Ally Sloper and the Flapper

‘Logistics’, the posh word for moving stuff about, was during the First World War the business of the Army Service Corps, which at one point numbered 10,547 officers and 315,334 men  The name, half-disparaging, half-admiring, given to this essential arm of the forces was ‘Ally Sloper’s Cavalry’. Ally Sloper, variously described as ‘a ne’er do well’ or ‘Micawber’s son’, was a character who evolved from the 1860s as a semi-vagrant chancer to the ultimate 1880s chancer, critic of authority, bombast, cheat, family man, drinker, rough diamond, and eponymous hero of Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday, one of the widest read cheap weekly magazines of the Edwardian era. At one point the magazine claimed to have 350,000 readers, around three times the readership of Punch. The magazine is witty, irreverent, robust, pointed, scurrilous, sexually charged, and somehow very English: think Carry On films, Viz, music hall,  Pistol in Henry V, a mix of toilet humour, gin and Christmas pudding, and you have the gist of it. The character of Ally Sloper grew till he was most of the magazine: someone you would love to meet, but not to know. Probably a bit of a skiver, especially when the rent was due, but an irrepressible survivor, he was a figure the man in the trenches could identify with.

ASHH 1885

Ally Sloper himself appeared at the start of the war brandishing an umbrella, on horseback on the beach at Southsea, followed by various family members, including his aspiring journalist daughter Tootsie, waving sandcastle flags, fire-irons and catapults, but by 1918 the joke had palled, and the magazine had become a four-page, then a two-page insert inside London Life and Photo Bits. Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday continually announced his imminent resurgence, but probably in keeping with the character of ‘the eminent’, nothing happened. In 1922 there was a flaring of the flame, and for a brief period the F.O.M. (‘Friend Of Man’ supposedly, but this seems a little too naïve) lit up faces.

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On the front page of the ‘Guy Fawkes Day’ issue Ally Sloper strides out of the audience of a music hall, over the orchestra pit, his over-sized spat-covered boot through the skin of a drum, to shake hands with ‘Ole Bill’ (called here ‘Old Bill’), still performing four years after the Armistice (the next issue is labelled ‘Armistice Day’), to unite two great fictional characters of the war. The caption, written by Tootsie, states that ‘Furore doesn’t describe it, cheers, more cheers, countercheers and cheerios! Pit, gallery, stalls and boxes simply rose at the twin heroes, and when Poor Pa, recognizing his old pal, Bill, went over the top in the good old way to give him the gladsome fist, the whole place went mad!’


In later issues Ally was seen chasing the Christmas turkey round the back yard, standing (or riding on a decidedly rickety horse bearing a medal with the inexplicable legend ‘Mons 1815’) for election as MP for Shoe Lane, generally misbehaving at the dinner table. Sadly it did not last. On 29 September first text page carried a box stating that ‘The “Half-Holiday” will in future be amalgamated with its companion paper, “London Life”’. Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday reappeared for a few issues in 1948-49, and a homage version of four issues appeared in 1976-77, and ‘the eminent’ retired to history rather than memory.


Writers in ASHH always had their ears to the ground for snippets of social history, and included in the first issue of the 1922-3 series was an article on ‘the flapper’, with not a little word-collecting involved; possibly someone in the office had acquired the relevant fascicle of A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles. A question: who is the audience for this? The assumption is that readers would identify Lord Chesterfield, Blackwood’s Magazine, and an intransitive verb. Answers on a banknote please.

Flapper AFlapper B




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