Splitting in Two by Rob Dellar

Splitting in Two by Rob Dellar

Splitting in Two: Mad Pride and Punk Rock Oblivion 

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In this book Robert Dellar traces his life journey from his childhood in a working class area of Watford, through Sussex University and the London squatting community, to the murky waters of mental health, as he describes it. Of special importance is the pioneering work Robert did in Hackney Hospital. Here he set up a Patients’ Council and Advocacy Department At the time of the hospital’s closure in the mid 90s, Robert organised some lively gigs described here in colourful detail. His journey then continues to Southwark MIND, (the first user run MIND group) – then on to Mad Pride – an organisation who through the gigs they put on linked mental health to rock and roll. Together with his friend Peter Shaughnessy they also turned mental health demonstrations into theatre.

The title of this book is also the title of a song by punk legends Alternative TV. They make several appearances here, as does Nikki Sudden and two Survivor Punk bands, The Ceramic Hobbs and Rudimentary Peni. Lesser known but equally talented artists like Dave Russell and The Astronauts also make a number of appearances here – as does Ronnie Corbett; he turns out to be a decent chap. While Mad Pride is associated with Punk Rock, a number of folk musicians and poets also took part in their gigs.

Some parts of this book deal with grim topics; there is also much tragedy described here. But a sense of humour runs through this book, and much compassion is shown. A little anarchy is also at play. The titles for a lot of the chapters come from songs. Many of the titles relating to the Punk and New Wave years. This period of time being of importance to Robert as it was when he produced many fanzines.

His fanzine influence would continue with the Southwark MIND newsletter. This was always an Inspiring magazine to read. Along with the different realities featured here, there are pieces of fiction but they fit in well. Some little known capitalist scandals are exposed like the exploitation carried out by the drug companies. Also charities like SANE (Schizophrenia a National Emergency) who, while appearing to be respectable do a lot to demonise people with that label. Also exposed is the reality of life for people who are diagnosed as Schizophrenic. A life of heavy medication, stigma, and locked wards.

This book is an enjoyable read. It is very entertaining. Robert’s journey has been an uphill struggle; it shows both his vulnerabilities and his strengths. But there have been proud achievements along the way. An example being the SANE demonstration Mad Pride organised in the late 1990s where Marjory Wallace came out to face her public. I have a lot of respect for the good work that Robert Dellar has done over the years.

Frank Bangay June 2014


Dellar knows how to deliver a punchline even if it comes out of someone else’s mouth. This and his humorous approach to what might otherwise be some very depressing subject matter makes Splitting In Two a fast and furious – not to mention deeply informative – read.­

Robert Dellar’s new book is part autobiography, part social history and in places morphs into fiction. It covers both Dellar’s own life via punk rock and the dehumanisation of those deemed clinically insane by the powers that be. While in academia the idea that madness might be the only sane response to capitalist society is often discussed in terms of Deleuze and Guattari’s anti-Oedipal theories, Dellar has a more hands on and activist approach to ‘bad craziness’. At the turn of this millennium, Dellar helped found the Mad Pride movement to fight against the stigmatisation of those labelled as having mental health problems.

Most of Splitting In Two consists of straight-forward accounts of Dellar’s life and his thirty odd years of involvement in the fight for the rights of psychiatric survivors. When the book occasionally blooms into what is obviously fiction, I take this to be Dellar’s way of illustrating how easy it is for anyone to go off their rocker in the sick and insane capitalist society that blights all our lives. The writing is never academic and it is much closer to a punk rock fanzine in tone than the post-modern abstractions of ‘anti-psychiatrists’. There are also quite a few pictures to break up the text. The title of the book and every chapter title is more or less a punk rock song, and the acts thus cited but not named are Alternative TV, The Damned, Sham 69, Annie Anxiety, The Flamin’ Groovies, The Adverts, The Raincoats, Johnny Moped, The Sex Pistols, The Lurkers, The Flies, Zounds, Public Image and The Saints. The musicians Dellar actually writes about because he has a personal involvement with them are generally lesser known but include The Apostles, The Astronauts and Alternative TV (and I’ll stop there although I haven’t got beyond bands whose names begin with ‘a’).

I personally know quite a few of the people Dellar writes about (as well as Dellar himself), but there is plenty in the Splitting In Two that I either didn’t know or had forgotten. For example, this description of the opening event for Hackney Anarchy Week at Chat’s Palace in 1996: ‘Stewart Home was heckled as “sexist” by some of the audience as he deadpanned a sequence from his classic novel Defiant Pose, in which a skinhead recites Abeizer Cope’s A Fiery Flying Roll while he gets a blow job in a boat floating down the Thames, London simultaneously being destroyed by anarchist rioting…’ (page 86). I got heckled a lot in the 1990s and while I remember the event at Chat’s Palace, I have no memory of having abuse hurled at me there, although I’m sure Dellar is right about this and I’ve simply forgotten it. What Robert doesn’t add was that I agreed to do this event thinking it was the launch for a fiction anthology he’d edited that included me. I didn’t know when I said I’d do it that it also counted as a part of Hackney Anarchy Week!

Just as usefully Splitting In Two draws out the relationship between drugs, death and mental health – because despite the scare stories run by the tabloid press, those stigmatised as crazy are far more likely to hurt themselves than to attack someone else. So suicides are a feature of Dellar’s book, including that of Pete Shaughnessy, who was another key figure in getting Mad Pride off the ground. Dellar deals with such matters in a personal but understated way. To cite just one instance of this (dealing with drugs rather than suicide), he writes: ‘Cat Monstersmith introduced me to Hackney artist Gini Simpson, thinking we’d get on, and a relationship began which was hard work but never dull… Gini was still traumatised following the breakdown of a disastrous affair with a guy named Miles, and although I avoided hard drugs, substance abuse was a permanent feature of the time we spent together. Nevertheless, Gini was ablaze with wild energy, creativity and blinding intelligence, and after five months of feeling as if I was in a virtual stupor, I felt enlivened’ (page 148). The understatement of Dellar’s phrase ‘hard work’ becomes clear as Simpson’s behaviour, including an attempt to kill two guys by running them down in her car, is described.

Although Splitting In Two is not written as a theoretical treatise, there is plenty of material within it with which one can think through – everything from capitalist society to the relationship between madness and punk rock. That said, it also contains many well-told stories. Dellar writes of taking the Hackney Patients Council 5-a-side football squad to play at Broadmoor. There he met Robert Hunter who was incarcerated for killing seven cops when he used dynamite to blow up Greater Manchester Police Station. Dellar quotes Hunter as saying: ‘There were ten coppers in there… and three got out alive. Luckily though, I got the one I wanted, the chief superintendent who was my dad. He’d been knocking my old dear about for a while and of course, something had to be done…’ (page 76).


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