Back in the days of internet chatrooms, I made friends with the drummer of a band called Ricin. Ricin were from St Helens in Merseyside, and they described themselves as a mixture of Metallica and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. During an MSN messenger conversation, this guy told me the frightening tale of Purple Aki.
Purple Aki is a big scary lad whose skin is so dark it supposedly looks purple. This imposing figure appears out of the shadows telling young men to let him feel their muscles. He gives relentless chase to anyone who dares refuse, and when caught these escapees are offered a choice, “Pop or slash.”
The stories of ol’ purple i used to hear was that he offered a choice of pop or slash, either get P slashed on one ass cheek and A on the other, or get ya ass popped.Some lad on a messageboard thread on Liverpool Legends in 2006
Even then (2004ish) there was enough information on the internet to confirm that Purple Aki was no mere urban legend. Akinwale Arobieke was actually serving his second stint in prison at the time. He had been charged with multiple counts of indecent assault, harrassment, witness intimidation, threatening behaviour and even manslaughter.
I’m not from Merseyside, but there was something about the Purple Aki story that fascinated me. In 2006, Liverpool Magistrates’ Court for a Sexual Offences delivered a Prevention Order against Aki banning him from touching, feeling or measuring muscles and asking people to do squat exercises in public. There is nothing funny about sexual assault, but there is something a bit funny about a man being banned from touching muscles. Social media was really taking off at this point, and amoungst other things, Aki appeared in series of hilarious but poorly animated videos on youtube. The Purps was becoming a meme.
4 years ago I signed into facebook to find that one of my closest friends had posted a link to a BBC documentary on Aki. I was pretty disappointed. Instead of a lighthearted review of the Purple Aki meme, this show told the sad story of a genuinely scary and dangerous creep. I think a lot of people see this guy as a big joke, but he really is quite a horrible person.
I recently did a youtube search for the series of cartoons I mentioned above. They seem to have been taken down, but I did find a video clip of Rikki Wiley (Riley?), a Liverpudlian comedian, talking about Aki. I was expecting the usual “Let me feel your muscles, boys” in an African accent routine, but this guy said something which I found fascinating (and very funny):
…my favourite piece of Purple Aki information: Purple Aki rose to prominence in South Liverpool in the late 80s. Now another person who rose to prominence in South Liverpool in the late 80s was a horror writer, and he wrote Hellraiser. Does anyone know his name? Clive Barker. Yes, very good, Clive Barker. Now at the time, Clive Barker was writing a novel, a very successful novel, went on to be turned into a film, and the main villain of that novel was based on Purple Aki. The film, the character, the book ‘Candyman’ is based on Purple Aki. I kid you not. Absolutely, you can look this up online. it’s absolutely true. It’s totally true.
And it is in fact also true that if you say Purple Aki three times… you’re a bit racist.
Now I know this is obviously a joke, and while some of it is simply untrue (there was never a book called Candyman), the main claim he is making seems fairly plausible. When I did as Wiley suggests and looked up this claim online, I could not find any definitive proof that the Candyman was based on Purple Aki.
While Clive Barker has not said that he based Candyman on Akinwale Arobieke, it does make sense. This happened in Liverpool and Barker is originally from Liverpool. Plus, Akinwale Arobieke does look alot like Candyman.Yahoo Answers – 2007
The guy who wrote Candyman was from Liverpool and WAS inspired by Purple Aki! True, true.Comment on Fark Messageboard – 2007
Purple Aki has attracted an almost mythical notoriety and has become a kind of Merseyside bogeyman, like the Candyman but less violent.Liverpool Culture Blog – 2009
Of course wild stories still circulated – such as the one about him being the inspiration for Clive Barker’s ‘Candyman’ character, but mostly he has just faded into the local culture as a figure part bogeyman, part figure of fun…Tender Blog – 2011
Aki had surely been conjured up somewhere in the deepest recesses of the Scouse id. Plenty of people assumed he was an urban legend, a bit like the Candyman in Liverpool-born author Clive Barker’s short story.BBC – 2016
The above are just a few of the mentions I found of Candyman and Aki together, and all of these comparisons were made before Wiley’s video was posted on youtube in 2018. Somebody straight up asked about the link on Clive Barker’s twitter account a few years ago, but there was never any response. I decided to investigate further.
