How I met Alf 


 I used to read a lot as a kid and I still do.  I probably read stories of Alf Tupper for several years before I realised that he was a comic character. To me, Alf and the other characters from the D C Thomson presses were as much part of my life as my brothers (3 of whom read the Victor before I got my hands on it!) and parents were.  I identified with them whole-heartedly, even more so with any that hailed from the proper side of the Border! And they were few and far between, but I digress.

 My first clear memory of one of Alf’s stories was the Rough Tough Boyhood.  Going to a dingy under-funded school, appropriately named Mudd Lane, staffed by simpering, sadistic or hard but fair teachers was the first story that put me fully into the world according to Alf. I had read the stories that had preceded it but they didn’t click with me as much as this one did. Orphaned and left to fend for himself by a miserly Aunt Meg who couldn’t be bothered to feed him let alone clothe him struck me to the core.    I couldn’t believe that there were such people around so it was a bit of a shock to me to see him pictured gazing longingly at a second-hand school blazer. I couldn’t wait to get out of my school clothes and enjoy the freedom of wandering around the fields of the farm that I grew up on

 As drama after drama hit young Alf, he struck me as a bit of a hard case. One notable instance being his long-standing feud with the Truant Officer.  Our Alf never wavered in his attempts to get educated, but he swerved clear and got the best of the Truant Officer time and time again.  Wouldn’t have caught me doing that when I was that age as to us kids, the Truant Officer was only one step away from ‘Borstal’! Fair minded, but hard, as he had helped to stop a new ‘brain-box’ from being bullied when he arrived at Mudd Lane. He slept rough in a variety of places, always earning his way, never accepting what he considered as charity. As a young lad, not even into double figures, it was gripping stuff.  There was violence as you had schoolyard punch-ups, name-calling and the odd bit of theft as people nicked odds and ends from Alf, most notable being a second-hand pair of running shoes. So it wasn’t exactly a ‘softly softly’ approach to kids comics

 But the odd jarring moment would crop up in the dialogue, like ‘half a dollar’, ’11 plus’ or ‘6 bob’ which left me slightly confused. I didn’t realise that these were the signals that this was one of D C Thomson’s cunningly disguised reprints. So, there I was, reading a story that had originally been written in the 50’s or 60’s, but still gripped by it.  I could never wait until next week to find out what happened next, but week after week I did.

 We had many other storylines about Alf. We also had a host of supporting characters.  ‘Flapper’ Farmer could always be relied on for comedy relief. Cliff Willoughby, upper class, but rigidly fair minded. Skimba Ru, a royal from Africa, but was also a royal pain in the bum!  There are many more, but that would require another article just to list all the characters that had appeared in an Alf Tupper story.

 I have concentrated on Alf’s prestige as a world class runner, but he was only an amateur runner.  A working man first, a runner second.  This is a mindset that is almost alien to today’s sport culture, where sporting ability can command telephone number salaries.  His true skill lay in metals and he could turn his welding skills to anything like the latest aircraft, Formula 1 racing cars, engine blocks for 18 wheelers or even industrial engines.

 He would work ungodly hours to get a job done on time, then enter into a perilous journey to get to a race which he should have been unable to run in, but would then turn in a world class time.

 By today’s standards a man like Alf would have a hard time earning a living, let alone competing in world class miler events.  But Alf was and is a man for all seasons. He never cheated, lied or used foul language, but he fought injustice with all of his fibre.  He spoke his mind and never heeded what other ‘wiser’ heads decided. He never backed down when he knew that he was right and never ever gave up.  He threw his all into anything that he was supporting and always saw it through to the end.  Now if that’s not a role model, then I don’t know what is.

 Just as a smile making exercise, I have done a reverse Life on Mars and brought Alf into 2007.

 He would be in trouble with the Health Safety Executive as he works far too many hours and has not carried out the Health & Safety mandatory training required to operate as an independent welder.

 He would be derided by the Food Standards Agency as he would eat leftovers, ignore use by dates and had not carried out a Hygiene Assessment on his place of work. 

 Income Tax would cripple him financially as he would buy all of his tools and not class them as ‘deductible items’.

 NSPCC would want him for questioning as he had been seen in the homes of thousands of young male children and had not had a CRB check done. 

 The AAA would try to have him suspended as he had not carried out mandatory drugs tests.

 The BMA would demonise him for eating high cholesterol foods which were also high in starch.  This would cause a schism in the BMA as the GP’s would want to use him in a poster campaign to promote healthy exercise.

 His attempts to hitch lifts on the ‘Milk Run’ trains would be snagged as the guards would be unwilling to allow him into their wagons in case he contaminated the milk and cause an outbreak of salmonella poisoning.

 The Female Liberation would label him as a Neanderthal for his refusal to treat women in the same way that he treats men.

 I could go on but I won’t as I am sure that you could come up with as many examples as I.

Colin Noble