Sunday, October 28, 2007


When complaints from a neighbour forced an expensive lowering of their new roof, the builder of this house in Utah decided to install some unusual heating vents.

I was reminded of John Gladden, about whom there are disappointingly few pieces of information online. In the 1980s, he caught a very large marlin off the coast of Florida, and decided to celebrate with a life-sized model (IIRC) of the fish on the roof of his house in Norbury, South London. Here he is with another model, in a 2002 photo taken from a piece about a dispute over a heavily-decorated, publicity vehicle he had parked in the grounds of a pub opposite his engineering works.

Gladden, a very strong-minded Englishman who has, I believe, been a candidate for the Official Monster Raving Loony Party, got into a serious row with Croydon Council in the 1980s. His plastic fish was some absurdly small measurement too large to have been erected without planning permission - a matter of inches. As the row escalated the police began, in Gladden's eyes, to harass him, so he harrassed them back. At that time his engineering works were on Acre Lane, Brixton, near where I lived, and he bought a large World War II vintage self-propelled gun (a tank, to the uninitiated), painted it pink, installed eight foot high plastic dinosaurs and pigs in police helmets, with truncheons, all over it and parked it in front of his factory. He was also given to driving it slowly through traffic.

When, in 2001, the police started giving the tank endless parking tickets, Gladden drove it to Brixton police station and parked it on their forecourt:

But when Mr Gladden, of St Oswald's Road, Norbury, went to retrieve his tank the next day - in July last year - he found the two pig sculptures and a giant hand giving a finger gesture, had been badly damaged.

The police said the sculptures were a safety hazard and had to be removed. But in doing so, they were damaged. And last week Mr Gladden, who owns a firm called Lightning Fittings, won a legal battle in the Central London County Court for the damage caused. He was awarded £4,400.

It was not the first time Mr Gladden has had problems with a vehicle. A court order was made back in 1994 banning him, or other people working for him, from parking any vehicle on "any public highway in the London Borough of Croydon so as to obstruct". He is also known for putting models of giant fish and jet fighter on top of his home.
Here's another one of Gladden's vehicles:

If you can't quite see what it is, he bought an American police car and decorated it with models of a policeman bending over, and a disembodied hand and arm spanking the police officer's bare bottom.

I remember the "giant hand giving a finger gesture" from the quote above. I met Gladden in the mid 1990s, when he was locked in a round of court appearances with jobsworths from Croydon's planning department. The hand was giant - about ten feet high - and had been attached to a hydraulic ram mounted in the middle of a small van, so the hand sat squarely in the middle of the van's roof when the ram was fully retracted. If the ram was extended, the hand was pushed twenty feet into the air.

Gladden had a plan. He was due to appear in court imminently and knew he'd lose that particular skirmish. He built the hydraulic hand so it could be parked outside the court building during the hearing. He knew the courtroom he would appear in would be on the first floor, and that he'd be able to get a parking space immediately beneath one of the windows.

As the magistrates pronounced his doom, Gladden's associates would press the red button, and the hand would rise, middle finger extended, to the courtroom window above.

No comments: