Alf Tupper - The Tough of the Track 

A ten-minute pilot for an longer and as yet unmade film in 1993

What's it all about Alfie?



Drawings by Peter Sutherland Copyright D.C. Thomson

It's strange how comic characters from one's childhood have a way of grabbing hold of one's imagination so tightly that decades later they still haven't lost their grip.

With me it was Alf Tupper, The Tough of the Track. In typical Tupper fashion Alf was fast arriving, in fact 3 years before I was born, making his first appearance on the printed page on 30th April 1949 in a three page prose story in D.C.Thomson's Rover boy's comic number 1244.

His exploits continued in the Rover up to 1960 when the comic closed in January 1961. Then after a brief sabbatical, he once again burst forth as an illustrated comic strip hero in the pages of the Victor in June 1962, which is where I first encountered him.

Here he entertained his young, and not so young fans, for another thirty years until the Victor ceased publication in 1991.

Of course existing over the decades in so many different manifestations he has been shaped by the hands of a host of writers and artists. Despite all this, in essence his character has remained unchanging.

He is portrayed as a poor working class orphan, an eighteen year old teenager lodging at his Aunt Meg's one up one down in Anchor Alley. He is apprenticed as a welder to Ike Smith who runs his two man metal working business from under a railway arch in the northern town of Greystone.

Alf is a talented metal worker and it is a skill he puts later to greater use in a multitude of story lines.

He survives on a poor diet of bread and marge, supplemented when finances permit by fish and chips from his local chippie. Aside from work and food, his main interest in life is running.

Hurdles, half mile, mile, 5,000m, 10,000m, marathon, on track, fell or cross country- all are meat and drink to him. Provided he can get time of work that is, hitch hike a lift to the distant meet, find the entrance fee to the race, or overcome the myriad obstacles that the writer would place in his path.

He lives a life of struggle both on and off the running track, but invariably things work out for him and as a result Alf became the inspiration for future generations of young athletes.

In downtime, between sound editing contracts I spent time researching and writing with Bernard Kelly, several fictional and documentary treatments for the character.

We made a ten-minute pilot on 16mm with Martin Lightening on camera and me on sound about the Alf Tupper Athletic Club taking part in the Ron Hill sponsored Tour of Tameside in 1992.

It edited together very well and works as a stand alone piece.

However it unfortunately failed to impress D.C.Thomson enough, (Alf's creators and copyright owners) for them to give the green light for our larger project. The issue of how Alf would be presented on screen had always posed a problem but we'd come up with some novel solutions.

Perhaps an audio only production would have provided a better solution?

Unfortunately a few years back Radio 4 broadcast a half hour programme about Alf Tupper but it seemed poorly researched and hastily thrown together capturing little of the man's magic.

See also toughofthetrack