THURsday, 19 December 2019

Thank You – For Auld Lang’s Syne

MERRY YULE, Folklore Funsters!

We know there’s officially no Folklore Thursday this week, but as autumn ends and a new decade begins, we wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone who helped make this launch year for us, after 15 years of hard work building up our database of stories, be it everyone at Unbound who worked on the book, everyone who supported – and continues to support – our cause, from Neil Gaiman to Brian Blessed and back, everyone who allowed us to perform at their venues throughout the year, from Edinburgh to Ludlow to Canterbury, and radio gods like Cerys Matthews, who helped us get the word out back in the spring. 

Bernard and Cerys – shame we never made it to The Good Life this year!

But of course, the most thanks must go to everyone who has bought a copy of the book, and enjoyed the 77 folktales contained therein. Whether you’ve supported us all along (like the wonderful Godchecker) or just found a copy of the book in your local indie, sharing these stories with you, and maybe even inspiring you to share them with others, children or grown-ups, has been the culmination of a dream which has powered us for so many years now. Very special thanks go to our long-serving Sister Sal, Kate Harbour, and long-suffering fiancé Nessie Hoelandt, for shepherding Brother Bernard around the country so uncomplainingly…!

Yelling to the good and awful folk of Edinburgh during the festival.

Anyway, sad-ish news – having launched at the Glastonbury festival back in the summer of 2017, it looks like this should probably be our last regular weekly Folklore Thursday blog, certainly on the Unbound website, though you can continue to follow our doings on and on Our Unbound editor has moved on from the company, and we have plans to launch a deluxe fully illustrated edition with extra tales in a few years, when legalities allow. The book will continue to be out there in the meantime, 77 stories proudly retold, and we remain a merry part of the Folklore Thursday community, but with the many painful calls of reality to attend to now the book is out (and my next book launches in the spring – @FABFOOLS!), that annoying necessity of earning money, basic survival in this fractured country, it’s become harder and harder to write fresh specific blogs every single week – especially (without wishing to sound piddly) for just a few likes on Twitter which don’t help us spread the word about the book at all. We’ve loved it, and had some gloriously fun weeks, but it can be crushing to work so hard, for so little feedback, and eventually you have to focus on the things that keep you alive.

London launch with Sister Sal, Kate Harbour – the star of new Aardman film FARMAGEDDON!

Be absolutely assured, Tales Of Britain is here to stay, Brother Bernard will always be here to retell and share our great legends and myths! We will always be keen to hear from anyone who fancies a TOB show in their neighbourhood, and indeed we still have pledge shows outstanding, in Cheltenham to name just one! We also still hope to somehow find the time and right deal to launch an audio version of the book in some form or another! Any ideas? As in, ones which don’t cost money…?

Summer mode at Carterhaugh, not far from Tam Lin’s well…

But for 2020, although we’ll continue to share any new tale retellings with you which we happen to find time to write, and we’ll be here to respond online to all your thoughts and queries, the many other more mundane calls on our time mean we’ve finally been forced to shift down a gear or three, until the time comes again to get out there and do all we can to make British folktales FUN again! When that happens, we hope you’ll still be there, ready to enjoy a story with us.

Until then, a very very Merry Xmas/Yule/Solstice/Mithras/Etc to all of you, and to all of you, a FAREWELL!

Brother Bernard xxx

THURsday, 12 December 2019


Dearest of folky funsters, at this chilly, wintry time of autumn, time becomes wickedly scarce, and expenses boom – sadly this difficult year we’ve not managed to find a spot to share our usual live Yule Show, and a week meeting Sinter Klaas in Holland leaves us short of time to spin an all-new retelling for this Winter Solstice… (AWW!)

Yet what I can I give thee, gi-i-ive… FOUR STORIES!

A full Yule pack of exclusive Tales Of Britain from Christmases past, reposted for your PDF pleasure…

MARI-LWYD: A tale all about the foolishness of showing off to keep up Yuletide traditions. This is Brother Bernard and Sister Sal, about to step on stage…

THE LAST YULE: St. Augustine is sent to Canterbury to turn the boozy Saxons onto the funky Jesus thing – during the Yule festival…

THE APPLE TREE MAN: An old Christmassy yarn which could come from anywhere apples really matter. As a Shropshire Lad, though, I know where I’d set it…

AVALON: The Death of Arthur… Well, there’s snow in it.

