You can't hold back an Alf Tupper

26th September 1997 at 01:00
In almost every school-based television drama, there is a well kent staffroom fixture slumped in a chair, usually with some unfashionable facial hair, moaning incessantly about the good old days. I realised with a bit of a start this week that I had become that man. Though I say it myself, it had been a fairly decent rant, starting with a grumble about virtual reality pets, moving on through laser pointers and ending up with a general survey of current teenage magazines that seem to be more or less publicity handouts for the fashion, music and pharmaceuticals industries.

It was the last bone of contention that struck a chord as colleagues began to reminisce fondly about the well ordered structure of the comics of their youth. There was a threat of unpleasantness when one department claimed superiority for the Dandy over the Beano, and a disagreement over whether the Valiant came out on a Tuesday or a Wednesday. But the overall reaction was one of the kind of overwhelmingly arthritic nostalgia one would expect from an ageing profession.

There was Ted Legge in Legge's Eleven, who transformed his team's fortunes when, on realising the goalie was colour-blind he changed the kit to one with a jaggy flash for easier identification. He thus foreshadowed the type of paint factory explosions currently fashionable on the football field by at least 30 years. There was an Aboriginal cricketer too who took lots of wickets by being able to hurl the ball high into the sky with such uncanny accuracy that it always landed unplayably right on top of the stumps; no doubt an antecedent of Shane Warne.

Without a doubt the most fondly remembered hero was Alf Tupper: the Tough of the Track from the Victor. For those unfortunate enough to have missed out on Alf, a brief flavour of the man will suffice.

In the Corinthian days of the sixties, all Alf's colleagues in the GB athletics squad were possessed of blazers, cravats and crinkly hair. Alf, however, was a working-class lad who had to work for his living. I well remember the lump in my throat as I read of Alf's triumph at the Olympics, bizarrely sited in London's White City.

Having been picked for the team reluctantly due to overwhelming public support ("Cor blimey, go on, Alf, my son!"), the way was not made easy for him. On the day of the final, he had to put in a full day's work, using an oxyacetylene torch to remove tramlines, breathing in the pre-unleaded traffic fumes. He had scarcely time to wrap his spikes in a brown-paper parcel and snatch a fish supper before he was on the bus to the stadium. Then it was straight on to the track for the final, peeling off his work clothes to reveal his vest and shorts.

How the crinkly haired blazer-wearers laughed. Then how gutted they were as Alf proudly breasted the tape for Britain's only gold medal. It was, I feel, a moral tale for our times, its message ringing out, undiminished, across the decades.

The heroic deeds, and indeed names, of those old comics live with me, as I peruse our new school development plan: Victor, Hotspur, Valiant, Tiger - battleships of names the lot of them. The development plan pages before me swim in a mist of emotion. I turn to the personal and social education priority, and seek out the target column: the raising of self-esteem. The next column, responsibility for action, is empty.

I can't help myself. The years fall away as I take out my pen and write proudly in the relevant space: Alf Tupper: the Tough of the Track.

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