The Bristol Cable

On Monday 24th October, my friend died by suicide. Sam Beckenham, affectionately called Sammy B by many who knew and loved him, took his own life.

I heard news of the ‘naked man’ on the Tuesday evening – a friend anxiously rang me, referring to the Bristol Post’s article which fit Sam’s description worryingly well. I cycled to the Bearpit to find friends who might know more. None did, but all shared my anguish. “Just gotta wait”, said one.

Sam’s mother had to undergo the pain of verifying CCTV footage of Sam. The meantime has been a confusing haze for many of his friends; I myself have half-hoped to glance Sam striding through the Bearpit. His absence began to feel real. The permanence of this tragedy has now been confirmed by his recovery from the Avon on Monday 31st.

Sam Beckenham’s penchant for nakedness is well-known by his friends. The Bristol Post have reported his various frolics in a joking tone, from performing naked handstands on College Green to naked raving on a police car. And in some ways it should be seen jokingly. Sam was free-spirited and hilarious, showing at times a daft playfulness and a passionate charisma that was contagious. My favourite memory with him was skinny dipping in a lake in the early hours of the morning, followed nervously by our friend’s dog, Spiel. Sam loved being naked, but it is easy to see in hindsight how some of his escapades indicate a troubled soul. Not many people were fully aware of the severity of Sam’s mental health issues, myself included. Some close friends have expressed the sentiment that he was failed by mental health services. However, one friend suggested he lacked the necessary self-esteem and motivation to seek help, and another reasoned that “it depends how you see yourself, as a homeless bum or a travelling musician” – if you do not identify as someone in need of society’s services, it is unlikely you will go through the necessary bureaucratic hoops to attain professional support. It seems Sam demonstrated his need for help rather than requested it.sam4

Sam used to refer to himself as ‘houseless’ rather than homeless. Home for Sam was wherever there were people playing music. He lived in supported accommodation well over a year ago, but since I knew him he resided in a succession of squats (sometimes facing illegal evictions). Sam spent most of the time singing his heart out and jamming with friends in the Bearpit tunnels, more for themselves than the public. To some, the Bearpit remains an intimidating place, but to many it is a home, a meeting point, a place to make music and feel secure among one’s Bearpit family. I have been taken aback again and again at the level of love and loyalty between people in the Bearpit, amidst the messy shouting, drug-taking, and barking of dogs.

However, the strain that such precarious living can put on mental health should not be underestimated. Sam’s close friend Greg Whalen, who trained as a mental health nurse, believed Sam suffered from bipolar disorder. He fondly referred to Sam’s highs as ‘rockstar mode’, where he would be at his most charismatic and energised, and more than likely shed his clothes. Many friends lament Sam’s lifestyle choice of drug-taking, which is easily socially reinforced and common over Bristol’s summers. The intersecting factors of drug abuse and poor mental health is worth emphasising, as the two can form a vicious cycle, and thus require well-integrated and well-funded services. At a time when homelessness is evidently a huge problem, services are experiencing a 40% council cut from January 2016 over the next 4 years, and mental health services are similarly slashed. Sam’s death clearly demonstrates how vital accessible services are.

Sam’s death could also act as a wake-up call for many young people for whom successions of heavy summer festivals is normal, and a reminder to be caring towards our friends and ourselves, and to be aware of the services available (see below).

In memory of Sammy B, a truly talented musician and inspirational friend who touched the hearts of all who were lucky enough to know him. We have lost a kind, passionate and wonderful soul who is greatly missed by many.

Food not Bombs Bristol dedicated their event on Saturday 25th October to Sam, and Help the Homeless held a memorial event for Sam on Sunday 6th November in the Bearpit.


The Samaritans – 24 hours a day to provide emotional support for people who are struggling to cope, including those who have had thoughts of suicide.

Call: 116 123


Assertive Contact and Engagement Service – supporting people to access mental health services.

Call:  0117 239 8969 (Mon-Fri, 8am-8pm).

Bristol Men’s Crisis House – for men experiencing mental health problems where hospital admission might be the only other alternative available.

Call: 0117 934 9848

Homeless support:

St Mungo’s, The Compass Centre, 1 Jamaica St, Bristol BS2 8JP Phone: 0117 944 0581

Addiction support:

Bristol Drugs Project, 11 Brunswick Square, BS2 8PE

Call: 0117 987 6000

Join 2,600+ Cable members working together to redefine local media.

Your support will help the Cable grow, deepening our connections in the city and investigating the issues that matter most in our communities.

Join now

What makes us different?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related content

Improvements at Priory Hospital Bristol after serious issues revealed last year

The private psychiatric hospital has taken urgent action following a damning inspection and ward closures in 2020. 

‘Nothing feels real’: My life with depersonalisation disorder

It took Joe Perkins 10 years to get a diagnosis of this largely unknown condition. Now he is determined to raise awareness so others feel less alone in their struggles.

Local mental health trust misses deadline to stop sending people far away from home, data shows

Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership Trust still has 30 patients who have been sent to hospitals far away from home, data reveals. Now, mental health charities and organisations are calling for 'urgent action'.

'We’re not families that you can trample on.’ Mothers speak out on failings of sons with autism and learning disabilities

After years of fighting to get the right care for their sons, families speak to the Cable about the report published today that identifies serious failings.

Revealed: Local services slammed for serious failings of people with autism and learning disabilities

In an independent report published today, Sir Stephen Bubb said very little has changed in support for people with learning disabilities since he wrote a report on the Winterbourne View scandal. Families who have been left scarred speak to the Cable.

Bristol to go even longer without mental health beds for children

The gap in services was revealed by the Cable, reporting on ward closures at private psychiatric hospital the Priory Bristol

Join our newsletter

Get the essential stories you won’t find anywhere else

Subscribe to the Cable newsletter to get our weekly round-up direct to your inbox every Saturday

Join our newsletter

Get the essential stories you won’t find anywhere else

Subscribe to the Cable newsletter to get our weekly round-up direct to your inbox every Saturday