Warmest saturnalia wishes to every single last one of you who has bought and enjoyed our collection of British Tales, at this time when the country is most in need of reminding of its legendary roots. Still time to buy a copy as a present for story-lovers in your life!

Brother Bernard and all the Mithras pelicans wish you all the loveliest of Yules. 

THURsday, 5 December 2019

The Celtic Trump

Happy merry Sinter Klaas, Folklore Thursdayers!

Being in Den Helder, NL for the arrival of St Nicholas from Spain, with all his presents and of course his sociologically complex pal Black Peter, I find myself ill-equipped to join in this week’s theme of VILLAINY.

Of course, some would argue that the theme is relevant to poor old Zwarte Piet anyway: the blackfaced assistants of Saint Nick who punish naughty Dutch children are hardly seen as heroes these days. But it’s all a bit complex and nothing to do with tales of Britain, so let’s move onto the mythology of Snowdonia…

Okay, so we’ve blogged about the wicked King of Bala Tegid Foel before, but having only just written about the parallels between the unelected de Pfeffel Johnson and King Vortigern just the other week, we may as well turn to the second of two villains currently screwing most of the English-speaking western civilisation, the shameless Russian puppets devoted to destroying anything worth celebrating in our society…

King Tegid Foel is one of the nastiest bastards in wll British mythology. He deserved to be drowned. Biglu. As does his modern counterpart.

Oh, and if you believe anything this stinking sack of squeezy cheese says about the NHS, you are, at best, an utter div.

THURsday, 28 November 2019

A Tale Of Two Hills

Greeting, story-adorers! There’s nothing like a good mountain/hill theme for Folklore Thursday – let’s be honest, at least 66% of all British folktales and folk songs seem to be in some way about hills. Or at least it often seems that way, and we are very spoiled for choice today…

Admittedly, with all the horrifying daily cowpats to contend with in the current UK news and politics, probably the most relevant storytelling hill right now remains Dinas Emrys in Snowdonia, the site of the story of Britain’s second worst ever ruler – a big-headed, immoral lying posho moron determined to destroy the country he leads along with his unelected advisers, King Bor… sorry, Vortigern. MERLIN & THE MONSTROUS BREXIT!

But anyway, moving ever so swiftly on – this week we’re not focusing on a specific STORY, but celebrating the MUSICAL hills which surround us here in Bath! After 7 years up in BA2, on the south bank of the River Avon, I’ve finally moved house across to swanky BA1 again. But one thing I will miss is the incredible vista from my old house, comprising both of Bath’s two iconic, folklore-inspiring hills. There’s something about gazing up at a landscape which has inspired art of any kind, and sharing that creative energy which fired up previous viewers. 

In my old neighbourhood, if I gazed out West towards Bristol, there on the horizon was KELSTON ROUND HILL, a guiding bump on the horizon for folk all around, throughout Bristol and Bath, for millennia. Maybe not a famous hill, but the inspiration for one of my favourite folk songs of all time, performed in its greatest form by 1960s folk singer Nadia Cattouse, right here (produced by Sir George Martin, no less!): KELSTON ROUND HILL. 

The song does have something of a story to it, admittedly, but it’s very much a folk song basic: two kids grow and play in the shade of the trees, he goes to war, dies, she’s well miffed, but we’ve all got to die, the end. 

There’s less of a plot to the second musical hill: looking out towards the London road in the opposite direction from Kelston, we see Little Solsbury Hill, made famous by one of Bath’s longtime local celebrities, now sadly fled from the area, Peter Gabriel. If this one was turned into a folktale, it would boil down to ‘Bloke from Genesis climbs a hill, sees the city lights, something about an eagle.’

No offence to The Real Brian Pern, but we prefer Erasure’s cover: SOLSBURY HILL.

My new place still has wonderful views, of course, it’s just a shame that nobody ever wrote a song about Prior Park, or Sham Castle. Or that dodgy housing estate supposedly being built by Aaron bloody Banks. Perhaps I should give it a go…

Now, with Yule on its way, how about a wonderful collection of stories for this year’s Xmas stocking…? BUY TALES OF BRITAIN!

THURsday, 21 November 2019


Top of the Folklore Thursday, pop-pickers! 

How fortuitous that today’s theme is FILM & TV (Well, and books – here’s a great book you might enjoy, and want to buy copious copies for everyone you’ve ever met: XMAS IS COMING!), because, as those of you who have been paying some attention will know, the Tales Of Britain storyteller Brother Bernard’s alter-ego Jem Roberts is the official chronicler of some of our greatest TV shows of all time, including Blackadder, A Bit of Fry & Laurie and (well, it was on TV) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy! Feel free to buy a copy of any of the above below…

But also, as we made clear on our very first blog all those years ago, TV is a major inspiration for our book, and our very approach to storytelling – as indeed, TV should be for almost any worthwhile narreative-based art, there is no greater medium for telling stories. 

We surely have to pay emotional homage first of all to Jim Henson’s original THE STORYTELLER, starring John Hurt as the rascally weaver of plots, accompanied by his snarky, ballsy dog, Dog. The magic summoned up by those nine half-hours represents the absolute pinnacle of the cosy, bewitching power of TV storytelling, unbeaten even by Jackanory, and partly thanks to the development of the late Anthony Minghella…

Of course, tragically, now Disney owns every scrap of Jim Henson’s creations, over the great man’s dead body, they are intending to reboot the series in what will inevitably be a CG-packed, hollow Disney way… though at a push, if Ben Whishaw were hired to play a younger Storyteller, we might just be able to buy that. John Hurt is as irreplaceable as Jim Henson, but Whishaw has this odd echo of Hurt’s greatness, so who knows…?

On the other hand, this man truly is 100% impossible to replace, and his crazy, mind-blowing, eerie storytelling TV show Grim Tales was even more crucial to our whole ethos with Tales of Britain:

Dear Rik, whose loss we will never begin to comprehend. The year he died, we were making active attempts to talk to his management about the idea of him reviving his Grim Tales persona to become the original Brother Bernard for any TV format we managed to get off the ground. These Grimm stories were adapted by a different Anthony, Horowitz, but that was largely irrelevant, because the show’s success was 90% down to the irrepressible spirit of RIK and his wild ability to make the audience breathless with laughter, and turn on a die to pure sadness in the next instance. The self-important stuffiness which defines 99% of folklore writing is a key reason why we launched Tales Of Britain in the first place, nobody seemed to be having any FUN with it – and witrh Rik in charge, it was impossible not to have fun. How we miss him.

Nobody will ever rival Rik’s ability to spin a yarn, although we have cited other key influences – Tales of Britain is dedicated to Python Terry Jones, author of magical fairytales brought to TV by the legendary Neil Innes (supporter, incidentally, of the next book from the Tales of Britain author, FAB FOOLS), plus the enthusiastic location storytelling of Tony Robinson in shows like Odysseus also taught us more than a thing or two about grabbing an audience and not letting go until ‘THE END’. But if anybody was our dream TV Brother Bernard, it was RIK.

That said, there is still a gorgeous autumnal BBC1 Sunday teatime-style show waiting to be made here, and we have no shame in sharing our rough format pitch with you now. We showed Stephen Fry a few years ago, but have a feeling he won’t be pitching it to his company Sprout any time soon, so here it is. Some might say it’s madness to put something like this online, but we have no TV production companies knocking on our door, so why keep it hidden away?

OI, TV EXECS, TALES OF BRITAIN IS PERFECT TELLY! And don’t go swiping the idea, it’s all in the retelling… Give us a shout any time, and we’ll see what we can work out…

THURsday, 14 November 2019

FREE TALE! The Weird Laddie

… Okay, this story isn’t actually called ‘The Weird Laddie’, but as this Folklore Thursday’s theme is CHILDREN, it may as well be…

This is actually the very odd Scottish legend THE LAIRD O’CO, as teased in this blog earlier in the year. The tale tells of a very odd faerie child (we actually kept them gender-irrelevant) who bothers the lord of the manor at Culzean Castle, in south west Scotland. It’s a retelling which we only wrote this year, so of course isn’t in the book, but as it’s a busy week we’re happy to share it for free right now – plus, thanks to our careful re-contextualising of its oddness, it’s also quite fitting for Remebrance season, with added WWI scenes (our source material only mentioned ‘fighting in Flanders’).

