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Lobby Lud: continued

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Secret London
Murder Ballads

Bobby started his career in Oxford on August 16, moving on to Reading next day. It was Reading which gave him his most exciting day of the whole campaign, producing a hair's-breadth escape when someone challenged him just three minutes after the 4:00pm cut-off point and a large crowd of chasing admirers outside Alfrieda's Restaurant. It was also at Reading that Bobby found the first of his own doubles - a salesman who was forced to take refuge from the pursuing crowds by ducking into a nearby house and then fleeing over the rooftops from its upstairs window. (26)
Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there. Bobby was caught for the first time on his third day and, by the time he completed his stint in Rochester on September 20, he'd been caught nine times in less than five weeks and distributed about £150 in prize money. By the time he finished, Bobby's captors included a schoolboy in Weston Super-Mare, a butcher in Bognor, a postman in Barking, a greengrocer in Eastleigh and a policeman in Rochester. Denied the big crowds which Lobby relied on to conceal him, Bobby was simply too easy to find, and no-one seemed too disappointed when he was quietly dropped. Perhaps he simply didn't have Lobby's flair, either for staging the little stunts that kept each day fresh, or for describing his adventures in the lively way needed to maintain armchair hunters' interest.
With Bobby retired and Lobby enjoying his holiday, Mrs Lud was left to carry the torch alone. She started her tour with appearances in Piccadilly, Gray's Inn Road and Knightsbridge on Monday, October 9, and pulled in her first big crowds at Tooting Beck on the following Thursday. “Policemen, tramsmen, busmen and tradesmen were aghast,” she told Gazette readers. “They had never seen so many women, cheek by jowl, packing the pavements in their lives. [...] What was wanted most was one-way traffic for perambulators. Frequently, they met three abreast, both ways at once and jammed. Then some rival would be challenged, and somebody else nearby would say slyly ‘Why, she'll never see 24 again!’” (27)
Heywood later recalled her adventures in a Radio 4 documentary. “I remember once, at the end of the day, there was one poor girl in a telephone box,” she said. “The crowd outside were sure she was Mrs Lobby Lud - they were certain. I was on the opposite side of the road, so I went into a shop and asked them if I could borrow their phone. They said ‘Yes’, so I phoned head office and said ‘Everything's OK, I've got through the day. Everything's safe’. I thanked them for letting me use the phone, came out and there was this poor girl, still struggling to get out, with me standing there watching her.” (7)

Mrs Lobby Lud was caught for the first time opposite what is now Highbury & Islington Tube

Mrs Lud was caught for the first time next day by the Compton Terrace railings opposite what is now Highbury & Islington Tube station. Her nemesis was Ethel Soper, a 35-year-old woman from Sloane Square, who had been hunting her all week. Soper credited a dream she'd had the previous night for securing her the £100. “I dreamt that I went to see the chef of a West End club where I once worked,” she said. “I found myself in a room but, strangely enough, there were railings round it. When I went to shake hands with him, he turned out to be you. I could make no mistake, because I'd seen you at Finchley. Then, this morning, when I caught sight of you against the railings, I knew. I thought at once of the dream.”
Asked what she'd do with the money, Soper gave an immediate and detailed answer. “New clothes for all the family,” she said, “a ton of coal in for the winter, the rest in the bank and a nice holiday for us all next summer.” Welcome as the money was, it was not this alone that had kept her motivated. “I became so interested in the hunt for its own sake, whether I was fortunate in winning the prize or not,” she said. “I read the articles every day as I would a serial story. I shall still read them. It was like a new interest in life.”
We shouldn't underestimate the role this soap opera element played in the scheme's success. There must have been ten or twenty Lud fans who bought the Gazette just to follow his accounts from home for every one who chased the man in person, and they all helped to add to the paper's circulation too. But even the most popular soap needs a constant supply of fresh storylines to hold its fans' attention, and Mrs Lud's introduction turned out to be the last major twist the Gazette's editors could come up with. Lobby himself returned to the stage towards the end of October with a tour of Britain's big provincial towns and cities, but nothing that happened there could match the fuss he'd caused earlier in his career.
On Monday, October 24, the Gazette stated supplementing his personal appearances with a series of daily crowd photographs aimed at his armchair followers. At least one photo per week would include Lobby among the dozens of faces it showed, and anyone able to circle his face correctly would win a share of that week's prize. The amount on offer started at £50, rising by the same sum for every week it stayed unclaimed until it reached a maximum of £500.
Three successful entrants shared the £50 home prize awarded on November 10, but already the writing was on the wall. Lobby made his final personal appearance in Norwich on Saturday, December 3, marking the occasion by enquiring about his own funeral arrangements there. Two days later, the Gazette's pictures were cut back to four a week, and then the scheme was allowed to peter out altogether.

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Mirror images: continued

The next phase of Lobby's afterlife began in the 1950s, when the Daily Mirror launched a character called Chalkey White, who toured Britain's resorts distributing fivers. The character took his name from Andy Capp's best mate in the Mirror's popular comic strip. (31)
    It was Chalkey, not Lobby, who insisted that his challengers add the words “...and I claim my £5”. This remains the single phrase that's best-remembered from the whole affair, often still quoted today, and almost always attributed to Lobby instead of Chalkey. For at least two generations of English people, this phrase has entered the language, sparking many take-offs in magazines and television.
    In November 1968, for example, the satirical magazine Private Eye marked Jackie Kennedy's lucrative marriage to a certain Greek shipping tycoon with a cover photo of the couple and a speech balloon coming out of Jackie's mouth which read:
“You are Aristotle Onassis, and I claim my five million pounds”. (32)
    The Mirror continued to use Chalkey on and off for the next three decades. In August 1980, the Guardian sent its reporter Alan Rusbridger to follow him around a rainy Lowestoft. By now, the paper was spelling his name “Chalkie”, the magic words changed with each day's edition of the paper, and the prize on offer was back up to £50.
    “The Guardian has agreed not to identify him,” Rusbridger wrote. “But it can be revealed that he is a 31-year-old Bedford man whose brother stands in for him at places such as Margate, where he is too well-known. Even during such a summer as this, the British holidaymaker takes Chalkie very seriously. [...] ‘Last time I was in Lowestoft, three weeks ago,’ he said, ‘a woman and her husband followed me down to Ramsgate and slept overnight in the car to makes sure they were up early enough to catch me next day’.” (33)
    Asked about his tactics, Chalkie said he always spent the previous night in a hotel two or three miles from town to avoid being collared by a waitress over breakfast. He added: “After that, you try to look like the rest of the people on the beach - miserable and aggressive”.
    That's a telling line, because Chalkie's experience in 1980 was clearly a far cry from the cheerful one Lobby had enjoyed 53 years earlier. “Chalkie's life is fraught,” Rusbridger reports. “He has often been punched by people who thought he should have won the prize and was once hit over the head with a handbag by a woman who thought it was misleading of him to wear a beard. He has been swept into the sea by a giant wave at Hastings, was arrested for making too much noise at Bognor, and reported to the Press Council for allegedly giving the money to the wrong person. ‘People think it's a cushy job but sometimes I hate it,’ he says. ‘You get this terrible sense of paranoia. Everywhere you go, you think everyone's looking at you.’”

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