Purple Aki. A name that’s whispered in the parks and playground of Merseyside. A threat made to kids. A name I’ve known all my life. Watch out or Purple Aki will get you. A bogey man that nobody was really sure even existed.Benjamin Zand, Host of BBC’s ‘The Man Who Squeezes Muscles: Searching for Purple Aki’
I am the writing on the wall, the whisper in the classroom. Without these things, I am nothing. So now, I must shed innocent blood. Come with me.
Our names will be written on a thousand walls. Our crimes told and retold by our faithful believers. We shall die together in front of their very eyes and give them something to be haunted by. Come with me and be immortal.
Your death will be a tale to frighten children, to make lovers cling closer in their rapture. Come with me, and be immortal.The Candyman – Candyman (1992)
Don’t pretend you don’t see the similarities.
If you haven’t read Clive Barker’s story or seen ‘Candyman’, the following paragraphs contain spoilers.
The Candyman character made his first big appearance in Clive Barker’s short story ‘The Forbidden’ from the 5th volume of his classic Books of Blood collection. I have read that this story was based on a short, very arty film Barker made when he was 19 that was also called The Forbidden, but as far as I can tell, the only thing the story and the film have in common is their title. The film is a Faustian tale of an artist. I have very low threshold for arty films, and I only watched a few minutes before giving up, but it was made in 1978 when Aki was only 17, so I’d be fairly certain it had absolutely nothing to do with him.
In the short story, Helen, a university student writing her thesis on graffiti, finds a big painting of a scary looking dude on the wall of an abandoned apartment. Beside this picture somebody has scrawled “Sweets to the Sweet.” This is in a neighbourhood where a bunch of murders are rumoured to have taken place. People are hesitant to talk of these murders, and it turns out that this is because the individuals who discuss them seem to draw the ire of the murderer. The local who tells Helen about the killings ends up having her child murdered because of her transgression, and Helen ultimately gets killed because she tells her friends. The Candyman needs people to talk about him for him to exist. The rumours feed his existence. This is made perfectly clear in the last lines of story as the protagonist is being burned alive and watching her husband approach the fire:
She willed him to look past the flames in the hope that he might see her burning. Not so that he could save her from death – she was long past hope of that – but because she pitied him in his bewilderment and wanted to give him, though he would not have thanked her for it, something to be haunted by. That, and a story to tell.
All throughout the story Helen’s marriage is presented as strained. By letting her husband know the Candyman has taken her, she is likely securing him as another victim for her killer. Her death is not solely to get revenge on a cheating spouse though. She’s giving the Candyman the power to exist; her murder is as much a seduction as it is an act of violence. This is a twisted tale in a very Barkerish (Barkernian?) way, but at it’s heart, it’s very much a story about the power and operation of urban legends.
The thing is though, the Candyman in ‘The Forbidden’ looks nothing like Purple Aki:
He was bright to the point of gaudiness: his flesh a waxy yellow, his thin lips pale blue, his wild eyes glittering as if their irises were set with rubies. His jacket was a patchwork his trousers the same. He looked, she thought, almost ridiculous, with his bloodstained motley, and the hint of rouge on his jaundiced cheeks.
I mentioned that ‘The Forbidden’ was published in the 5th volume of The Books of Blood, but just prior to that, it had been published in a zine called Fantasy Tales. The subheading of the story in the zine is “A Terror Tale from the Books of Blood!”, so I assume the zine and book versions of the story are identical. The only difference is that the zine version includes an illustration by artist John Stewart. This is an artist’s impression of Barker’s creation, but it’s worth including here as it looks nothing like Akinwale Arobieke.
Physically, I think it’s safe to say that this incarnation of the Candyman has little to do with Aki, but the story of ‘The Forbidden’, at its heart, is far more concerned with urban legends and the way they operate than the specific details of any one bogeyman. It’s not impossible that the story of Aki may have contributed to how Barker thinks about these concepts.
Both the 5th volume of Books of Blood and the aforementioned issue of Fantasy Tales were published in 1985, so ‘The Forbidden’ was probably written in that year or the year prior. Purple Aki was likely on the prowl at that stage, but he certainly wasn’t as notorious then as he would later become. It wasn’t until 1986 when Aki chased a kid in front of a moving train that he first ended up in the media spotlight. Did Clive Barker know about Aki prior to this? Well, I don’t know if he was in Liverpool at the time he was writing Books of Blood, but he was definitely in England, so it’s certainly not impossible. Also, Barker is gay, and I have heard that Aki has long been infamous in Liverpool’s gay community. This is pure speculation, but it doesn’t seem ridiculous to think that Barker might have heard of Aki before writing ‘The Forbidden’. Even if he had though, it really doesn’t seem that the Candyman in the story is based on Aki.