Weird children aren’t hugely rare in British folklore, the Green Children of Woolpit being the most famous example (again, they’re not in the book, as there’s nothing much in the way of a story there, it’s just a vague happening from medieval times, but perhaops we can tease out an interesting narrative one day). The wee laddie in The Laird O’Co, however, is a very intriguing and unique magical sprog, and we hope to include his story in a future edition of TALES OF BRITAIN.

So here it is, for the first time, THE WEIRD LADDIE! DOWNLOAD PDF WHY DON’T YOU?

Please buy Tales of Britain today if you haven’t already – or if you have, it’s nearly Yule, so why not share a copy…?

THURsday, 7 November 2019

Howay The River Wear

Had yer gobs, Folklore Thursday lovers, and we’ll tell ye all about the River Wear. It’s long and it’s wet.

But also, of course, it was the site of the death of THE LAMBTON WORM, somewhere in the Fatfield region now overlooked by the Penshaw Monument. It was only due to the rushing temes of the Wear that rock-hard young John Lambton could hack the foul endangered species to death without all its bits reattaching mid-scrap, so all those slimy chunks of fat dragon were washed away into the North Sea…

(C) Andrew Jenkin

Since last blogging about this ancient tale HERE, however, Brother Bernard has actually managed to explore the valley of the Worm in person, on a scorchingly hot day en route sou’west from our Edinburgh show this August. We tweeted about it and everything. 

You have to pick your dragon slaying legends carefully, as Britain is so overflowing with identikit tales of a similar vein, but the curse of the Lambtons has earned it a crucial place in our national lore, and given the grimy River Wear a whole new heritage of horror, and mystery. You can even forgive that the myth inspired The Lair Of The White Worm

Now, gan on and BUY A COPY TODAY! 

THURsday, 31 October 2019

Free Ghost Story: The Kintraw Doonies

Happy Samhain, and for that matter, Halloween!

This is a truly terrifying one for me, as I’m moving house after 7 years. No haunting or monster could ever beat that.

So it’s a necessarily short blog this Folklore Thursday, but one with a FREE GHOST STORY for all! Brother Bernard’s chilling retelling of THE KINTRAW DOONIES is attached, and you can also download it here.

There’s also lots more about the tragic story and the Argyll hills where the Doonies roam here.

Have a gloriously spooky one…!

THURsday, 24 October 2019

Here’s a story for you. It features the most horrific, revolting and deeply dangerous monster to threaten Albion for 80 years.

Subtlety be blowed…

In DINAS EMRYS, in North Wales, you will find, high on a hill, the remains of a very stupid British folly.

Halfway through the first millennium, Britain had a very, very bad King – both in that he was cruel, selfish, conceited, lying and greedy, but also simply in that he was thick as constipated-pig-turd, and utterly incompetent at anything involving running a country. Everything he had ever touched had turned into poo, usually at great cost to the people, but he never cared, he was born to rule, no matter how heartless and careless and useless he was at it. It should go without saying that this ridiculous usurper was totally unelected, as were the dark cabal of ‘elite’ advisers who told him what to do. However, even if he had been elected, it would only have been because he was in charge of what most people in the Kingdom thought was the truth – he saw the peasants as animalistic drones, there to do his bidding. He was born of noble blood, and had always done exactly what he wanted, without anybody ever telling him what to do. 

With the Romans having packed up and gone home, this King and his despicable advisers told the people that they were sick of the many tribes all clashing together which made up Britain, and they were going to do a deal with some foreign invaders who could come over and take care of the mess that had been made of Britain. So Vortigern sent a letter to these big brawny Germanic invaders who would come to be loosely known as ‘English’, promising them any part of Britain they would like to get their hands on, while telling the people that what he was actually doing was making Britain Great again. A worrying amount of Britons, sadly, actually fell for this.

However, once Hengist, Horsa and the other beefcake Angles and Saxons arrived here, they decided they rather liked it and would keep it all, thanks very much – and if the King didn’t like it, whose army was going to stop them? The Britons were weak, with such a rubbish ruler to lead them, and creating division between the tribes, and so whatever the stronger foreign power wanted, they were going to get.

Like the desperate coward that he was, the King fled west, to the hills of Cymru, and his advisers went with him. All having shares in a private construction company, the first thing they decided to do, was a built a tall tower up on a hill on the edge of Snowdonia.

Vortigern told the people that the castle he was building would keep all the foreigners out, and nearly half of them fell for it, and so it was instantly declared the ‘will of the people’ that Vortigern and his unelected advisers would have their nice cosy castle up on the hill, and the proles could get up there and build it, under their direction.

However, it was clear that not one of them had any idea what they were doing, besides making lots of money on the side. Every time the castle tower began to take any form, the hill would rumble, and crack, and the whole mess would come tumbling down, usually squashing a number of the poor builders as it crumbled. 


“We never asked for this!” some of the braver hillfolk protested, but they were sneered at and ordered to just do what they were told. Half of the hillfolk had been fed every single lie Vortigern and his advisers could get their hands on, they were told by one long skinny druid as he lay languidly in the grass that elite demons were against the tower being built, and anyone who thought for themselves and suggested that the tower benefited nobody and was built on lies were in league with these demons they just made up.

And so, time and time again, the tower just kept falling down, killing poor people and leading to endless fights among the previously peaceful hill folk. It was, quite clearly, an impossible task.

This was when the despicable advisers had their big idea. They told the King that the tower would only be built if they could find a young poor child, ideally born to a demon, and take him to the construction site, where he would be bloodily sacrificed, gizzards torn out and thrown around the hillside. Only then would the angry demons of Dinas Emrys allow this monstrous tower to be built.

And so, nearby, a boy called Merlin Emrys was found, and brought to the site of the impossible tower. There he began to explain the real reason for the castle’s failing, and began to talk of dragons, but was quickly told by one particularly hideous little druid that the hillfolk had ‘had enough of experts’…

Oh, I give up. You know the full story, of the warring dragons, the red and the white, and how Britain would forever be at war with itself until a decent ruler could be found, and trained by Merlin, to lead us out of the darkness.

The analogy is painfully sound. There’s no point flogging it to death. But as the scariest Samhain of our times approaches, I never thought I’d see a Britain quite so desperately in need of King Arthur to come and fight the MONSTROUS, unelected, lying, in-bred billionaire social vandals who make up our own so-called ‘elite’ in the 3rd millennium. Or the only people having any Happy Ever After, will be them.

THURsday, 17 October 2019

Underground In Angus

Happy UNDERGROUND Folklore Thursday, dear tale-lovers!

We have a special treat for you this week, all the way from the craggy shores of ANGUS – It’s the weird subterranean tale of THE PIPER OF DICKMONTLAW, along with a mini-compendium of other stories of Scottish cave-dwellers. The sad story about Tammy Tyrie and his wife getting lost deep underground can only send shivers up your spine in this Samhain season… Was that bagpipes I heard, somewhere under our feet?

We’ve never done this before, but here’s the whole yarn as it appears in the book – WHICH IS STILL VERY AVAILABLE ONLINE AND IN SHOPS WHERE YOU’VE ASKED THEM TO STOCK IT!


We were unsure at first about making the clear reference to the beloved saucy radio show HAMISH & DOUGAL: YOU’LL HAVE HAD YOUR TEA, but as our author is also the official chronicler of I’m Sorry, I Haven’t a Clue, we knew Barry and Graeme would be chuffed about the wee nod. 

The lesson is clear – don’t drink and walk. Near the entrance to underground caves. Unless you’re a dog.

THURSday, 10 October 2019

Wisdom of the Fenland Elders

Happiest of Folklore Thursdays to all – this week’s theme of ELDERS brings to mind the local tale we performed at our recent joyful show in the little fenland village of THORNEY, Cambridgeshire, which shows the wisdom fo the elders of the fenlands – THE TIDDY MUN!

