How Santa prankster broke IN to Shrewsbury jail and gave presents to prisoners

He’s now in his mid-80s, but there is still a mischievous streak in Derek ‘Poddy’ Podmore.

Left, Derek 'Poddy' Podmore scaling the walls of Shrewsbury Prison in 1977. Right, Poddy on his return visit.
Left, Derek 'Poddy' Podmore scaling the walls of Shrewsbury Prison in 1977. Right, Poddy on his return visit.

He was once famous for his outrageous pranks, which brought global headlines but put him on the wrong side of the law.

Many came from bets in the pub, including an occasion in which he accepted a challenge in 1977 to break into Shrewsbury Prison. He succeeded and, dressed as Santa, threw presents from the roof to the amazed and grateful inmates in the yard below.

The Dana is now free of prisoners but has found a new life as a tourist attraction. And friends of Poddy decided to take him back as an early Christmas present, just for old times sake.

Derek Poddy Podmore scaling the walls of Shrewsbury Prison in 1977

Recalling his antics in the 1970s he said: “I was in the pub, and they were all telling me it would be impossible to get in, so of course I told them I would.”

Among the prisoners showered with gifts of cigarettes and tobacco was notorious gangster Frankie Fraser, who spent part of his sentence in the Dana.

Standing outside the gates of Shrewsbury prison, it’s bracingly cold and Derek ‘Poddy the Poacher’ Podmore can’t wait to get inside.

“I’ve had some good times in there,” says the colourful character, whose madcap antics and brushes with authority meant he was rarely out of the headlines during his wild years in the 1970s.

Derek ‘Poddy’ Podmore at Shrewsbury Prison

Now 85 and nursing a bandaged ankle, Poddy’s slipper momentarily comes off as he gingerly crosses the road with the aid of a stick. But he leaves you in no doubt that were he a few years younger, he would be up to the same capers again.

“Last time I came here, I climbed upon the roof, but I don’t think I can manage that this time,” he jokes.

It is hard to know where to start with Poddy’s pranks.

One of his earliest escapades took place in the Railway Hotel in Market Drayton, when in response to the boasting of a fellow drinker, he swallowed a live frog.

“There was this Irishman in there who kept bragging he was a champion frog swallower,” he says. “There may have been a few drinks involved.”

Derek ‘Poddy’ Podmore at Shrewsbury Prison

The incident landed him before Market Drayton magistrates on animal cruelty charges, where he attended dressed in a frogman’s outfit, complete with flippers, a wig, and a large feather behind each ear.

The court was told that he was apparently dissatisfied after swallowing a small living frog, and Podmore produced a larger one. He took a drink, put the frog in his mouth, and swallowed it, and then took another drink.

Poddy, who lived all his life in Styche, near Market Drayton, said it was delicious and rubbed his stomach.

Most of his brushes with authority related to poaching offences, and on one occasion – frustrated by the number of times his case had been adjourned – he greeted the arrival of a judge by getting a friend to nail him by the ear to the tree outside the court.

On another occasion he appeared in the dock covered in manure, wearing a dead pig on his head like a hat, and with its entrails hanging from his pockets.

“They had to fumigate the place afterwards,” he chuckles.

He’s back – Derek ‘Poddy’ Podmore paying a visit to Shrewsbury Prison

It was another of his pranks – paying an £80 fine by scattering halfpennies all over the courtroom floor – that landed him with a brief stay as a guest in the Dana. But it was his antics in December, 1977, when he scaled the walls of the jail dressed as Father Christmas to shower the inmates with gifts, that he is best remembered.

Like most of his pranks, this had its origins in a drunken dare.

“I had been in there the year before when Frankie Fraser and the Richardsons were in prison,” he says.

“Everyone was scared of Frankie Fraser, everywhere he went he was flanked by four security guards, none of the other prisoners were allowed to go near him.

“There was a rumour that he was going to be sprung from prison, so they upgraded the security by putting wire netting over the exercise yard.

“I was in the pub, and they were all telling me it would be impossible to get in, so of course I told them I would.”

Aided by a friend with a lorry, he scaled the perimeter wall with a ladder, and then managed to clamber over the razor wire to get on the roof without getting hurt. Once on the roof, he showered the inmates below with gifts of cigarettes and tobacco, with Frankie Fraser among the grateful recipients.

“When they came with the fire engines and ladders, they asked me if I wanted to go down on the outside or on the inside,” he says.

“But I wanted to go on the inside, because if I came down on the inside they would say I hadn’t managed to get in.”

Poddy was joined on his latest visit by his old mate ‘Mossie’ – who asks for his real name not to be revealed – who nailed his ear to the tree during his 1976 protest outside Stafford Crown Court. The stunt, which also saw him draped in a Union Jack and wearing a barbed wire wreath, was timed to coincide with the parade to mark the appointment of a new judge. The stunt made headlines around the world, and a fan club called Poddy’s People was set up in the United States.

“There were three trees outside Stafford Crown Court, and people kept coming to take photographs of them, so they had to have them chopped down,” he says.

In a world exclusive, he also reveals himself as the man behind reported sightings of the ghost of Madam Pigott in the Newport area. “They thought it was Madam Pigott, but it was me covered in a white sheet,” he says.

The Dana closed as a prison in 2013, and Poddy was this time returning as a a paying guest at what is now a tourist attraction. The tour was a gift from his friend Phil Lisney, and Poddy was treated like a VIP as he regaled the guides with tales about his time at the prison.

“It was the best Christmas present ever,” he says.

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