17 November 2009
Golden days of the rag-and-bone men
RECENTLY FOUND A selection of letters from The Guardian newspaper dated June 2007, on the subject of rag-and-bone men. David Collins from Kidderminster wrote:
The rag and bone men appear to have moved to Worcestershire. The current price of scrap metal, especially copper, seems to have resurrected the phenomenon and we have averaged two visits a week for the last two months, with one slow-moving truck driver calling out for ‘any old iron’ and another blowing vigorously on an old hunting horn.
David Stanners from London had fond memories:
As well as being convenient recyclers, in return for your rubbish they would give in exchange such desirable things as goldfish and were thus entrepreneurs. There was even one who was a radio ‘agony uncle’, Sid Cryer, on Band Wagon. He would come down the road singing: ‘Day after day, I’m on me way. Any old rags, bottles and bones.’ He would sit down in a cafe, find himself next to a stranger with a terrible problem and, in the time it takes to have a cuppa, sort out the dilemma and go off pushing his barrow, singing into the distance.
The radio comedy show Band Waggon ran from 1938 to 1940, and it appears that the character was either called Syd Walker or was played by Syd Walker.
A rag-and-bone man or ‘totter’ used to patrol the West End streets near where I lived as a child. The last drawn-out syllable of his cry sounded pure and remote to fresh young ears: rag and b-o-o-o-o-ne; an elegy that seemed to come from a great distance through quiet Sunday streets.
Someone on a web forum elsewhere thinks there’s a rag-and-bone man still occasionally raising his cry around Sutton in south London, so any information or accounts of hearings would be gratefully received.