Thank you so much to pledger Dorothy and all the folk who attended and bought books, Brother Bernard had a lovely time and it was well worth the journey eastwards!

By the by, although there are plans to have our usual YULE SPECIAL in Bath this December, Thorney marked the last planned show we have for 2019. We still need to hear from our show pledger in Cheltenham and a few other places, but take a look at the shows we’ve done this year and ask – do you fancy a TALES OF BRITAIN show in your neck of the woods at any time? Just get in touch or on Twitter or Facebook and we can see what we can work out, and add to the tour diary for 2020!

As we say, despite coming from the western lands of hills and bumps, it was a great pleasure to experience the flat roads and wide skies of the fenlands, an area which we haven’t really found to teem with disctinct folktales hitherto, although we always enjoyed our visits to Cambridge’s museum of folklore. But we can certainly recommend a visit to the cosy little Thorney museum, complete with models of prehistoric Thorney, and suggest you drop them a few quid when you visit! Yes, this looks roughly like the period where most of our stories come from…

We always make sure to throw in some local tales wherever we perform our unrehearsed shows, but we weren’t spoiled for choice here – Black Shuck was a bit further out in Suffolk/Norfolk, The Wise Folk of Gotham further in, in Nottinghamshire… but as we were given a lift from Peterborough station, the soggy fenlands made it clear which story we had to give them – the mini-saga of the 17th century droughts caused by Dutch settlers reclaiming the land, which is only solved by an old wives’ story from the village elder, the old wizened wise lady who remembers the legends of old, who we called Great Grandma Frank! Her remembrances of the Tiddy Mun’s deal with humans, and how they kept things nice and moist, is what saves the day.

We have already blogged about the Tiddy Mun legend HERE – this myth that there are tiny mushroom-hatted water spirits in the fenland fogs who ensure the water levels remain stron –  in pre-Roman times, with thanks given by the people via presentations of swords, jewels, precious things in general, and the old cry, ‘TIDDY MUN, THE WEATHER”s THRUFF!’ They were said to be distinguishable through the mist via the “peewit!” sound they emitted, similar to the sound of a lapwing – but the elders, like Great-Grandma Frank, know the difference between the bird and the little people.

We were actually tempted to blog about the absolute opposite of ‘the wisdom of the elders’ this week, given the dreaded deadline weighing down on the people of Britain for Halloween, but for now, let’s stick to nicer topics than the lies and crimes of our ruling elite. Not all of our elders have sold us all down the river, so let’s hear it for the wise ones!

Now, book us for a live personalised TALES OF BRITAIN show in your neighbourhood, wherever it may be!

THURsday, 4 October 2019

Katharine Briggs: The First Tale Collector

Merry Folklore Thursday, TOB-lovers! And it’s another very welcome celebration of folkloric heroes on the F side of the gender spectrum today! As you can see, we have blogged about British folklore’s great women many times over the years, even creating this (highly ironic, obv) answer to Disney’s prettified figures of cultural appropriation…

But how about we celebrate a different hero of folklore today – Dr Katharine Briggs, the fairy godmother of British folktales!

In the last century, much the same thing which occurred to me must have occurred to Briggs – that there were many collections of English, Scottish, Welsh and local folklore, but nobody seemed to be covering the whole island! And so, she devoted her life to collecting the very best and preserving them, to the benefit of us all…

I have had pangs of guilt over the years of telling folk that TALES OF BRITAIN is the first full British folktale anthology available in decades – which it certainly is, there have been only one or two highly selective collections retold over the generations, but for the greatest collection of all, we have to go back to the master folklorist Briggs’ ‘Folk Tales Of Britain’ from 1972, which was re-released by the Folio Society in 2011, gorgeously illustrated by the wonderful Peter Firmin… and it still costs over £100.

This is one of the reasons why TALES OF BRITAIN is entirely uninfluenced by Briggs’ book, I simply couldn’t afford it, and as I presumed most other people couldn’t either – and besides, nearly 50 years since the collection was created, with full adherence to the outmoded morals of many collected tales, it really felt like a new collection would be timely.

