STILLMAN ON SUNDAY is back – 10 years after my column was mysteriously banned, sorry, pulled from its regular weekly newspaper slot.



on Wednesday, September 23, 2015




It’s a very little known fact that in May 1979, shortly after her election as Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher was invited to participate in the World Gurning ChampionshipsShe never appeared at that September’s Egremont Crab Fair in Cumbria, however.

Thatcher told the committee: “This lady’s not for gurning.”

Now my partner Tracey Dunn knows how she felt.



THATCHER: Not for gurning




Tracey suffered a relapse on the eve of our trip to the Lake District.

Now she was never going to gurn herself. But it was touch and go whether or not she even travelled as my personal trainer and cheerleader.

Well, we’re so glad we went now. We had just the funniest, wackiest time – and the effect on Tracey’s health has been amazing. Laughter is the best medicine and all that.

Her own Facebook post said it all: “It was absolutely the most ‘human’ thing we or anyone else could do. The people of Egremont are amazing, friendly, welcoming and rough and ready totally bonkers most of them and really big drinkers.”

We were transported back to a more gentle, community-oriented time where people climbed the greasy pole, where joyous children tried to catch crab apples off passing floats, and where men could still set their wives on fire.



HATE YOUR WIFE? SIMPLY SET HER ON FIRE! Another stunt at the Egremont Crab Fair


But trumping everything, of course, was the iconic Gurning World Championships – that’s pulling hideous faces for the uninitiated.

It really is a unselfconsicous throwback to the days of Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out and his bonkers Novelty Island talent contest.

Adults and children alike get on stage before a baying, packed market hall and are encouraged to affect the craziest faces through a horse’s harness (or braffin).

Even as a man who has spent a lifetime turning more stomachs than heads, I feared I was too handsome to seriously compete with the likes of 16-times world champion Tommy Mattinson and this year’s eventual winner Gordon Blacklock.

Five years after I made last stage appearance – an inglorious exit from the Edinburgh Festival as a stand-up comedian – I strutted my gurn to the accompaniment of Rod Stewart’s Do Ya Think I’m Sexy? without a single line to utter.



THE FACE ONLY A MOTHER COULD LOVE: Me laffin’ in the braffin on the Egremont Crab Fair stage


But it was only when Tracey showed me the picture below that I thought: “Bloody hell! I’ve never looked more hideous. I may be in with a chance. All those miles of high-altitude training have paid off.”

Glorious failure ensued. The top three men were announced. My name, alas, wasn’t among them.

But I wasn’t going to turn ugly over it. After all, it’s quite splendid to find a town as barking as many say I am.



THINGS TURN UGLY: Debbie Rigg, who finished second in the women’s competition, with men’s also-run … err, me!


I did my research arse-about-tit in my debut novel STALKER, BUNNY, SAUCEPAN

It includes a small, but crucial chapter – entitled “THE LAKE DISTRICT TURNS UGLY” – about the Fair and in particular those World Gurning Championships.

I wrote the chapter first and only after publication did I research it personally – even better than all the vids I had watched and the accounts I had read.

Now, armed with first-hand research, the Fair and the gurners will, rest assured, be back – and this time drawn from experience – in a new book of short stories earmarked for 2016.




Return home from our all-too-short stay in another amazing unsung, still human oasis Whistling Jacks (in Rottington, just outside St Bees) to learn about the Cameron “Pig-gate” scandal.

Aghast to think the left-wing press can make such a song and dance over Dear David’s alleged dalliance with a dead pig when their own Jeremy Corbyn has got away almost unchallenged for the mortal crime of not singing the national anthem.

If a man cannot stick his todger wheresoever he wishes, providing the other party is consenting (and until we hear otherwise from its kiss-and-tell memoirs we have no reason to reason that the pig wasn’t), then what hope is there for the sexual freedom of Britons everywhere?




