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Lobby Lud: continued

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Secret London
Murder Ballads

He had a few quiet days after that, witnessing nothing more remarkable than some young men tugging at a pensioner's beard in Wimbledon because they thought he was Lobby in disguise, a deaf and dumb man in Croydon who'd printed the Gazette's challenge on a handy card to aid his own search and a Walthamstow fishmonger who had dressed a cod's head in his window with Lobby's hat and pipe.
On Thursday, September 29, Lobby was back in central London, this time in a rain-swept Leicester Square. The Gazette had announced he'd be outside a store called Stagg & Russell on the north side of the square at 11:50am, and that's where Earnest Greene and John Mears pounced. The two men - both salesmen by trade - had met while hunting Lobby in Richmond Park and decided to work together from that point on, sharing whatever prize they might eventually secure. “They sprang forward, one partner on either side of me, and almost took me off my feet,” Lobby says. (23)
Greene and Mears told Lobby they'd actually recognised him at Richmond Park, but not until it was too late to challenge him there. “Since then, we have followed you all round London, on and off,” they said. “We were so sure of you that, between then and today, we challenged only one other man.” Like Connolly in Eastbourne, the two men had done their homework, retracing Lobby's steps each day from his Gazette reports and questioning anyone he seemed to have spoken to. Along the way, they'd chatted to many well-off Lud-hunters - an Indian civil servant, a City executive, a prosperous restaurant owner - who'd joined the contest just for the fun of it.

Men who thought they'd spotted Mrs Lud had to get their wives or girlfriends to approach her

The two men shared the latest £100 prize, collecting cheques for £50 each at the Rialto Cinema in Coventry Street, where Hobman again did the honours. He used his speech to confirm that Lobby had now been caught five times in the space of nine weeks. “I have often wondered, if I should happen to be wanted by the police, whether I should try to lose myself in the country or in the crowd,” Hobman mused from the stage. Lobby's own answer was clear: he believed large crowds were his best form of defence, and rainy days always improved his pursuers' odds by reducing the number of passers-by he could hide among.
Whatever the reason, Gazette readers did seem to be getting the measure of the competition now, with more and more adopting a very methodical approach to deducing Lobby's movements and improving their chances as a result. The word “sleuth” had just been a conceit in the Gazette's headlines when the competition began, but now it seemed much more justified as a description of its readers' tactics. It had taken them 14 days to find Lobby for the first time, and another 19 days before that victory was repeated. Since then, though, the average period between discoveries had fallen to less than nine days, and looked set to fall further. It was time to shake things up again, and what better way to do that than by calling in the wife?

Mrs Lobby Lud's arrival had been foreshadowed in the Gazette on September 24, when an unidentified West Croydon woman wrote to the paper pointing out the difficulties facing any lady who took to challenging strange men in the street. “I am sure many women are deterred from taking part in the hunt by the fear of encountering possible rudeness,” she wrote. “May I suggest you give the women a chance by sending out a Mrs Lobby Lud in the near future. One would then merely run the risk of being regarded as a raving lunatic if one accosted someone who did not happen to have heard of your amusing scheme.”
Someone at the Gazette evidently took this message to heart and, on Saturday October 8, the paper announced a new quarry would be set loose. Headlining its story “Mrs Lobby Lud on Monday: New hunt for women only,” the paper announced that Lobby himself was “at last succumbing to the strain” and about to take a short break. In his place, a 24-year-old woman, five foot three-and-a-half inches tall, with a fair complexion and a ring on her left hand, would be dispatched round London. Mrs Lobby Lud, as she had been named, would visit “all the districts where the principal women's stores are situated”. Accompanying the story was a profile photograph of a young woman in a Dorothy Parker hat, her face in shadow and her eyes concealed by the hat's brim. Mrs Lud was played by Elfreda Heywood, the Gazette staffer who'd accompanied Lobby on his seaside tour and handled his successful challengers.
“The reluctance women have felt in challenging a man, despite their keenness in joining the hunt (has) induced the Westminster Gazette to replace the Missing Man by a Missing Woman,” the paper explained. The police would surely prohibit any hunt “which afforded men justification for addressing any unknown woman indiscriminately”, so only women would be allowed to challenge the new target. Men who thought they'd spotted Mrs Lud would just have to persuade their wives or girlfriends to approach her instead. (24)
In fact, Mrs Lud was not the second member of the family, but the third. As far back as August 13, the Gazette had launched a “cousin” for Lobby called Little Bobby Bud, whose job it was to visit the inland towns which did not qualify for Lobby's own attentions and the seaside resorts he hadn't yet reached. As with Lobby, the Gazette regularly carried photographs and a description of Bobby, who would give out prizes of £10 to the first person who found him each day. He was presented as a cheeky young fellow of 21, who “smokes a cigarette when a Policeman is not looking, and walks with the jaunty air of a lad fresh from college”. (25)

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Mirror images: Kolly, Chalkey and Lucky Len

Lobby's real career ended in 1935, but his afterlife began almost immediately.
    His first new incarnation came in Graham Greene's 1938 novel Brighton Rock. The book tells the story of Pinkie Brown, a teenage gangster in Brighton, who murders a newspaper reporter called Fred Hale in its opening pages. Here's how Greene describes the task Hale's been set for his day at the seaside:
    “He had to stick closely to a programme: from ten till eleven Queen's Road and Castle Square, from eleven till twelve the Aquarium and Palace Pier, twelve till one the front between the Old Ship and West Pier and then to the station by the Hove streets. Those were the limits of his absurd and widely advertised sentry-go.
    “Advertised on every
Messenger poster: ‘Kolly Kibber in Brighton today’. In his pocket he had a packet of cards to distribute in hidden places along his route; those who found them would receive ten shillings from the Messenger, but the big prize was reserved for whoever challenged Hale in the proper form of words and with a copy of the Messenger in his hand: ‘You are Mr Kolly Kibber. I claim the Daily Messenger prize’.” (30)

    There's not much doubt where Greene's inspiration for that character came from is there? He even adds a note at the back of the book for his American readers, explaining the real-life versions of Kolly's campaign. He does not mention Lobby by name, but that's clearly the example he had in mind when selecting Hale's alias.
    In the Boulting brothers' 1947 film of Brighton Rock, Hale is played by Alan Wheatley, complete with Lobby's trademark hat and pipe. He gives the camera a particularly effective look of horror as he's hurled to his death from the ghost train by Richard Attenborough's psychopathic Pinkie.

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