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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 December, 2004, 14:03 GMT
Jesters get serious in name row
By Emma Griffiths
BBC News

When the Guild of Jesters complained about an English Heritage competition to find a national State Jester, they felt they were not taken seriously.

But four months later, the organisation has agreed to drop the title after a bit of wrangling.

Jonathan the Jester
Jonathan the Jester: Thinks his complaint was not taken seriously
It seemed like a good idea at the time.

English Heritage had been left high and dry when, days before its big Festival of History in August, its usual jester pulled out.

It was essential to find the right jester for the job as a matter of urgency.

"We were jesterless, which was disastrous because he's a key attraction," said an English Heritage spokeswoman.

"We noticed that there hadn't been a state jester since Charles I, so we thought it would be fun to say he's the first state jester [for 355 years]."

But while the idea proved very media-friendly, it began a bit of a bun fight in the jester community.

No-one wanted to miss out on the chance of the title, but it was the height of the busy summer season, and there was only two days' notice to get to Coventry for the auditions.

"The title was far too grand in our opinion - we felt that should be someone like Norman Wisdom - someone of a legendary status."
Jonathan the Jester
The Guild of Jesters started getting calls from clients worried their own jesters would not turn up, so it advised its members not to take part.

"It wasn't a boycott as such; it was the only way of dealing with the panic that ensued," said Jonathan the Jester, the Guild's chief scribe.

"A lot of people did feel very let down and cheated.

"We objected to the title State Jester and the fact there was only two days' notice.

"[The title] was far too grand in our opinion - we felt that should be someone like Norman Wisdom, someone of a legendary status."

Twelve made it to the auditions and Kester the Jester, aka Nigel Roder from Milton Keynes, was duly crowned state jester.

The Guild of Jesters committee
Only jesting: a Guild committee meeting
But the Guild complained that the title should be dropped, they felt their misgivings were ignored.

So Jonathan did some digging and found the competition had neither royal assent nor government endorsement, and questioned the legitimacy of the title.

He wrote to his MP, Tory MP for Salisbury Robert Key, who promptly contacted Culture Minister Lord McIntosh.

A bit of diplomatic manoeuvring later, and English Heritage agreed to drop the name "state jester" and promise to give plenty of notice for next year's auditions.

In a letter to Mr Key, Lord McIntosh said the government had not endorsed Kester in his position and said he could appreciate the unease about him being called a state jester".

Not being experts in jestering, we made the mistake of not contacting the Guild of Jesters, but now we most certainly will
English Heritage
On Wednesday Jonathan got confirmation from Lord McIntosh's office that "English Heritage has agreed to cease referring to their jester as the State Jester."

"Whether he's called the State Jester or not, doesn't really matter to us because he is a great jester doing a great job in helping entertain visitors, that's what is important," said English Heritage.

"Not being experts in jestering, we made the mistake of not contacting the Guild of Jesters, but now we most certainly will.

"I suppose the difference is, for them, it is their profession and we can understand for them it would be a much bigger issue than for English Heritage."

The row has not done either side any harm. English Heritage are delighted with Kester and the amount of publicity they received - a glut of jesters proved popular at the Festival of History.

And over at the Guild, membership [now about 30 full-time jesters and about 75 part-timers] was given a boost.

"Since this we have had a lot of interest, our membership has more than doubled and we are very pleased with that," said Jonathan.

"Overall a lot of good came out of it."

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