Folk are now enjoying our fresh collection of British folktales all over the country, visiting each story’s location and having a lovely time (PLEASE do join them and add to the collection of reviews on the usual online places). But we would never deny that in creating this book, we were walking in the footsteps of a great woman.

And quite pleasingly, you can literally follow in Dr Briggs’ footsteps as well. Wales aside (as it so often is), Katharine’s own life covered a nice exapnse of Britain – born in Hampstead, brought up in Perthshire, died in Oxfordshire. Her Yorkshire-born father built the family home in Scotland, pictured above – and now you can actually pay to stay there, and explore the countryside which captures young Katharine’s imagination!

You can also take a holiday in the Oxfordshire home where she lived her final years, or at least we presume this is the same ‘Barn House’ near Burford. Six months after our own first edition was released, we have finally sent off for the great Dr Briggs’ ‘Sampler’ of British folktales, and can’t wait to finally sample her storytelling – it’s clear that despite her academic qualifications, she loved stories above all, not pulling them apart and spoiling the fun of storytelling, but holding an audience bedazzled and spinning a yarn. 

We’re proud to follow such an inspirational storyteller in the ongoing search for a British Happy Ever After. 

THURsday, 26 September 2019

Stewart Lee & The Scottish Spider

Happy entomological Folklore Thursday, lovers of incy-wincy British justice!

First of all, we’re off up to Thorney near Peterborough tomorrow for our first Cambridgeshire show, and our last booked-in pledge reward show (still waiting to hear from Cheltenham and elsewhere!), and perhaps our penultimate show of the year, though there will definitely still be a Yule story session in Bath one way or another.

It would be lovely to see any folksters from the NE Midlands area!

Now – the story of a webmaster.

It seems odd to think that in all these years of WEEKLY blogs, we’re yet to have centred on our 42nd story, the most famous industrious creepy-crawly in British lore, the SPIDER who legendarily gave Robert the Bruce the kick up the jacksy he needed to go and sort out those English sods once for all… well, okay, not once and for all, but for a bit.

The story is surely the most well-known bit of bug-related folklore we have: the one about the Scottish noble losing endless battles and being on the verge of giving up until spying a busy web-spinning spider in the cave where he was hiding, and being inspired by the tiny arachnid’s refusal to give up when spinning away, trying to leap from one crag to another, time and time again until finally successful… and having seen the tiny triumph, going on to give the English a good kicking where it counts.

There are so many contenders for the cave where this tale was said to have happened, fictional though it may well be, and sadly our recent time in Scotland never allowed us to get anywhere near any of them. That said, for the book, we did favour the Stirling area, and this cave near Craigruie. You could travel all around Northern Ireland and Scotland visiting the different apparent caves where Robert the Bruce hid.

But our version of the tale has an odd genesis.

TALES OF BRITAIN is absolutely packed with comedy references, which real comedy anoraks will love teasing out, from Monty Python to Peter Cook to League of Gentlemen to Vic and Bob to Wodehouse and so on and so forth… but the story of Robert the Bruce & the Spider does have the distinction of being the only tale of our 77 where the first time we ever heard the story was on a comedy show – in this case, Lee & Herring’s Fist of Fun on the radio nearly 30 years ago!

©Lee & Cope: Standing Stone botherers.

Stewart Lee has a passion for folklore and folk music anyway, workign with Sheila Collins, tramping round mythological sites with the country’s favourite standing-stone-hugger, Julian Cope, and much more – I must admit, I was hoping that he and Bridget Christie might have come across a copy of Tales of Britain right now, I’m sure their family would love it, as a way of exploring the country via folklore…

Anyway, back on early ’90s comedy vehicle Fist of Fun he developed a typically facetious running gag about how fables should not be used to teach lessons, because we are not animals, generally retelling famous tales in his own overly pedantic style. In Lee’s version of the scottish story, Bruce learned his lesson and managed to kill all the English with his powerful mandibles, I seem to recall. Sadly I can’t find the radio version online, but above you’ll find a very early retelling of the tale from when Stew was about 12… Or as Unbound’s redesign sucks try HERE.

If at first a joke doesn’t work, try, try, try…


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