Jonathan Routh RIP

Britain’s only world-class practical joker has died, aged (improbably) 80. The Economist ran a fine obit.

He also attempted to take a grand piano on the London Underground, and persuaded a crowd of tourists that Nelson’s Column needed holding up. He set up pyramids of plates to crash when people passed them, and rigged a mirror in a hat shop so that, when each matron posed simperingly before it, the glass cracked from side to side. His notion of a day’s work was to ask a passer-by for tuppence for a cup of tea and, having got the money, produce Thermos, milk and sugar for the astonished benefactor and inquire whether they wanted one lump, or two.

Mr Routh played pranks all his life. Uppingham ejected him for hanging a banner reading “Vote Routh, Communist” in the school chapel, and Cambridge parted company with him after he gathered hundreds of signatures to stop an imaginary motorway across Bletchley Park. In 1957 he put an ad in the Times: “Practical joker with wide experience of British public’s sad gullibility organises, leads and guarantees success of large-scale hoaxes.” He hoped never to do anything else…