In A price on his head: You Are Mr Lobby Lud . . ., Tuesday 4.10 Radio 4UK, published in Radio Times (BBC Publications) of Saturday 30th April 1983, Richard Boston explained that Lobby Lud was the name of a fictional character created in 1927 by The Westminster Gazette (London, England):
Over the years newspapers have come up with some weird and wonderful publicity stunts. Usually they are here today, gone tomorrow.
Not so one that was launched in the Westminster Gazette on 1 August 1927 [note 1] under the headline ‘Mr Lobby Lud and his £50. Today’s chance at Gt Yarmouth. Missing man in the crowd.’
The name Lobby Lud came from the Westminster Gazette’s telegraphic address: Lobby because of Westminster, Lud from Ludgate Circus [note 2]. The idea of the stunt was that on the day in question the mystery man called Lobby Lud would be in Great Yarmouth, on the run and with £50 on his head. His job was not to get caught. The readers’ job was to spot him and stop him, challenging him with the words (and no other words would do): ‘You are Mr Lobby Lud – I claim the Westminster Gazette prize.’
To make it easy, Mr Lud was described in detail. Age, 35. Height, 5ft 3½in. Hair, dark. Mole on right cheek. He had left London wearing a soft hat and a light suit. There was even a photograph of him wearing a hat and smoking a pipe. It was further announced that Lobby Lud would be appearing in a different seaside town throughout the holiday season. If he was not caught in the first week the prize would go up to £100 in the second week, £150 in the third . . .
The stunt was a huge success. The tour of seaside towns was followed by a tour of industrial towns, and then by regions of London day by day.
In this article, Richard Boston also wrote about William Chinn, then 91 years of age, who first impersonated Lobby Lud.
On Wednesday 27th December 1972, in reply to a reader asking in which newspaper Lobby Lud first appeared, the Daily Mirror (London, England) claimed that it was in the News Chronicle in July 1933. But, on Monday 8th January 1973, the Daily Mirror published William Chinn’s response:
Crime writer sparked off Lobby Lud legend
Mr. W. T. Chinn, of Roath Park, Cardiff, writes:
What nostalgic memories were revived by the letter about Lobby Lud, the newspaper mystery man. May I point out that Lobby was born six years earlier than you said.
Early in 1927 a famous crime writer was “missing” for some time [note 3]. Despite the hue and cry, she remained incognito at a Harrogate hotel. The Westminster Gazette, for which I worked, dreamed up a mystery man publicity stunt based on the idea that a person could remain unidentified, as she had done. “Lobby Lud” was the Gazette’s telegraphic address.
My briefing was for an interesting story which must also provide evidence that Lobby’s announced programme had been honestly adhered to. A good profile photo and description appeared each day. The reward was £50 in the provinces and £100 in London.
My debut was at Great Yarmouth on August Bank Holiday Monday in 1927. The first “capture” was at Boscombe Pier in the third week. References to the stunt were made on continental radio—and I believe it was Florrie Forde who sang, on the evening when Lobby danced at the Blackpool Tower, “Has anyone here seen Lobby?”
When the Westminster Gazette closed, the Daily News, which later became the News Chronicle, adopted Lobby. There are memories galore. Such as when I ventured into Scotland Yard without being challenged past some Yard men who were watching the crowds hunting me in Whitehall.
Or of being asked, by a down-and-out whether he was going right for Richmond Park, where he was hoping to catch Lobby. He heeded not my clue that I, too, was going there to take part in the hunt but shouted back as he hurried on: “I want to be in good time.” Poor devil, I thought.
And the successful woman who cried on my shoulder: “It was our last chance of saving our home.”
So have the recollections of an octogenarian ex-Fleet-Street journalist been prompted by a Live Letter.
(In 1973, the Daily Mirror (London, England) organised a similar competition, involving a mystery man named Chalkie White.)
An advertisement published in the Morecambe Guardian (Morecambe, Lancashire, England) of Saturday 20th August 1927 announced Lobby Lud’s forthcoming visit:
Tuesday, August 23rd
The “Westminster Gazette” will pay to the first reader who detects Mr. Lobby Lud at Morecambe on Tuesday next, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., the sum of £100 (One Hundred Pounds).
Mr. Lobby Lud is the “Westminster Gazette” “missing” man, and has become famous throughout the country.
