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Russell Brand, The UCL Pathology Collections, and the Fickle Finger of Fame

By Subhadra Das, on 24 August 2012

In the run-up to being interviewed for the role of Curator of the UCL Pathology Collections, I picked up the first volume of Russell Brand’s biography (My Booky Wook, Hodder and Stoughton, 2007) for some light reading.

More fool me.Bedtime reading

Having read the book, I quite like Mr. Brand. He has a unique writing voice that’s very pleasing to read, and — the narcissism, lack of self-esteem, drug taking, alcohol abuse and growing sex addiction aside — he seems like quite a sweet guy. He’s also clearly read a lot of Anthony Burgess.

All this was very diverting reading and, I thought, a whole world away from the cosmos that is museology. Or so I thought until I encountered a story about half way through the book. What follows is Brand’s account of the time when he was living in North London and attending The Drama Centre. The direct quotations from the book are interspersed with my reactions.

“Kerry was a junior doctor at the Royal Free Hospital, and she was my first love.”

Ooh, the Royal Free – that’s where the Pathology Collection is.

“One day, when I was up at the hospital, Kerry showed me a room with shelves all stacked up with these formaldehyde-filled jars, containing hands, fingers, genitals and malformed foetuses. It was brilliant.”

OMG! That’s the collection! And he liked it… too cool. Maybe I should write to him…He could cut a ribbon, or something.

“I told Mark Morrisey [Brand’s then partner in drugs] about it; he reflected then said, ‘Let’s steal a foetus, leave it in the park, then phone the Sun and tell them we’ve found an alien.’ ‘Good idea Mark, I said. ‘We should definitely do that.'”

That’s hilarious – what a card! They’ll never do it… they’re way too wasted all the time. Only two short chapters ago he was telling us about the time he had a fight with a prostitute and managed to lock himself out of the house with no clothes on.

“We took some drugs to relax us and waited for nightfall before embarking on our flawless plan. It’s quite easy to get into a hospital – just sidle in through the casualty department and then use elevators and your imagination to get right into its core.”

Oh. Good. God.

“Wisely we’d taken a couple of Kerry’s white doctor coats and blue scrubs so we looked exactly like normal doctors and not like scarecrows on their way to surgery on drugs. It was much harder to find those foetuses than we had envisaged because the Royal Free is quite big, foetuses are small and it’s hard to concentrate when you’re on acid. It was fun walking endlessly round and round that hospital till four o’clock in the morning, past wards full of ill people sometimes stopping to practise our bedside manner or do one of them red zig-zag mountain drawings at the end of someone’s bed.”

I should be much more horrified by this, but what about the foetuses…?!

“We couldn’t find those bloody babies though so we contended ourselves with some boxes of rubber gloves, sample jars and syringes. Our shift at an end, we trickled off back into the world like a couple of woozy Doogie Howsers.”

[Long exhalation, followed by heart and breathing rates returning to normal.]

Assured that the foetuses in the collection remain undisturbed (in fact, we’ve got an idea for a project concerning these; more to follow on that later), and having looked after the specimens for a few months, we’ve got a few ideas about how to develop the collection to make it more accessible and engaging to staff and students at UCL and to the wider public.

So, keep watching this space and, if all goes to plan, Russell Brand may be be cutting a ribbon at an inaugural event sometime in the near future.

Subhadra Das is Curator of the UCL Galton and Pathology Collections, and is one of a team working across UCL Teaching & Research Collections.

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