Saturday, 9 June 2012

Ross Kemp on Morris Men

My name is Ross Kemp. You may know my gruffer-than-a-Rottweiler-chewing-gravel voice from my roles in Eastenders and Ultimate Force, or my hard-as-nails documentaries about gangs and wars and pirates. However, today I went even further, investigating for the first time one of Britain's most infamous cults - the Morris Men.

Over the last 500 years Morris Dancing has grown across Europe, a shadowy tradition of terrorising innocent bystanders by threatening them with weapons such as sticks, musical instruments, and drugged handkerchiefs. Traditions vary from place to place, but I caught up with the elusive Hook Eagle Morris Men, at a rare appearance at a village féte in Hartley Wintney.

In disguise as a teenage boy, I observed their attack from a distance. Their arrival on the scene was noisy - they wanted attention. They stomped around with bells on their feet and played their instruments as they entered, a show of skill and power.

They formed a group, bashing their weapons - large wooden sticks which they later changed for larger ones - against the ground and each others sticks. As the threatening behaviour continued, one of the men walked up to the surrounding crowd, telling them to put their money in the bucket, claiming that it was for charity.

I observed their gang uniform - bright blue and yellow waistcoats to draw attention to their presence. They wore top hats adorned with assorted badges, as well as the tails and feathers of dead animals. They wanted the crowd to know their adeptness at hunting, karate, and 50 metres swimming competitions.

Stunned with fear, locals gave the men money to try and make them go away. Another part of the Morris Men's costume stood out to me - black facepaint and sun glasses. I read this in two ways - firstly, to hide their identities, but also as a racist jaunt towards the locals.

As I ate my hotdog, I saw that now all the men were turning on the crowd, bashing their sticks and demanding money. I saw that things were about to kick off, so I entered a raffle, and got out of there. Next time, I delve into the sinister world of the mysterious Rotary Club.


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