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Ian Dury (1942-2000)

Ian Dury was a highly influential British singer-songwriter and occasional actor who achieved critical and commercial success in the late 1970s and beyond. He contracted polio at the age of 7 in the 1949 epidemic during, he believed, a visit to a swimming pool in Southend-on-Sea. The disease left him with impaired movement in his left arm and right leg, prompting the need for his trademark walking stick.

Dury is best known for his work with his backing band The Blockheads, and their hits together included ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’, which reached No. 1 in the UK singles charts in 1978. In the promotional video, which received extensive airplay, Dury performed on national television for the first time without hiding his withered arm beneath his clothing.

Dury campaigned for disabled people and also promoted polio vaccination awareness in the developing world. In his later years he became a travelling ambassador for UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund).

In 1981 Dury was commissioned to write a song to mark what the United Nations had designated as the Year of the Disabled - a concept he found patronising. The result was ‘Spasticus Autisticus’, which included the lines:

Get up! Get up! Get up! Get down! Fall over!
So place your hard-earned peanuts in my tin
And thank the Creator you're not in the state I'm in.

and

54 appliances in leather and elastic
100,000 thank yous from 27 spastics.

The song was banned by the BBC.

Bibliography

R Balls, Sex and Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll: The Life of Ian Dury (London: Omnibus Press, 2001)

Glossary:

Polio

An infectious disease affecting the central nervous system. Affected individuals can exhibit a range of symptoms if the polio virus enters the blood stream.