“… and I Claim The ‘Community Newsletter’ Prize!”
Graham Greene’s 1938 thriller “Brighton Rock” - recently been filmed for the second time - opens with the murder of a newspaper tout called Kolley Kibber.
“Advertised on every ‘Messenger’ poster: ‘Kolley Kibber in Brighton today’.” In his pocket he had a packet of cards to distribute in hidden places along his route: those who found them would receive ten shillings from the ‘Messenger’, but the big prize was reserved for whoever challenged Hale in the proper form of words and with a copy of the ‘Messenger’ in his hand: ‘You are Mr Kolley Kibber. I claim the ‘Daily Messenger ‘prize’.
This was Hale’s job, to do sentry go, until a challenger released him, in every seaside town in turn: yesterday Southend, today Brighton, tomorrow-“
– BRIGHTON ROCK Graham Greene
Graham Greene based his “Kolley Kibber” upon a real life character called ‘Lobby Lud’ invented in August 1927 by the ‘Westminster Gazette’. Noticing that people on holiday didn’t buy newspapers the ‘Gazette’ devised a clever merchandising scheme to persuade holiday makers to go out and buy theirs. A photograph of the mysterious ‘Lobby Lud’, (a.k.a William Chinn) - complete with fedora and pipe, was printed in the paper with a schedule listing the popular seaside resorts and times when he might be seen. Any ‘Gazette’ reader with a copy of that day’s paper who recognised him and challenged him with the precise words “You are Mr Lobby Lud - I claim the ‘Westminster Gazette’ prize”, would win £50 which is worth about £1,670 today.
The ‘Lobby Lud’ promotion continued even after the ‘Westminster Gazette’ was absorbed in 1928 by the ‘Daily News’ and in 1930 by the ‘News Chronicle’. In 1960 the “Lobby Lud” campaign was picked up by the “Daily Mail” when the “News Chronicle” folded. A version of Lobby called “Chalky White” appeared intermittently in the ‘Daily Mirror’ from the 1950s to the 1980s.
Lobby Lud and Kolley Kibber are memorable names that stick in the mind probably because of their alliteration - Lobby Lud, Kolley Kibber. But whereas Lobby Lud is a fictional name based upon the telegraphic address of the ‘Westminster Gazette’ (“Lobby. Ludgate”) it was a real Kolley Kibber from Strawberry Hill who inspired Graham Green.
Colley Cibber (6 November 1671 - 11 December 1757) was an English actor-manager, playwright and Poet Laureate - which is surprising considering that most of his contemporaries thought his poetry was terrible. In 1715, Colley Cibber followed the smart set of the time and got himself a place on the river at Twickenham. He rented a small cottage at Strawberry Hill Shot, on the road to Teddington. The cottage was built in 1698 by the Earl of Bradford’s coachman and soon acquired the name “Chopped Straw Hall” because it was rumoured that the coachman had raised the money to build the place by feeding the Earl’s horses with cheap chopped straw rather than hay. Colley Cibber was one of the very first tenants, living there while working as an actor at Hampton Court.
In 1721, during his stay at ‘Chopped Straw Hall’ he wrote a comedy called “The Refusal or The Lady’s Philosophy” based upon Moliere’s play ‘Les Femmes Savantes’. It ran for just 6 performances at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. The critics didn’t like it much either…
“The directness and simplicity of Moliere’s play, the unity of tone and plot, give way in Cibber to complication of plot and character, in which the whole piece loses the delightful quality of the humor of the original - A miserable mutilation of crucified Moliere!”
This wasn’t the only time that Cibber had run into scathing criticism. His theatrical productions, often rewrites of existing plays, were thought tasteless, his business methods ‘shady’ and his social and political dealings ‘opportunistic’. Alexander Pope was particularly critical and made him the subject of his popular satirical poem ‘Dunciad’, in which he referred contemptuously to Cibber’s “old, reviv’d, new plays, produced with less human genius than God gives an ape”.
For all his supposed failings as a poet and playwright Colly Cibber was a popular comic actor. One critic, John Hill, describing his1755 performance as Lord Foppington in Vanburgh’s comedy “The Relapse” said that Cibber was…“the best Lord Foppington who ever appeared”. John Hill also added that Cibber…“was in real life (with all due respect be it spoken by one who loves him) something of the coxcomb”.
Colley Cibber died in 1757, disliked by some and forgotten by most. The literary critic William Hazlitt was kinder…
“Though his name has been handed down to us as a bye-word of impudent pretension and impenetrable dullness by the classical pen of his accomplished rival [Pope], Cibber was a gentleman and a scholar of the old school; a man of wit and pleasantry in conversation, a diverting mimic, an excellent actor, an admirable dramatic critic, and one of the best comic writers of his age”.
The Dictionary of National Biography sums up the pros and cons of his character neatly…
“Cibber had a special sharpness of intellect and aptitude for verse writing which gained him consideration from his masters, and a conceit which rendered him unpopular with his fellows”.
Colley Cibber’s alliterative associates - Lobby Lud or the various Lobby Lud clones like Percy Pickles, Guineas Man, and the Daily Mirror’s Chalky White - were still visiting seaside resorts in the 1980s. A ‘Lobby Lud’ type seaside stooge also appears in Agatha Christie’s 1924 short story ‘The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan’ when Hercule Poirot is mistaken for newspaper tout, “Lucky Len”.
As for Kolley Kibber, Graham Greene’s “Brighton Rock” interpretation of Lobby Lud - well, he’s dead by the end of Chapter 1. The good news is that the man who found the body was still paid the “10 guineas ‘Daily Messenge’” prize as promised… so that’s all right then.
“Kolley Kibber” fans will be disappointed to learn that their hero does not appear in the latest film version of the book which stars Sam Riley, Andrea Riseborough, Helen Mirren, John Hurt and Andy Serkis To cheer them up here is George Hinchliffe singing “Lobby Lud, the Mystery Man”, a ukulele hit from 1927.
– from Martyn Day