His adventures at the principal seaside resorts in the country are recorded daily and a cheque for £150 was presented by the Mayor of Bournemouth (Ald. H. J. Thwaites, J.P.) on Tuesday, August 16th, to Mr. George William Rowley, of 65, Belmont Road, Tottenham, who detected Lobby Lud at Bournemouth on Monday, August 15th.
In the event of Mr. Lobby Lud being detected before he reaches Morecambe, the reward for his capture at Morecambe will be £50, but if not detected before Tuesday morning the reward will be £100.
Get your copy of the “Westminster Gazette” to-day and read the details of how you might detect Lobby Lud.
One week later, on Saturday 27th August 1927, the same newspaper, the Morecambe Guardian, reported on Lobby Lud’s visit:
“Westminster Gazette” Man Visits Morecambe.
HIS NARROW ESCAPES.
Mr. Lobby Lud, the Westminster Gazette man, has got away from Morecambe without losing his cheque for £100, which was to be presented to the first person who identified him from a photo and description supplied.
From 10 o’clock on Tuesday morning until 4 o’clock in the afternoon, thousands of residents and holiday makers, carrying copies of the Westminster Gazette, were all over the town searching for “Lobby.”
At noon, it was reported that “Lobby” had been captured by an employee of the Winter Gardens and the news spread to Lancaster. It was, however, untrue.
One gentleman who was very much like the famous “Lobby,” was stopped by the Clock Tower and quickly surrounded by a small crowd, but declared that he was not “Lobby.”
The original “Lobby” proved as elusive as the Scarlet Pimpernel, for though he was sought high and low, could not be found.
That he had several very narrow escapes will be seen from the account of his adventures which we reproduce from Wednesday’s Westminster Gazette:—
“H.M.S. Glasgow, of Falkland Islands fame, figured in another historic chase to-day. It was not a chase after a Dresden or any other German ship of war this time, but the pursuit of the equally fugitive Lobby Lud by a Westminster Gazette sleuth, who surprised the felon in the act of signing his name on an electric switch notice near the prison cells below deck.
“This gaunt, rusty skeleton of a once proud cruiser is ‘on show’ in the Old Harbour prior to breaking up, and no Morecambe holidaymaker fails to look over it. Apparently the attendants concluded that Lobby would not fail either, for both the fellow at the gate, who handed me ticket O526 for my 6d., and the young chap by the gangway had armed themselves with Westminster Gazettes in case that £100 chanced to stroll their way. Unfortunately for them, it both strolled on and strolled off again, unmolested.
“Deep down by the hollow, echoing torpedo flat, I had amused myself by writing ‘Lobby Lud, 23-8-27’ on the top of a wooden chest, and had just repated [sic] the autograph on the warning card at the other end when my sleuth emerged through a doorway. I sidled unconcernedly along the narrow passage way, looked back, and beheld the fellow contemplating my signature. In a trice he, too, was sidling along that passage in obvious pursuit.
“I don’t know how long he kept it up, but for the next fifteen minutes I did nothing but shin up and down companion ladders and into and out of empty casemates and mess-rooms. The Dresden herself never showed a wilier pair of heels than I did every time I heard footsteps or voices round corners.
“Once I emerged near the notice again to see two other people contemplating it, and my sleuth exclaiming: ‘Saw the fellow actually doing it—caught him in the act!’ There was an alternative way off—by a connecting gangway to the Vanderbilt steam yacht Valiant, also on show alongside. I took it while my pursuer was still engaged demonstrating below, and had the pleasure of seeing him—from a distance—retire along the jetty for lunch; presumably in a high dudgeon.
“I’ve never felt so uncannily haunted and dogged as I did in Morecambe today. Every single soul in the place seemed to be after me. I could not stir an inch on the Front without experiencing that ‘watched and wanted’ feeling. In the evening, when the gaudy little shows and booths along the Front were in full swing, Morecambe is as lively as Montmartre. But in the morning and afternoon people seem to creep about on tip-toe, and over lunch-time they completely desert the Front and leave you poised aloof and alone in a sort of vacuum. One felt as plainly an interloper as in a small gossipy village.
“I thought I had no cause for worry when I went into the little curio shop by the Tower to buy a ‘Gaffer’ dish for 2/3. And yet a woman with a Westminster Gazette came instantly out of nowhere and stood watching me through the little window all the time I was in there. It was a bowl with a country yokel and rustic cottage design which the little lady described as ‘real Doulton.’ I wanted nothing more, but the attentions of the woman at the window compelled me to ask about prints, and the curio lady brought out some Birket Fosters.
“‘I saw an exhibition of his work in Newcastle about two years ago,’ I told her, praying desperately that the woman at the window would either clear off or tell me my name was Lobby Lud and have done with it. I didn’t want to be admiring Birket Fosters for the rest of the day.
“When she did eventually fade out I forgot my 3d. change, had to return a second time for my umbrella, and dropped my Westminster Gazette at the lady’s feet with my photo uppermost!
“Altogether, I don’t know how I managed to keep my £100 for Brighton—but I did.”
The following paragraph, also published in the Morecambe Guardian of Saturday 20th August 1927, illustrates the craze for the competition:
That enterprising and excellent newspaper, The Westminster Gazette, provided holiday makers and residents of Morecambe with a great attraction on Wednesday. The coming of Mr. Lobby Lud, his photo, and description had been well advertised, and anybody who bore a slight resemblance to “Lobby” were asked for his £100 cheque, but received a check instead. One of the Westminster Gazette sandwichmen, who wore a trilby and has a mole on his face, was so pestered with enquiries during the morning that he discarded his trilby and wore a cap in the afternoon. Even then several people on the Promenade persisted that he was “Lobby,” because of the mole, and received the reply, “Don’t be daft. Do you think I’d be carrying sandwich boards up and down three miles of the Promenade if I could get a better job?”
The name Lobby Lud came to be generically given to any mystery person that the participants in festivities such as church fêtes were challenged to identify—as illustrated by this announcement, published in The Nelson, Barrowford, Brierfield Leader (Nelson, Lancashire, England) of Friday 7th August 1953:
BRIERFIELD PARISH CHURCH.
ANNUAL . .
OAKLEIGH 3 P.M. (If wet in Church Hall)
TO-MORROW, SATURDAY, AUGUST 8th
Opener: MRS. C. PARKINSON (Burnley).
Chairman: MR. H. SUTCLIFFE (Holme)
MORRIS DANCING, CHILDREN’S FANCY DRESS
COMPETITION, SIDE-SHOWS, TEAS AND STALLS.
ADMISSION 9d.; CHILDREN 6d.
COME AND SPOT “LOBBY LUD”!
In his column Soccer comment, published in The Guardian (London and Manchester, England) of Monday 23rd December 1985, David Lacey used Lobby Lud to denote a person whose name is famous, but who cannot be recognised from knowledge of appearance:
A frequent observation made during football’s enforced absence from the television screens was that few soccer followers had had the chance to see Frank McAvennie, West Ham’s prolific scorer from St Mirren. McAvennie’s status was that of Lobby Lud, whose name was on many lips but who moved unrecognised among the crowd.
1 However, in Paper Chase: Lobby Lud in London, Paul Slade writes that it was in its 30th July 1927 edition that The Westminster Gazette launched the publicity stunt, and that Lobby Lud visited Great Yarmouth on 1st August of that year.
2 In “Kolley Kibber”—Newspaper Promotion in “Brighton Rock”, published in College Literature, Vol. 12, No. 1 (West Chester University, Pennsylvania, 1985), Michael Routh explained the origin of The Westminster Gazette’s telegraphic address Lobby Lud:
Telegraphic addresses are chosen unsystematically, at the whim of the subscriber. Probably the Gazette selected “Lobby” because in the lobby of the Parliament building in Westminster meet the so-called lobby correspondents, journalists who have special permission to talk to ministers and who analyze Parliamentary activity, as distinguished from those journalists who from the gallery of the debating chambers report on the debates. The Gazette offices in 1927 were located at Salisbury Square, off Fleet Street and close to Ludgate Circus.
[In Brighton Rock (1938), by the English novelist Graham Greene (1904-1991), the “Kolley Kibber” promotion Fred Hale carries out for his newspaper is based directly on the actual “Lobby Lud” stunt.]
3 The “famous crime writer [who] was “missing” for some time” was the English author of detective fiction Agatha Christie (1890-1976), who disappeared from 3rd to 14th December 1926.