The movie Candyman was released in 1992. It’s pretty similar to the short story, but it gives a backstory to the Candyman and by doing so makes the tale less about the power of urban legend and more about a specific entity. The Candyman in the movie has a lot more in common with Aki than the one from the short story.
I found an article that claims that while Candyman is not based on a true story, it does incorporate some popular urban legends into its story. The first of these is Candyman’s hook for a hand. Stephen King writes at length about the urban legend of the hook handed maniac in his Danse Macabre, calling it “the most basic horror story I know”. The hook was in the original short story too, but the film added the ol’ “say his name 5 times and he’ll appear” thing. (The Candyman himself is the first to mention his name in the story.) I remember hearing a similar story about saying “Bloody Mary” 5 times into a mirror when I was kid. I think most people did. There’s definitely some urban legends being incorporated here, but is Purple Aki one of them?
Tony Todd, the actor who plays Candyman is a big Black guy. He’s 6’5″, the exact same height as Aki. He also looks nothing like the yellow creeper in the story. Was he cast because of his physical similarities with Akinwale Arobieke?
Well, the height thing is probably just incidental. Bigger is usually scarier when it comes to villains. As for his race, that’s more complicated.
Candyman’s Blackness is crucial to the backstory of the movie. In the film, he’s some kind of revenant or ghost who was originally killed by white guys because he was having an affair with a white woman. Despite this, his own attacks are generally focused on poorer Black families. He shouldn’t really have any motivation to kill these people, but I guess poor, unprivileged people are more likely to believe in urban legends. There’s other interesting stuff going on with race here too. At the beginning of the movie, Helen’s best friend and colleague won’t join her in attempting to summon Candyman. This Black character is not poor and underprivileged, but she seems to sense the danger quicker than her white counterpart. I don’t know exactly what kind of statement this was supposed to make, but I’m pretty sure the people making this movie were trying to be anti-racist.
Regardless of how well it does so, this is a movie that sets out to address racial inequality. The message is that racism is bad. I really, really doubt that the films writers, producers and actors would have been receptive if Clive Barker had shown up one day and said “Let’s make Candyman Black so he looks like a scary nonce I heard about back in Liverpool LOL!”
And while the movie is based on Barker’s ‘The Forbidden’, Bernard Rose is credited as the movie’s writer. I assume he is the one who changed the setting from Liverpool to Chicago and made Candyman Black. Barker had nothing to do with the casting of the movie. He was the “executive producer”, but as far as I know, that doesn’t mean he had a huge amount of creative control on the making of the film. Even if he did, I don’t think he would use it to sneak Purple Aki in.
I am not at all convinced that Purple Aki was the basis for any version of the Candyman. It seems unlikely that Aki’s reputation was big enough in 1984 to convince Barker to try to incorporate him into ‘The Forbidden’. As for the similarities between Aki and the movie Candyman’s appearances, I’m pretty sure they’re coincidental. This doesn’t seem to be a case of life imitating art either. While Candyman feeds off of his rumours, I’d be very surprised if Aki was delighted about the stories that are told about him.
Another crucial difference to note is that while Candyman’s Blackness is part of what makes us feel sorry for him, Purple Aki’s Blackness is part of what makes people laugh at him. Let’s be realistic. If he was a white guy, he’d be just another pervert. I’ve watched a bunch of videos of people describing him, and several say things like, “I’m not being racist; he’s just purple.” That is racist though. Even if his skin was a bit purple, why mention it? Nobody calls Charles Manson “Beige Charlie”. Are there really so many Akinwales of note in Liverpool that people have to classify them by their colour?
There is a part of me that feels sorry for Aki. He grew up without a family, and being a big gay Black lad in Liverpool in the 1980s doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. While he doubtlessly has been the victim of racism, he is also a sex offender and a child predator, so let’s all do the right thing and just call him ‘Pedo Aki’ from now on.
I’ve reviewed three of Barker’s books on this site in the last year, The Books of Blood, Cabal and The Hellbound Heart. I enjoyed all of them, but never had much to say. I feel like this post is finally giving Barker the level of attention he deserves. I’ll be reading more of his stuff in the future. Also, I saw there’s actually a reboot of the Candyman film franchise coming next year. I haven’t watched any of the sequels yet, but I might give the new one a go.