A genuine bogus Colonel…

From the Peter Haining papers, this typed manuscript  by the great researcher and expert on British comics and periodicals W.O.G. ('Bill') Lofts (1923-1997). The type of the bogus colonel (and, more commonly, the bogus major) is well known from 1950s British films but here is the real thing - a rather pathetic tale where Lofts' losses were low and the Colonel appears to have been a reader of Henty…

Colonel Whithington-Spooner

The letter addressed to me was in bold flourishing handwriting, and the address was 'The Lodge' Cranbrook near Epsom, Surrey. I don't know why, but I slightly suspicious of the person at first sight, but briefly the letter read as follows…

Dear Mr Lofts,

In reading a back number of a collecting magazine, I note you have discovered a magazine, I note you have discovered a Henty story in a boys publication entitled 'Grip'. If it is possible to get a photocopy I would be most grateful, and of course pay the cost involved and postage.

Yours sincerely,

Colonel Whithington-Spooner

As it happened I did have several copies spare, and as the cost was so small, I thought I would make no change, and so sent the Colonel the story with my compliments. He was delighted, and said that if ever I was in his direction to give him a ring, when we could perhaps have a drink together. A few months later, and in Epsom for the Deby, with plenty of time to spare, I thought I would take up his offer. Ringing the number as given on his embossed note-paper, the phone the other end just rang and rang - just going to ring off, suddenly a gruff voice answered. Explaining who I was, his voice changed to one of pleasure.

"Unfortunately the Lodge is being redecorated, and I have sent the servants away on a paid holiday", said the Colonel. "Tell me exactly where you are and I will meet you in twenty minutes".

I was waiting at the bar in The Dog and Fiddle when in strode the Colonel. He was every inch the part. With a brown bowler, red face, white military mustache, red waist-coat and brown leggings, and highly polished brown boots. "Delighted to meet you, my Dear Mr. Lofts," he said.

I ordered the first lot of drinks. "Double whiskey for me," said the Colonel, whilst I settled for my usual sweet sherry. He talked of his collection, and Henty's famous books and battles, and certainly knew his stuff. The Colonel also mentioned that he came from a famous Suffolk family, and had served in many campaigns in both wars, but was now on the retired list. I waited for him to buy the next round, but he made no move, and so ordered the same again. The drinks were eventually downed, and looking now a bit embarrassed, the Colonel felt in his back pocket.

"Dash it old man, he cried". "I've left my note-case at home, bit I will but all the drinks next time we meet". Having to accept his explanation, the Colonel then shook hands and walked jauntily out of the bar.

Curious of his actuarial background, I first checked the Army register and of course found no trace of any Colonel Whithington-Spooner. Nor was there any famous Suffolk family of that name. A friend happened to live in a nearby village, and I asked him to have a look at his 'Lodge'. He reported that it was a tumble down cottage in need of repair, and with a telephone box outside - which had the same number as on his embossed note-paper!

The local electoral roll said the sole occupant was a 'John White' - whilst further enquires showed that he sold dog tips outside the London Greyhound tracks for a living, calling himself Major Gold, and Captain Quicksilver.

A few months later, my friend sent me a local newspaper cutting in which the Colonel Whithington-Spooner had been charged with fraud using many aliases in obtaining money by deception. He eventually got two years, but died in prison after serving only six months.

Of course I was not diddled by the Colonel, except perhaps by buying his drinks, though if he had been honest with me and said he was short I would never have minded. Some fellow collectors were caught by Colonel Whithington-Spooner, so he is unique in this collection of essays in being the only one that I did not really like.

[Still from 1948 film Noose featuring Nigel Patrick]

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