‘Stretch’ and ‘Alfred’ were a concentrated patch of weirdness in our run-of the-mill outer suburban high school. Stretch, as his nickname implied, was a beanpole with a shock of jet-black hair and a permanently impending moustache who towered at least six inches over the rest of us. Alfred’s nickname derived from his remarkable resemblance to Alfred E. Neuman of Mad Magazine, so beloved of adolescent boys of that era.
Stretch provided the story lines to a bizarre set of characters that he’d created and Alfred would then illustrate these fantastical tales with more enthusiasm than skill.
Central to these tales were the eternal battles between Scissor Man, Rock of Ages and Paper Boy, as told by the archetypal mad scientist U-Bolt Rosenow.
(Amongst U-Bolt’s many ‘scientific’ theories was that bald men were less intelligent because their hair grew inwards instead of outwards and held their brain in a type of hairy sling. His hypothesis was that, over time, the sling would shrink, thus crushing the brain against the skull and reducing its efficiency.)
Each episode would appear in print, seemingly randomly, produced from smudged ink stencils wrapped around the drum of the school’s duplicating machine.
The fact that each edition was eagerly awaited by boys raised on Superman and Batman, living humdrum lives in jerry-built post-war weatherboard homes, where being different was the greatest sin one could commit, still amazes me now. Yes, we had The Goons but this was homegrown madness that lived around the corner.
Stretch grew up to be a motorcycle cop, Alfred became an accountant and the rest of us wandered into the future largely clueless about our destinations.
But I like to believe that, thanks to people like Stretch and Alfred, the success of Monty Python was inevitable.