Pretty Boy Floyd

Charles Arthur FloydBorn in Barrow County, Georgia, in 1904, Charles Arthur Floyd, alias "Pretty Boy", participated in the Kansas City Massacre in 1933 when four law enforcement officers, including one FBI Special Agent, were killed.  A leading light in the classic age of American gangsters, Pretty Boy was up there with John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde and Baby Face Nelson.  Known as Choc, after the popular local Choctaw Beer, for which, early in his teens, he displayed a liking, Floyd first fell foul of the law when he took part in a hit on a payroll in St Louis in 1925.  When the payroll master first described the three unidentified hoods to the police, he referred to Choc as "a mere boy – a pretty boy with apple cheeks." Charlie was sent to Missouri State Penitentiary where for a spell he worked as a cook on kitchen duty, then as a machine operator in the factory where the inmates made their own shoes and clothing, then as a plumber’s assistant.  On his release he gained nationwide notoriety as one of the most colorful, nervy bank robbers in the history of Depression-era America.  A Robin Hood who enjoyed hitting back against the wealthy for the defence of the poor, he is remembered in legend and in song, recalled not with a shudder but with almost a fond salute.  Floyd was killed in 1934 by FBI Agents and local police officers while resisting arrest.

John L Sullivan

John L SullivanRecognised as the first heavyweight boxing champion of the world, John Lawrence Sullivan was born in Boston, USA, in 1858.  Son of a quick-tempered Boston Irishman, he at first attempted to learn a trade, being for a while an apprentice plumber, tinsmith and stonemason.  However, as some journeymen colleagues of Sullivan painfully found out, John L’s personal attributes and ego were in fact perfect for prize fighting.  On the 7th of February (Super Mario’s birthday) 1882, Sullivan defeated Paddy Ryan to become the first world champion, in front of an audience containing Frank and Jesse James.  For the next decade or so Sullivan, despite chronic alcoholism, easily held on to his title, defending it nearly thirty times.  These fights were predominately arranged around Sullivan’s great tours of the United States in 1883-4 and 1886-7, whereupon at each stop John L. made his standard offer of one thousand dollars to any man who could last four rounds.  He rarely had to pay out for he could "lick any man alive".  Finally, on 6 September 1892 in New Orleans, Sullivan lost his title to James J. "Gentleman Jim" Corbett.  A visibly ageing Sullivan was knocked out in the twenty-first round.  He died on 2 February 1918, probably of heart failure.  A massive funeral followed.  Fittingly, the frozen earth had to be blasted to make his grave.  In the commotion that followed, the Boston Irish finally realised that neither they, nor anyone else, would ever again queue "to shake the hand that shook the world".  He is considered still by some to be one of the best heavyweights ever.

Albert DeSalvo

The Boston StranglerAKA The Boston Strangler.  Or was he?  And come to that, was he really a plumber?  His father Frank DeSalvo certainly was, although he let down the profession by being an alcoholic who knocked seven bells out of the missus, broke every one of her fingers, occasionally sold his children as slaves for $9 and made them watch him having sex with prostitutes in the front room.  No wonder Albert went bad.  In 1948 Albert joined the army straight from school and was stationed in occupied Germany where in Frankfurt he married a local girl.  In 1956 DeSalvo left the army with an honourable discharge when it was claimed that he had sexually molested a nine-year old girl.  He returned to Boston, Massachusetts.  From June 1962 to January 1964 The Boston Strangler held the women residents of that city in fear for their lives as he claimed 13 victims in a 19-month reign of terror, talking or breaking his way into his victims apartment then strangling them to death.  The Strangler sometimes passed himself off as a detective to gain entrance, sometimes as a plumber.  He certainly was a plumber as played by Tony Curtis in the classic movie, The Boston Strangler.  DeSalvo was arrested for sexual assault in 1964 and it was when he was in prison that he first boasted, then confessed to being The Boston Strangler, telling police in great detail about each killing.  There are now grave doubts that he was indeed the killer.  In November 1973, Albert DeSalvo was found dead in his prison cell, stabbed through the heart six times, although his killer was never caught.