The revelation fittingly came in the week in which debate raged over whether men should be able to park their penises in things not so much dead as those which have never been alive in the first place.

A campaign was launched calling for a ban on sexbots (or robots that can be used for sex).

This is yet another thing that humans do infinitely better than machines (apart from me, obviously).

Take Anita (played by Emma Chan) the synth in this year’s must-see TV drama, Humans (pipping Sky Atlantic’s Fortitude).



PUTTING THE SIN INTO SYNTH: Android Anita (Emma Chan) in Channel 4’s Humans


The compelling series threw up some hitherto publicly unasked questions that needed public airing. 

The comparisons between UKIP and the growing human resistance against home-helping androids were delicious. 

It was (to use the common teenage parlance) like: “I don’t know. Robots? They come over here and nick all our jobs.”

But Anita lacked the human intuition and animation required to make her an adequate alternative sexual partner.

I’ve seen potatoes more animated in the sack.




Discrimination against disabled in modern-day life No. 277: In contrast with Whistling Jacks (full TripAdvisor review to follow shortly, the hotel we stayed in earlier to break up the journey had as much understanding towards the incapacitated as an empty smoky bacon crisp packet.

We returned to our room from what was admittedly an excellent meal to suffer what can only be described as a sauna.

Partner Tracey had earlier turned the controls off on leaving for our dinner.

But became back to something that was, in the humidity stakes, less mid-September in Yorkshire than June in Colombo, Sri Lanka.



ONLY SOME LIKE IT HOT: These Germans try to 

re-create the climate of our hotel room


Despite my explaining Tracey’s health difficulties on reporting the problem, there seemed a total lack of empathy from the young staff member in immediate charge.

The “sauna” was centrally locked – and computerised without discretion, no doubt – and could not be altered individually.

We had no choice but to sleep with the windows and door fully open.

The fault was remedied 30 minutes later – obviously by someone even higher up in the management chain.

But such ignorance doesn’t bode well for the establishment’s future disabled guests.




Joking aside on the press’s treatment of Corbyn, one of the biggest fears concerning his possible election as Prime Minister in 2020 is the extent to which he would plunge Britain into debt.

This week even the Corbyn-clubbing, George Osborne-ogling onanists, the Express admits that public sector net debt now stands at £1.5 trillion. That’s a number with more noughts than the final few innings of Jonathan Trott’s Test cricket career.

It means that since the Tories returned to power five years ago, more new debt has been created under Osborne’s chancellorship than in every Labour government throughout history.

In fact, debt today accounts for more than four-fifths of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

It’s shouldn’t be too difficult to work out who benefits most from this debt culture.

(Not with me? Seven-letter word, rhymes with wankers?)

Stupefyingly, however, it seems that most of us do not. I despair.




Of course, another benefit of going to the Egremont Crab Fair is that I didn’t have to suffer the return of Dr Who on Saturday night. 

Many of my loved ones anticipate this event like long-suffering football supporters on the eve of a new run.

They know their team finished the previous season on the back of 37 consecutive defeats, the memories of the club’s heyday long gone. Yet still they look forward to a new campaign with all the enthusiasm of a puppy – a triumph of hope over experience, no matter how bad the last one was.



COME BACK, CHRIS, ALL IS FORGIVEN! The author with Christopher Eccleston outside an Egremont kebab shop. At least I think it was Eccleston


Already my stepson is telling me it is one not to be missed.

Connor, whatever his many virtues, is a barometer of bad telly. His plaudits usually save me precious minutes in not having to watch things myself.

But, damn you, BBC iPlayer, I am being summoned by a higher authority to watch it tonight.

I bumped into a Christopher Eccleston doppelgänger in a kebab house after Saturday’s gurning. And, in my tired and emotional state, it was as much as I could do to prevent myself going down on my hands and knees, dribbling and beseeching: “Please, please, come back to Dr Who. And while you’re at it, bring Russell T Davies with you.”