YOU ARE CHALKY WHITE & I CLAIM MY £5

YOU ARE CHALKY WHITE & I CLAIM MY £5

 jeanniejeanniejeannie.co.uk BLOG  28th August 2018

THOUGHTS FOR THE DAY

 August always makes me think of the long school holidays I had as a child. My mum used to work meaning we had to stay with grandma.

 

This was in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I had not been away on holiday. We were too poor. I was fourteen years old before a charity arranged for us, as a family, to go to Mablethorpe in a caravan for a week. I vowed I would make up and have lots of holidays when I was older.

 

In those days everyone seemed to have newspapers and magazines delivered on a daily basis. Many people had two newspapers a day. A morning national daily and a local daily evening paper, they were so inexpensive.

 

My grandparents had the Daily Mirror every morning and I used to love reading about Chalky White everyday in August.

 

Chalky White would wander around various British seaside resorts waiting to be recognised by Daily Mirror readers (an obscured photo of him having been published in that day’s paper). Anyone who recognised him would have to repeat some phrase along the lines of “To my delight, it’s Chalky White” to win £5. The name continued on in the cartoons page, as Andy Capp’s best friend.

The stories of this guy so fuelled my imagination. I dreamt about going away on holiday to the exotic places he went to like Clacton, Southend, Torquay or Blackpool. I dreamt of what I would do on holiday. I imagined finding him and claiming my £5. That seemed like a million pounds in those days to me who received one shilling (5p) pocket money. I planned what I would buy with it.

 

That was the highlight of my school holiday, but I got so much mileage out of those dreams it was almost as good as going on holiday.

 

I got to thinking about Chalky White this year when I was actually on holiday with my grandchildren who are just slightly younger than I was when I had these dreams. I researched him and found he was not the first such character.

 

The first was Lobby Lud, a fictional character invented in August 1927 by the Westminster Gazette, a British newspaper, now defunct. The name derives from the telegraphic address of the newspaper (“Lobby, Ludgate”).

 

Anonymous employees of the newspaper would visit seaside resorts. The newspaper would print details of the town, a description of the appearance of that day’s planted “Lobby Lud”, and a particular pass phrase. Anyone carrying a copy of the newspaper could challenge “Lobby Lud” with the appropriate phrase, and receive the sum of five pounds. This was then a handsome amount of money, equivalent to more than £230 in today’s pounds.

 

After the demise of the Gazette in 1928 the competition continued in the Daily News, which became the News Chronicle from 1930, in turn being absorbed into the Daily Mail in 1960.

 

A special train service, the “Lobby Lud Express”, was run to take Londoners to the resorts Lobby visited.

Holidaymakers were less likely to buy a newspaper, and since claimants for the prize had to have a copy of the newspaper, the newspaper proprietors hoped the prizes would increase circulation. Some towns and large factories used to leave on “holiday fortnights” (called “wakes weeks” in the north of England); the town or works would all decamp at the same time. Circulation could drop considerably in the summer.

 

The next phase of Lobby’s afterlife began in the 1950s, when the Daily Mirror launched a character called Chalky 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.

 

It was Chalky, 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 Chalky. 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”.

The Mirror continued to use Chalky 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 real Lobby resurfaced three years later with Miles Kington’s Radio 4 documentary, and then we were back to alter-egos again. Faced with the task of adapting Agatha Christie’s 1924 short story The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan for ITV’s Poirot series, the screenwriter Anthony Horowitz introduced a Lobby Lud doppelganger to the story. The episode, first aired in March 1993, uses its Brighton setting to bring in a character called Lucky Len, who works the resort as Lobby had done, and who just happens to look like Poirot himself. The detective gets mistaken for Lucky Len everywhere he goes, providing a bit of welcome comic relief as the plot trundles along.

 

I asked Horowitz if he’d invented this character as a deliberate nod towards Christie’s own role in Lobby’s genesis. “I’d love to pretend that I knew about this connection between Lobby Lud and Agatha Christie, but I’m afraid I have to admit that it was just a coincidence,” he replied.

 

“I was always looking for ways to flesh out the stories and Jewel Robbery was a particularly thin one. I thought it would be amusing to have a Poirot lookalike walking the streets, and remembered the old Lobby Lud from somewhere. And that was how he came to be there.”

