Free Ukulele Orchestra of GB track: Lobby Lud

Lobby Lud The Mystery Man

In 1927, a British newspaper called The Westminster Gazette dressed one of its reporters up with a Fedora and a pipe and sent him off on a tour of the UK’s seaside resorts.

They printed his picture in the paper every day, published his daily itinerary and challenged readers to find him. Successful challengers could win up to £200, providing they had a copy of that day’s paper with them and remembered the exact words required. Lobby’s antics were inspired by Agatha Christie’s 1926 disappearance, and went on in turn to spawn the character of Kolly Kibber in Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock.

I was researching this story at the British Library recently, when I stumbled across some 1927 sheet music for a song about Lobby. It was scored for ukulele so, in a fit of cheek, I sent a copy off to The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain’s George Hinchliffe, who very kindly recorded a home demo for me. George has given me permission to post his recording on-line as a free download, and you can hear it via the link above. You’ll find Lobby’s full story there too.

While we’re on the subject, I’m curious to know whether there’s ever been an equivalent of Lobby in the US. There have been several imitators here in Blighty, but did the idea ever catch on across the pond?

Burger King’s “Herb the Nerd” campaign was somewhat similar. Herb was supposedly the last man in America who hadn’t tried a Whopper. For the campaign, the actor playing him would put in appearances at Burger Kings, and the first person to recognize him would win prizes.

That’s interesting - and Herb The Nerd is certainly news to me.

The difference seems to be that he did everything he did to look as different as everyone around him - and hence to stand out - while Lobby’s clothing was selected to make him fit in with the prevailing fashions of the day, and so help him disappear.

I wonder how often Herb would have been found if he’d worn jeans, a Prince T-shirt and a baseball cap?

I suspect that’s because whoever thought of Lobby Lud thought of it as a game first, and thus, made it hard to win. Herb the Nerd was thought up as an advertising gimmick first - and the more people who see Herb (and, better yet, talk about seeing Herb) the more people are talking about the product.

Well, Lobby was first and foremost a commercial enterprise too - his job being to make people buy the paper, whether to actually look for him themselves or simply to follow the daily accounts of his adventures. Getting the character talked about was just as important as it was for Herb.

I take your point, though, and it certainly seems to be true that the newspaper men behind Lobby were prepared to be a bit more subtle about the whole business than the ad execs who dreamed up Herb.

This actually made Lobby much more commercially effective in the long-run, as it meant his campaign held people’s interest for months on end. Lobby was found only four times in the course of two months, and by deferring their plot’s pay-off like this, the Gazette ensured people read on with all the more interest.

People had much longer attention spans, then, and less mass-media clamor distracting them.

This is kind of similar, although it wasn’t an attempt at marketing directly (although I’m sure Wired magazine didn’t mind all the publicity): Writer Evan Ratliff Tried to Vanish. A writer for Wired magazine decided to see how difficult it was to vanish for 30 days. The challenge was for somebody to find him, take a picture with him, and give him a code phrase. The prize was something like $5k. It’s an interesting read.

Having some dim and distant memory of Chalkey White ("…and I claim my £5) in the late 1950s, I’m astonished by the prizes on offer for collaring Lobby in 1927. As stated in the article, £150 is c. £6,700 in today’s money. It’s no wonder 50,000 people turned up at Richmond Park in the hope of a sighting, and that a special train was laid on from London Euston to Blackpool when Lud was due to appear there.

Excellent link.

I’d vaguely heard about Lobby Lud before, but that is a fascinating and entertaining story. There’s a film in that, surely!

Kolly Kibber is Graham Greene’s version of Lobby, and that character does play quite a big role in the Boulting Brothers’ 1947 film of Brighton Rock. Filming is underway on a Brighton Rock remake right now, but I gather the script updates the story’s events to the 1960s, so whether they include Kolly or not, I don’t know.