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Great Hoax Letter Writers # 1: Henry Root

There is a great and noble tradition of hoax letter writers.

I can't count myself amongst the, as I'm neither great, noble or, strictly speaking, a hoax letter writer in the tarditional sense. I'm thinking ore of those individuals who adopt a personality and then hassle various organisations, authorities and sundry celebrities, making various pointless demands or offering unsanctioned advice until a response is provoked.

There have been quite a few in modern times, with the Don Novello creation Lazlo Toth being the first in the mid 1970's, an idea that was quickly adopted (stolen) by rogue, gadfly and roustabout Willie Donaldson.

I encourage anyone with an interest in the English eccentric to pick up the excellent biography You Cannot Live as I Have Lived and Not End Up Like This: The Thoroughly Disgraceful Life and Times of Willie Donaldson by Terence Blacker.

Within you'll hear tales of brothels, drugs, Carly Simon and glass-bottomed boats. Donaldson's invention Henry Root brought about the author's third fortune I believe (soon squandered obviously, on crack and whores) by writing to the leaders of the day, random celebrities and religious chiefs with his proposals for a better society. By including a cash bribe in his letter, he usually got a reply (and his money back. Thatcher kept the money).

The Root things are great, but I'm more interested in Willie himself with his perpetual flaws, addictive personality and incredible ability to piss everything away. You can usually still fing the various Root tomes in charity shops and used book stores. His biographical encyclopedia, Rogues, Villains and Eccentrics, is equally demented. One entry reads: "Pygmy cannibals who were no match for English travelling women. See Carstairs, Marion Barbara".

He died, as he lived, living in filth, addicted to crack and his laptop logged onto a lesbian porn site when his body was discovered. He was 70.

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