Arthur Haynes

Arthur HaynesBorn in Hammersmith in May 1914, Arthur Haynes was the only son of a baker.   Although remembered today only by Nissan Micra drivers, Haynes was an immensely popular television comedian throughout the middle of the last century, winning awards and acclaim from all quarters.  His eponymous show, The Arthur Haynes Show regularly topped the ratings and featured such stalwart figures as Nicholas Parsons and Patricia Hayes.  Arthur’s early dreams of becoming an architect were dashed when his poor family worked out just how much it would cost to send him to Art School.  Instead, he became a bus conductor.  A stint as a furniture store clerk followed before he entered the noble profession. "I was everybody’s mate. Plumber’s mate, painter’s mate, carpenter’s mate and so on." And who knows how Arthur’s career might have progressed had it not been for the outbreak of war in 1939?  Failing his army medical, he managed to pick up a job as a props man with the impressario George Black and never looked back.  Teaming up with the excruciatingly unfunny Charlie Chester, Arthur’s career as a top-class radio comedian was never in doubt but his big break in television came when he was reunited with his old mucker George Black in 1956.  Strike A New Note saw him teamed up with scriptwriter Johnny Speight for the first time, a partnership that was to last until Arthur’s untimely death from a heart attack in 1965.  Together they built a series of memorable characters culminating in Arthur appearing in a Royal Variety Show performance in 1961 and being voted Independent TV Personality of the Year in 1962.

Screaming Lord Sutch

Screaming Lord SutchFew political party leaders have had funerals marked by the presence of leopardskin armbands, a cavalcade of motorbikes and rock and roll.  But then David Edward Sutch was no ordinary politician. Screaming Lord Sutch, who was the longest-serving party leader as head of the Monster Raving Loonies, was found hanged at his home on 16 June 1999 after apparently committing suicide.  After school in South Harrow, David Edward Sutch worked as a plumber until turning to rock ‘n’ roll where he recorded such enchanting ditties as Jack The Ripper and Dracula’s Daughter.  He is reckoned to be the first long-haired pop star.  The nickname "Lord" came from his first stage headgear, a fur-lined crash helmet topped with bobbles to resemble a coronet; in 1968 he adopted the name Screaming Lord Sutch, 3rd Earl of Harrow by deed poll. (Once, he said, he had tried to change his name to Mrs Thatcher, but was told it would be too confusing when he got to the Commons.)  He became a fixture of British political life, fighting more than 40 elections in his trademark top hat and gold lame suit, memorably overtaking Lord Owen’s SDP in the 1990 Bootle by-election.  His most incisive political moment was probably when he asked, "Why is there only one Monopolies Commission?"

Matt Monro

Matt MonroBritain’s answer to Frank Sinatra.  Okay, Matt was no Ol’ Blue Eyes but he carved out a successful career as a romantic ballad singer both in Britain and America in an age dominated by raucous pop singers.  His rise to fame against the Elvis Presley tide was a singular achievement for a small man with no stage background.  He represented Britain in the Eurovision Song Contest, coming second in Copenhagen in 1964 with I Love The Little Things.  He had 15 hits in the UK though he never topped the charts.  His songs included Portrait of My Love, Born Free and From Russia With Love. His career was as romantic as his songs.  He was born in Shoreditch, London as Terry Parsons and brought up in a council flat.  His father wore cor’ blimey trousers but died when Matt was three and his mother, left with four sons and a daughter became a Mrs Mopp to keep the family together.  For a while Matt, the youngest son, was in an orphanage and began work in a tobacco factory later working as a plaster’s labourer and a plumber’s mate before becoming a London bus driver, working the No.27 route from Highgate to Teddington via Kentish Town.  On leaving the Army he found the competition of show businesss tough but he gained his first break in 1956 when he became the resident singer with the BBC Show Band.  The pianist, Winifred Attwell, had helped him make a record and the rest was almost history.  Matt Monro died from cancer in February 1985 aged 54.

Ronnie Laine

Ronnie LaineRonnie Laine, bassist and founder member of The Small Faces, was born in Plaistow, East London, on April 1, 1946, son of a lorry driver.  At 16 he left school and began working as a plumber’s mate then, aged 17, he bought his first guitar and began playing in a band called The Outcasts with drummer Kenney Jones.  Laine invited Steve Marriott, the shop assistant who sold him his guitar, to an early Outcasts gig.  Marriott turned up at the pub, promptly wrecked the piano and got the band barred.  He joined as singer and guitarist soon after.  Rechristened The Small Faces by Marriott”s girlfriend – all four members struggled to hit 5ft 5ins – they had a series of Top Ten singles including their only Number One single, All Or Nothing in 1966. Following Marriott’s departure in 1969 the others welcomed singer Rod Stewart and guitarist Ronnie Wood to their fold and struck out as The Faces, the purveyors of rhythm ‘n’ booze who became revered for their shambolic concerts and geezer-down the local pub image.  In fact, so raucous were the band that they were banned from the entire Holiday Inn hotel chain.  The Faces called it a day in 1975 due to Stewart’s burgeoning solo career and Wood’s absorption into The Rolling Stones; Laine went solo and charted with a couple of singles and the LP Anymore for Anymore.  Ronnie died at the age of 51 of multiple sclerosis at his home in Trinidad, Colorado.  He had been debilitated by the nerve destroying disease since the late-1970s.

