The nation’s japesters are mourning the sudden death of Britain’s greatest practical joker, Josiah Jacobs. Fifty-six year old Jacobs was killed in what appears to be a hit and run accident, with many of his fans suspecting that the culprit may have been one of the master japester’s many victims. In a career spanning more than a quarter of a century, many prominent figures found themselves the subjects of Jacobs anarchic brand of humour. During the early 1970s he orchestrated the downfall of two successive Prime Ministers. During the February 1974 election Jacobs succeeded in passing himself off as a top American political advisor and infiltrated then Premier Ted Heath’s campaign team. There, he convinced Heath’s advisors that the naturist vote could prove vital in the forthcoming poll and arranged for Heath to appear at leading naturist convention as keynote speaker. However, a shocked Heath found himself stark bollocking naked and playing his organ, not in front of a thousand nudists, but instead in front of packed Women’s Institute conference. The sight of a nude (apart from his dickie bow) Heath ascending through the stage of the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre, his organ pipes tall and erect, whilst playing Bach, completely destroyed his credibility with the electorate. Heath’s standing never recovered in the polls and, not surprisingly, he lost both the February and October 1974 general elections. Jacobs also had a hand in the downfall of Heath’s successor, Harold Wilson. In 1976, whilst disguised as a Ten Downing Street cleaner, Jacobs succeeded in putting marijuana into Wilson’s pipe. The effects are well documented. Barbara Castle noted in her diaries how Wilson ran around the table at a cabinet meeting, performing an impression of a steam locomotive, before playing Chancellor Roy Jenkins’ bald head like a bongo drum. Later, at the State Opening of Parliament, Wilson threw open his Gannex raincoat to reveal that he was stark naked beneath (apart from his shoes and socks). This was witnessed by the Queen Mother who, not having seen a naked man in at least thirty years, shrieked “Snake!”, grabbed the Mace from the Speaker and struck Wilson in the testicles. Shortly afterwards Wilson resigned as Prime Minister and Labour Party leader.
Whilst politicians have figured large in Jacobs’ pranks, he also targeted celebrities from the world of entertainment. He once knocked on the door of “comedian” Syd Little, dressed as a policeman, and told him that his comedy partner Eddie Large had just been killed in a car accident. Syd immediately suffered a near-fatal heart attack. According to official sources, had “Supersonic” Syd died, Jacobs could have been in line for an OBE. In another celebrated incident, Jacobs sent love letters, purportedly from Carry On star Kenneth Williams, to popular wrestler ‘King Kong’ Kirk. As a result of this, Kirk stormed into Williams’ dressing room at a West End theatre one night and gave him a good hard rogering. Williams could barely walk for two weeks afterwards and told friends that it rated as a highlight in his career – better even than the 1965 blow job received from playwright Joe Orton in the gents toilets at Kings Cross. Perhaps Jacobs’ greatest triumph came in the late 1980s when he engineered a bitter and long-running feud between top Radio One DJs Mike ‘Smitty’ Smith and Noel Edmonds. The first seeds of the feud were sown in 1987 when Jacobs sabotaged a stunt involving a member of the public on Noel Edmonds’ popular Late Late Breakfast Show TV series. By sawing through a safety harness, Jacobs ensured that a participating viewer plunged to his death whilst rehearsing a bungee-jumping stunt. Jacobs later told friends that his main regret was that it had not happened live on air. Edmonds TV series was, not surprisingly, cancelled. The disgruntled DJ apparently suspected that Smith, (his sidekick on the series and a notable prankster himself), had engineered the incident – motivated by professional jealously. Jacobs now put phase two of his plan into operation, sabotaging Smith’s private helicopter. This resulted in a spectacular crash which left both Smith and his partner – former Blue Peter presenter Sarah Greene – seriously injured. It was only natural that the finger of blame should point at Edmonds, an experienced helicopter pilot himself. A full scale feud allegedly erupted between the two DJs, with Radio One insiders claiming that Smitty once attempted to set light to Edmonds’ beard during a live broadcast of the latter’s breakfast show. Edmonds is reputed to have retaliated by sending him a lump of faeces (possibly his own) by recorded delivery, whilst Smith was ill in bed with influenza. Both men have always maintained that no feud has ever existed between them, and have categorically denied that they had a fist fight during a Radio One Roadshow in Cleethorpes in 1991.
Jacobs’ career as a practical joker stretched back to his schooldays. His earliest prank was when he scraped a dog turd off of the street, sprinkled it with multi-coloured hundreds and thousands, and put it on a paper plate in the desserts section of the school cafeteria. There, it was purchased and eaten by the games master. “He was off sick for a week”, chortled Jacobs, as he described the incident to a newspaper reporter. A friend from his university days recalls Jacobs undergraduate pranks. “Whilst rugby club types thought urinating in beer glasses in the union bar was the height of humour, Josiah went a stage further. Drinkers would often come back from the toilets to find a huge floater in their pint mug. There was trouble one night when the Head of the Physics department swallowed one down without looking – he had to have his stomach pumped at the local hospital!” Jacobs leaves behind a wife and three children. “I can’t imagine who could have done this,” declared his grieving widow Harriet. “All his japes were carried out without malice – he was motivated solely by a spirit of fun. His victims all saw the joke and took his gags in good humour. Even Mike Smith laughed off that horrendous helicopter crash. When he got of hospital he shook my husband by the hand and told him how funny it was in retrospect.” Jacobs’ children, however, have been less enthusiastic about their late father’s activities. “He could be a real bastard to live with – there’s only so many times putting cling film across the toilet bowl seems funny,” says eighteen year old Daisy, who has recently passed her driving test. “It could get a bit wearing, always having to be on the look out for his ‘hilarious’ booby traps and jokes.” Her younger sibling Toby agrees. “That time he replaced my asthma inhaler with a helium-filled replica wasn’t funny – I thought I was going to die. Every time I tried to alert people to the problem, it just came out as a high-pitched wheeze! Everybody just laughed at me as I was rolling on the floor gasping for breath,” the fifteen year old recalls. “I just hope he really is dead and this isn’t another one of his bloody pranks. I’m terrified that at the funeral he’s going to leap out of the coffin and shout ‘Fooled you again!’ It would just be too much for us to take.”