dorset

Mr Smith died on beach at foot of East Cliff, Bridport, Dorset

Derek was being treated by his doctor for a number of problems which included either severe toothache or severe pain in the jaw.

Despite being assured by a specialist at Dorchester Hospital only 48 hours before his death that he had nothing wrong with him, he was convinced he had a poisoned bone which antibiotics could not touch.

His doctor had prescribed Seroxat.  Which he had taken for precisely two nights.

The NHS describe Seroxat thus………

Some people who take Seroxat may find that it intensifies depression and suicidal feelings in the early stages of treatment.  These people have an increased risk of self-harm or suicide in the early stages of taking Seroxat. As Seroxat starts to work these risks decrease.

The drug Paroxetine is sold under the name Seroxat

The drug Paroxetine is sold under the name Seroxat

If you are taking Seroxat, or you care for someone who is taking Seroxat, you need to look out for changes in behaviour that could be linked to self-harm or suicide.

If you notice any of these changes or are worried about how Seroxat is affecting you or someone you care for, you should contact your prescriber, a mental health professional or NHS Direct as soon as possible.

It is important that you discuss with your prescriber how long it will take before you can expect to feel any benefits from taking Seroxat.

Do not share your medicine with other people. It may not be suitable for them and may harm them.

I therefore have to wonder why Derek Smith (a genius but, like so many geniuses, a manic depressive) was prescribed a drug that the doctor knew might cause him to commit suicide.

Seroxat, by the way, is supplied by GlaxoSmithKline UK. The very company for whom Derek had worked as a heart specialist.

I would like to thank those of you who wrote expressing their amazement and horror at the awful events that occurred in West Bay, Bridport in the early hours of Sunday December 8th.

* * * * *

There is a 7-minute mini-documentary about The Amazing Mr Smith on Vimeo

…and snippets of his various acts on YouTube.

BBC TV’s current affairs series Panorama transmitted a programme on the dangers of Seroxat in 2002. The transcript is HERE.

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Filed under Comedy, Eccentrics, Mental health, Suicide