Hauling Like A Brooligan

Stephen Gallagher

Teddy Alexander

Most of what follows is from an afterword that I wrote to accompany a short story titled Modus Operandi; I got the story from a childhood memory, and writing it triggered a few more of them.

My childhood home was a terraced house in Monton, just outside Manchester. Each street was a row of brick houses, each with a garden behind it and a ten-foot cobbled alleyway behind that. According to my memory the gardens were huge, but I’ve been back for a recent look and they weren’t. My dad built a garage on ours (the comedy subject of my first film, hand-drawn on polythene strips and projected on the wall by a torch in a shoebox. . . find that one if you can, Kevin Brownlow). The garage eliminated a good two-thirds of the garden.

Every back garden had a washing line. Someone began stealing women’s underwear from them. The police were called, backyard security was stepped up, the thief grew bolder. . . one neighbour grew most affronted when her enormous bloomers gave rise to a return visit. My mother couldn’t stop laughing when she repeated how said neighbour had told her, grim-faced and displeased, D’you know, he came again the next day and threw them back!

There was no shortage of theories. Some even suspected our next-door neighbour, an entertainer who worked the holiday camps in summer and kept the house as his winter base. The grounds for suspicion? They were show folk, no other reason. He and his wife lived on the lower floor and let the upstairs rooms to a xylophone player named Frank.

I don’t suppose it helped that he was unable to take the whole situation too seriously. When the phone rang he’d snatch it up and, without even waiting to identify the caller, say loudly and brightly, “Is that the knicker-snatcher?”

I thought that was hilarious. But then again I was only a kid and so, I now realise, was he. He had a hamster that he named Abie. He built Abie a hamster paradise out of interlinked tubes and cages. The design was more ambitious than it was well-engineered; Abie got out and disappeared forever under the floorboards. His owner poked sunflower seeds down through the cracks so the hamster wouldn’t starve. This was around the same time that he bought a complete Punch and Judy rig – booth, puppets, whistle, routines, everything but the dog – from another performer who was either retiring from the business or had gone broke. He’d invite me around to test-run the show. My job was to shout in all the right places.

Joni Mitchell was right. You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.

I don’t believe that the case of the missing underwear was ever solved, but our washing line was one of the targets and we did get a visit from the CID. That was the first time I ever heard the term Modus Operandi. I’d drawn a crayon map of the gardens to explain my theory of how the thieves got access (climbing onto the dustbin and then over the garden fence… brilliant stuff, I tell you), and I showed it to the officer. But I didn’t have all the underwear stowed in a case under my bed. That was a twist I added to turn life into narrative, when refashioning the memories for Maxim Jakubowski’s New Crimes collection.

Our neighbour took his comedy routine onto Opportunity Knocks one week in October 1966 and won the show, and a season or so later he and his wife and their new baby moved on. I’ve been able to glean a few more details from the net: he continued to make his living as an entertainments director and later as a children’s entertainer before retiring and devoting himself to charity work following the death of his son Karl at the age of forty. His name is Teddy Alexander and I believe that performers like him are the backbone of all showbusiness.

I promise to write some more on the CBS/Bruckheimer/Eleventh Hour deal as soon as I can. So much of it’s in the air and my role in it, if any, is yet to be defined. But it’s the biggest deal of its kind in American TV this decade, according to the people I’m working with. It’s weird for me because I’d already let the show go, and this news came out of nowhere. More than anything, I’m curious to see how it’ll develop in the hands of the very people whose methods I studied in order to create it.

6 responses to “Teddy Alexander”

  1. That is one of – if not the – most entertaining anecdotes I’ve ever read on a blog. Opportunity Knocks, hole-in-the-floor hamsters and the unsolved case of the Monton back-yard knicker snatcher. Crumbs.

  2. Teddy has been a good friend to me over many years brilliant and versitile refusing to retire he is still performing in a show about the Life of George Formby.

  3. I’m very happy to hear it. My childhood wouldn’t have been the same without him, and he may well have influenced the direction I took. His was my first real glimpse of a showbusiness life, by which I mean the life-and-business part outside the shows.

  4. Teddy,his wife Pamela,myself and my wife Sue put on a show about George Formby’s life story. Teddy is far from retired although he likes to say he is ‘semi-retired’. He was amazed when I found this blog. He cannot believe the influence he has had and the lasting memories. He surprises us all every day with some idea or other.

    Sadly, Teddy lost his son, Karl to a brain tumour so Teddy took it upon himself to raise £32000 for an ambulance for the hospice that looked after Karl. With a little help from his friends and much assistance from Pamela, he achieved and surpassed the target and now a second ambulance is on the way. They say you can’t keep a good man down and that is certainly the case with our Ted! Long may he run!

  5. Hello Stephen,
    I am so, so amazed that you remember little me. Ah…Eccles, Manchester brings back happy memories – as a clown on a peeny-farthing bike riding around Lewis’s Store, or being a mechanical clown in their arcade window demonstrating toys, and even a stint at Kendals as Father Christmas, and of course playing the pubs for an agency called Madam ‘Ace’.When one was skint one would enter talent competitions at a pub called Frescatis. All this took place out of season. Yes, I was entertainments manager for Pontin’s at Blackpool, Southport, Prestatyn and took an 8 piece band (the Imison Bros.) around factories and dance halls to publicise Pontin’s camps.
    After winning opportunity knocks it brought in t.v. commercials. Happy Faces biscuits, Waddington’s House of Games and Smiths Crisps, but best of all I toured Germany entertaining British, Canadian, and American troops.
    On retiring I wrote two books, which I published myself, but on the millennium started entertaining again to raise money for charity.
    The George Formby Show that I was involved with, together with my wife Pamela and friends, worked the Glen Miller Festival at Twinwoods last weekend. What a wonderful event, I would recommend it to anybody. If they would like to look up the website it is
    We have been re-booked to appear in 2009.
    Most of the people I knew in that era have popped their clogs, it’s nice to be remembered before I follow suit.
    I am still a pen and pencil man, so I thank my wife Pamela for mastering the computer.