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Lobby Lud: continued

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Secret London
Murder Ballads

Christie, who has been out-sold only by William Shakespeare and the Bible, had already published six of her 80 detective novels when she disappeared in December 1926. The first three of her Hercule Poirot novels were already on the shelves, including The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, then in the best-seller lists and still considered her masterpiece. She was known to suffer from depression, however, her mother had died earlier that year and, on the night of December 3, she quarreled with her husband Archie over the affair he'd admitted having with a woman called Nancy Neele. (3,4)
After the row, Archie left the couple's Berkshire home to spend the weekend with Neele in the next-door county of Surrey. Christie announced she was going for a drive, leaving a note saying she intended to visit Yorkshire. Next morning, her car was discovered abandoned a few miles away, with assorted clothing and documents scattered around inside. Surrey police received a letter from Christie - posted before her disappearance - saying that she feared for her life, and a missing persons hunt was launched.
The press went into overdrive at this point, speculating that the well-known crime author had been murdered, committed suicide or simply hit on an original publicity stunt. Her car, they pointed out, had been found within a quarter-mile of Silent Pool, a Surrey lake. Police had the lake dredged and recruited 15,000 volunteers to search the surrounding countryside. The faithless Archie quickly became a murder suspect, with the police tapping his phone and keeping a close eye on his movements.
This went on for 11 days, at which point Christie was discovered at a Harrogate health spa, where she had signed in on December 4 under the name Teresa Neele. Her picture was appearing regularly in the newspapers throughout this period, and several of the spa's other residents claimed to recognise her there. But Christie always laughed off what she insisted was a purely co-incidental resemblance, and it was not until someone at the spa contacted police directly that the whole affair drew to a close. Archie was brought to Harrogate, where he confirmed Christie's true identity, and the family went into seclusion while all the fuss died down.
Eventually, they announced that Christie had been suffering from amnesia brought on by grief over her mother's death. Christie divorced Archie in 1928, and later married the archaeologist Max Mallowan. She never referred to the episode again. (5.6)

‘In order to provide holiday-makers with the thrill of a real hunt, Lobby Lud will similarly disappear’

Christie's disappearance was still a fresh memory when Lobby made his debut in July 1927, and it was her case which directly inspired his adventures. “For more than a week, while hundreds of police and volunteers were scouring the Surrey Downs for her body, she was leading a perfectly normal life in a big Harrogate Hydro,” the Gazette reminded its readers. “In order to provide holiday-makers with the amusement and thrill of a real missing-man-hunt, Mr Lobby Lud, the Westminster Gazette Missing Man, will similarly ‘disappear’.”
Lobby got off to a slow start at Great Yarmouth, reporting encounters there with a beach photographer, a lifeboat veteran, a mounted policeman and a coronet player on the bandstand. Several Gazette readers stopped to stare at him suspiciously as he passed, comparing his profile to the handbills the paper had already distributed around town, but none plucked up the nerve to challenge him. In his dispatch the following day, Lobby makes the most of every “narrow shave” and “lump in my throat” he could concoct, but the overall tone is of someone trying to make an unremarkable day sound more dramatic than it really was.
“I started out that Monday morning at Great Yarmouth not having the least idea of how it was going to turn out,” Chinn later recalled. “I knew I had to carry out the engagements and provide, as far as I could, evidence that I had been where I was supposed to be. And, secondly, make sure that it made a useful holiday season story.” (7)
Lobby made his way round the south coast of England for the rest of that week, stopping for a day at each big resort as he went. In Clacton, he found himself sharing a small boat with a complete stranger, who their companions challenged while leaving him untouched. In Southend, he inspected a chalk reproduction of his Gazette mugshot on the pier, in Margate he lunched directly opposite the posters bearing his likeness, and in Folkstone he gave the barber an extended opportunity to study his face by getting a haircut. Lobby reported steadily-growing crowds at each new town he visited, but still no-one had challenged him. Each day, he reported his progress round another town, giving just enough details to prove that he'd actually been at each spot and met the people he mentioned there. He also took care to throw in a few good-natured taunts at the opportunities for easy money they'd missed. One week in, and the prize was now £100, but still there were no takers.
The only sign of the mayhem to come was the trickle of stories from harassed Lobby “doubles” which the Gazette now started to run. The first of these, signed only “a husband from Cambridge”, detailed an awkward encounter on Clacton seafront. “Married life in these days is a big enough problem without being taken for Mr Lud,” he complained. “I was sitting peacefully on the front in a deck chair when a fashionably-dressed young girl came up to me smiling. I looked the other way. She pushed a Westminster Gazette into my hands and asked me for £50. It took her some time to explain to my wife.” (8)

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Ukulele Orchestra of GB: continued

The chorus then repeats, and the song continues in more or less the same vein for its three-minute duration. By September 28, the Gazette's ad assure us, it was “selling rapidly”.
   Stumbling across that ad made me determined to try and find the sheet music it was flogging and - if humanly possible - hear the song for myself. A search of the British Library's music manuscripts turned up the sheet music all right, complete with a large copy of Lobby's stock photograph on its front cover. As I can't read music or play any instrument, however, the printed manuscript could only get me so far.
   The sheet music's cover, just like the Gazette's ad, stated again that the song should be performed “with ukulele accompaniment”, so I dug out an address for George Hinchliffe of The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, sent him a copy of the sheet music and - rather cheekily - asked him if he'd like to record a version of it for me. George very kindly did just that and sent me a copy of his home recording on a CDR. It's really just a demo, with none of the polishing-up a full studio recording would involve, but I think he did a wonderful job.
   I'd originally hoped to get hold of the recording just for my own interest, but I remembered it when the time came to write this essay, contacted George again and asked if he'd mind me posting it here as a free download. He agreed, so here it is: a PlanetSlade exclusive. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Lobby Lud The Mystery Man, as recorded by The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain's Mr George Hinchliffe. If you have toes, prepare to tap them now...

Listen to Lobby Lud The Mystery Man

To learn more about The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, visit them here: