In 1927, The Westminster Gazette (London, England) organised a competition challenging its readers to identify a mystery man named Lobby Lud, in order to claim prize money. When The Westminster Gazette closed in 1928, The Daily News, which became the News Chronicle in 1930, adopted Lobby Lud.
The Daily Mirror (London, England) has organised a similar competition, involving a mystery man named Chalkie White. (Chalkie is a typical epithet for persons surnamed White; for instance, Herbert Victor White (1929-2005), English rugby-union player and later coach, was familiarly known as Chalkie White.)
It seems that this competition was first organised in the summer of 1973, since the earliest occurrence of Chalkie White that I have found is from the Daily Mirror of Monday 23rd July of that year; the only clue was a photograph of Chalkie White’s eyes—in parallel, the newspaper ran a competition consisting in judging the age, height and weight of each of the “gorgeous Mirror Girl[s]” that the Daily Mirror sent to several holiday resorts:
First, do you think you could spot this man? He’s Chalkie White, the Daily Mirror mystery man, who will be ghosting round the Dorset towns of Lyme Regis today and Poole tomorrow.
His beat will be in the sea front area between 9.30 a.m. and 3.15 p.m. If you recognise him from the disguised picture, challenge him this way—“You are Chalkie White of the Daily Mirror.” But don’t forget to carry a copy of the Mirror or Chalkie won’t accept your challenge.
The first person to challenge Chalkie correctly will win £50. But if Chalkie is still not caught at 3.15 p.m. he will then announce his identity to the nearest person to him carrying a copy of the Mirror.
Next, if you are in Skegness, Lincs, today or in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, tomorrow, don’t miss the free fun in the fabulous Beach Bonanza Show. Keep an eye open, too, for the gorgeous Mirror Girl at these resorts. By judging her age, height and weight accurately you could win £10. The entry form for this free contest appears below.
Look out also for Mirror Girls at Butlin’s holiday camps at Pwllheli, Barry, Minehead, Bognor, Clacton, Skegness, Filey and Ayr.
HAND IN THIS ENTRY FORM
I judge the Mirror Girl as follows:—
AGE (in whole years)
HEIGHT (to the nearest quarter-inch without shoes) ft. in.
WEIGHT (to the nearest half pound) st. lb.
In its edition of Wednesday 25th July 1973, the Daily Mirror announced:
Chalkie was caught yesterday in Poole by Mr. B. Evans from Oxford who wins £50.
In Stalking Chalkie along the prom, published in The Guardian (London and Manchester, England) of Saturday 16th August 1980, the British journalist Alan Rusbridger (born 1953) described the life of the man impersonating Chalkie White:
Along the grey windswept seafront at Lowestoft yesterday walked a lone 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 in such a place? The answer came shortly after 3 pm, 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 nervewracking 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. It’s a good plan to have a little sleep in a deckchair, because people are usually too timid to wake you up.
“One little boy today came up and then ran away. He told me later he thought I was a pervert. It’s a problem in this job.”
While Chalkie keeps on the move, often changing his clothes as he goes, his brother starts promotion stunts on the beach until by lunchtime there is hardly anyone left in Lowestoft who has not been asked the dreaded question.
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, reported to the Press Council for allegedly giving the money to the wrong person, and thrown out of a pub in Bridlington when, at 3 p.m., he tried to give away the £25 consolation prize and was presumed by the landlord to be drunk.
“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 and talking about you.”
Chalkie has tried not to let his annual six-week shift change his life. But he has been doing the job for nine years now and it becomes a little harder every year. Last December he realised just how hard when a nine-year-old boy stopped him in the Brent Cross shopping centre and duly accosted him for £50.
In The Guardian (London and Manchester, England) of Thursday 19th August 1982, Alan Rusbridger reported a subsequent misadventure that happened to Chalkie White:
Chalkie White, the notorious seaside mystery man who flashes the cash on behalf of the Daily Mirror each summer, has had a rather distressing experience in Broadstairs, of all places.
Last month the Daily Mirror carried a feature on “Britain’s Blackspot beaches” which was not over-complimentary about the little seaside town. Not to put too finer point on it, the article said Broadstairs was a smelly little place and that holidaymakers would be well-advised to pack a gas mask. The local populace was not pleased. The district council complained. The Mirror made self-justificatory noises.
There matters rested until poor old Chalkie was sent to Broadstairs to walk up and down the prom while his sidekicks wandered round town with various Daily Mirror promotions material. Again, the local populace was not pleased. Mrs Hazel Pinder-White, a local store-keeper and she was not alone, tore up several posters. A restaurateur banned Chalkie from his cafe. Things turned ugly. Chalkie was run out of town.
Chalkie, I am sorry to say, is used to this kind of thing. He is often beaten up by people who think they should have won the prize. He has been swept into the sea by a giant wave at Hastings. He has been arrested at Bognor for making too much noise. He has even been reported to the Press Council. As for the smell, the district council says it is rotten seaweed.