 

Returning to Lobby Lud, as it turned out, all Lobby’s efforts were not enough to save the Gazette, which was taken over by the Daily News in January 1928. The Daily News itself was merged into the News Chronicle two years later. Lobby migrated to each paper’s summer campaign in turn, but with steadily diminishing results. Chinn continued to play Lobby until the 1930 campaign was complete, and then handed the role over to another reporter. By the time this replacement reached his 1933 News Chronicle tour, the prize on offer had shrunk to just £10, and the biggest fuss he could report was a few bungled challenges.

 

We have no reliable newspaper circulation figures before about 1935, when the Audit Bureau of Circulations set up shop, so we don’t know exactly the effect that Lobby had on Gazette sales. We do know that the Daily Herald was selling a comparatively modest 300,000 copies a day in the 1920s, and it’s safe to assume the Gazette’s figure was a good bit lower. “Its comparative low circulation may go some way towards explaining its adoption of special promotions such as the Lobby Lud phenomenon,” says Christian Algar of the British Newspaper Library. “Regrettably, there is just no information to establish if it boosted sales.”

 

In 1983 an original “Lobby Lud” – William Chinn – was rediscovered aged 91 and living in Cardiff, Wales.

 

The Daily Mirror’s “Chalky White” continued to visit resorts, and the idea has been taken up by local radio stations and other media (often offering lesser prizes

 

In popular fiction Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock (1938) uses a Lobby Lud character (called Kolley Kibber) as a plot device.

 

“You are X and I claim my five pounds” (commonly abbreviated to “YA X AICMFP”, “YA X AICM£5”, “AICM5GBP” or “AICM5UKP”) is now commonly used in online discussion forums such as Usenet and B3ta. The phrase is often employed ironically to make a humorous comparison between the poster and another person, either a third person who frequents the same forum or a celebrity.

 

The Guardian item of August 16 1980 referred to above reads:

 

The Great British holiday hunt

Stalking Chalkie along the prom, from the Guardian, August 16 1980 by Alan Rusbridger

 

Along the grey windswept seafront at Lowestoft yesterday walked a nervous figure in a green anorak. From time to time he doubled back on his tracks or, glancing behind him, sat down to read a newspaper.

 

Who was this uneasy man and what was he doing on such a rain-drenched day? The answer came shortly after 3pm, when a young man in jeans walked shyly up to him and uttered the phrase: “Tonight’s the night, Chalkie White.”

 

For Chalkie, the game was up. Another nerve-racking day of deception and subterfuge was over and he could look forward to a nice cup of tea before setting off to his next job at Newquay.

 

Chalkie White comes from a distinguished tradition of mystery men, a British summer institution that began between the wars with the News Chronicle’s Lobby Lud and was celebrated after a fashion in Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock. Each day a picture of Chalkie’s eyes appears in the Daily Mirror and each day the Great British holidaymaker memorises them, together with the line he must say to claim the £50 prize. It is usually some such sentence as “To my delight, it’s Chalkie White”.

 

The Guardian has agreed not to identify him, but it can be revealed that he is a 31-year-old Bedford man whose brother stands in for him in places such as Margate, where he is too well known. Even during such a summer as this the British holidaymaker takes Chalkie very seriously. Women and children have fought over him. Holiday plans have been altered at the last minute in an attempt to catch him.

 

“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 make sure they were up early enough to catch me next day.”

 

Chalkie takes his job correspondingly seriously, and does his best not to be caught, though he rarely succeeds. “I start by staying in a hotel two or three miles out of the resort, otherwise you get collared at breakfast by a waitress. After that you try to look exactly like the rest of the people on the beach – miserable and aggressive.”

 

Chalkie’s life is fraught. He has often been punched by people who thought they 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 said. “You get this terrible sense of paranoia. Everywhere you go, you think everyone’s looking at you.”

 

– End of Guardian article.

 

Back in the early 1960s when I used to have my holiday dream I did not know Chalky White had such a history.

Chalkie White from Andy Capp cartoon

 

INSPIRATIONAL QUOTE FOR THE DAY

Read, read, read a lot. Reading is probably the best investment of time ever. Devote at least 30 minutes per day to reading. (This is taken word for word from “Lifehack” I personally think 30 minutes is not enough).  Ideally, have a book always with you.

HAPPINESS IS…

Happiness is…being able to take a holiday

GRANDAD’S ONE LINER JOKE OF THE DAY

“I took out a loan to pay for an exorcism. If I don’t pay it back, I’m going to get repossessed.” Olaf Falafel

LOVE IS…

Love is…all you need (according to the Beatles)

TRACK OF THE DAY

All you Need is Love – The Beatles

Highest Chart Position: No.1 19th July 1967 for 3 weeks

 

©2018 Phil M Robinson