Bob Hoskins

Short bad baldieShort, bad baldie who rose to fame in The Long Good Friday, Hoskins was born in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk in 1942 where his mother had been sent to escape the Blitz.  They couldn’t have enjoyed it too much because Hoskins was sent back to London with his mother when he was only two weeks old. He stayed at school until he was 15 and in the next 10 years took on a string of undistinguished jobs including Covent Garden porter, member of the Norwegian Merchant Marines, steeplejack, banana picker, circus fire-eater, trainee accountant, and even spent time working on a kibbutz in Israel. Amidst all that mediocrity there was a little light when he spent some time as a plumber’s assistant. Hoskins began acting at the age of 25, learning his trade in theatre before going into films.  His breakthrough was in the aforementioned LGF before going on to such hits as Mona Lisa, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Mermaids and Nixon.  Despite his ability and success, Hoskins couldn’t escape being typecast as short, bald guys.  However this and his previous real-life experience came to his aid when he played what is undoubtedly his greatest role – as the world’s greatest plumber.  Bob played Mario in the wonderful Super Mario Bros, surely the best film about plumbers never to have won the Best Picture Oscar.  Unless of course you count Brazil, but then that also starred Bob Hoskins as a plumber.  Hoskins was once asked if he had ever considered doing a couple of homers just to keep his hand in.  "I wouldn’t advise it," he said.  "I was an apprentice plumber once, burnt the boot of the bloke I was with.  I was on a ladder and he was fixing a pipe up in the ceiling.  I got a blowlamp, and set fire to his boot!  That was the end of the trade for me".

Charles Dance

WC DanceWalter Charles Dance was born in Birmingham, England, in 1946, son of a parlour maid and a civil engineer who died when he was four.  When the son was four that is, not the father.  Dance junior dropped Walter from his name because he didn’t fancy having the initials WC.  He was a nervous child and suffered from both a stammer and dyslexia.  He left school at 16, found work as a window-dresser and a plumber’s mate before encountering, in a pub in Plymouth, a couple of retired actors who were to coach him in the business of being theatrical.  Dance spent five years with The Royal Shakespeare Company before gaining fame here and abroad as Sergeant Guy Perron in the TV mini-series The Jewel in the Crown (1983).  It was the first of many roles in which Charlie was to make his mark as a bit of posh.  He had debuted in the small role of a gunman in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only (1981), but made a striking impact as Meryl Streep’s patient diplomat husband in Plenty (1985).  Other memorable roles include White Mischief, The Golden Child and Ali G Indahouse.  Most often described as suave, debonair and a bit posh, Charlie is sauve and debonair.  He’s not posh really. He was a plumber after all.  He married his wife Jo in 1970 and they have two children, Becky and Oliver. They currently live in Somerset.

Russ Conway

Russ ConwayHe was the pianist who brought joy with his tinkling fingers and his twinkling smile.  This attractive combination brought Russ Conway huge success in live concert and on record, and made him one of Britain’s biggest-selling artists of the 1950s and 1960s.  From his first chart success in 1957 with a medley of other artists’ Party Pops through to his 1962 hit Always You and Me, Conway spent 168 weeks in the music charts.  After leaving school at 14, his father found the young Russ a job in a solicitors’ office, but this ended when he was sent to borstal for three years after stealing some money he found in a packet.  He had always wanted to go to sea and, following his release from borstal, his father agreed to send him to a Merchant Navy Training School.  He served in the Royal Navy during the war, taking part in minesweeping operations in the Aegean, before returning to the Merchant Navy. He was discharged in 1948 with a stomach complaint and worked as a salesman, machinist, plumber’s mate and barman before another spell back at sea.  He became one of Britain’s biggest-selling music artists before The Beatles, chalking up sales of 30 million records, but his career came to a premature halt when he suffered a stroke in 1965. He died in November 2000.