I love movies from the 50s and 60s and will watch almost anything if the period is right and there is some style and clothing on display. One of the films that I can watch over and over again is the classic British war movie called Sea of Sand featuring Michael Craig and John Gregson as members of the Desert Long Range Patrol Group who operated in a fairly unofficial commando capacity deep behind enemy lines in North Africa.
One thing that I thought I spotted when I watched the movie again last year was Michael Craig appeared to be wearing suede playboy chukkas. Usually films are shot to quite rightly emphasise such things as actors’ expression or action and not to show off footwear but later in the movie it becomes clear that all the officers are indeed wearing playboy boots instead of army issue or the usual desert boots.
It’s entirely possible of course that as the movie was made in the late 50s a time when the Hutton Playboy chukka was at it’s zenith in England (long before its 1960s heyday with Steve McQueen). Popular amongst a certain sort of louche actor (think Bryan Forbes in corduroy) it could be that when the film called for desert boots they simply substituted the normal ones with Huttons for the filming, after all 1958 was not so long after the war ended and correct period details may not have been paramount.
There’s a scene where about halfway through the film where John Gregson and Barry Foster are crawling over a minefield and Gregson’s foot touches a mine behind him. Here’s it very clear (as the main photo shows) that Gregson is indeed wearing playboys and from the details they look like Hutton Original Playboys with their rolled leather edges on the lace facings.
However, the fact that is that playboy chukkas had been around since the 1930s and the LRDPG was a non-comformist outfit (with R&R in Cairo – from which source Nathan Clark ‘borrowed’ his seminal desert boot design) and officers would have bought and paid for their own uniforms and worn whatever was comfortable and useful for desert patrol.
It’s possible therefore that these guys wore the playboy boots as the most comfortable option working in sand and heat. I doubt that any ex-LRDPG will be out there reading this but you never know, so please get in touch if you know something about this admittedly lightweight part of history.
Last year I found a pair of vintage Trickers on Ebay (sold by a monosyllabic seller who insisted in his description that they were made by Paul Smith – don’t you just love ebay sellers?).
When the boots arrived it was evident from the script in the insole that they were at least 40 years old and the crepe was pretty rigid.
Unfortunately I hadn’t known about the necessity of putting the boots in an oven to soften up the crepe and stop it from cracking after many years of not being worn and so they cracked across the soles. Mr 1966 at FNB gave me the full gen on how to do this so after the event I gave it a whirl. I have also managed to repair them with crepe cement but they are old and still pretty delicate.
A couple of months back I took them ‘home’ to the Trickers factory in Northampton and David who runs the shop there asked the factory manager if there was anyone left there who could work with goodyear welted playboys and repair the foxing and perhaps replace the soles. The factory manager was adamant that the boots I had were not made by Trickers as they featured a serial number starting with the letter A and not the number 9.
A search on the shop PC by David brought up a catalogue from 1970-71 autumn/winter season and sure enough there was the Trickers ‘Tracker’ boot along with another really nice desert boot chukka also with an A prefix.
In about 1979 Pops Weejun gave me an already vintage pair of Allinson suede chukkas with a crepe sole that were a beautiful taupe greeny tan suede. I wore them into the ground as you do when you’re 14 and eventually they wore out beyond repair. I didn’t realise then that Allinson had long gone bust. If they’d stayed the course the would have undoubtedly been one of England’s premier exporters of classic suede chukkas and shoes.
When I spoke to Pops Weejun about the Tracker boots he confirmed that he was aware that Allinson made boots for Trickers as far back as the late 60s. The sheer quality of making evident in these shoes and the antelope buckskin leather along with the prefix “A” means we’re certain as we can be that these Trickers were made by Allinson too.
Current options for lovers of the classic Playboy chukka are somewhat limited.
Either shell out the €220 odd for a pair of made in Spain goodyear welted Playboy Originals in Sweden (no chukkas in the range though, only shoes for some reason) or the now ubiquitous but nevertheless excellent Sanders version.
I’ve got three pairs of the Sanders, a knockabout reject pair that I picked up in the East End and an unworn pair from John Rushton (your best bet for the rare snuff suede version outside of Japan) as well as a 3 eyelet gibson from Oi Polloi – all of them in my preferred snuff suede (the standard is dark brown superbuck). I have to admit that I find the boot more comfortable than the shoe which has a very stiff heel counter.
An interesting footnote is that there are still some current model Trickers branded playboys out there in the online world, mainly in obscure Japanese webstores but these are not made by Trickers but by Sanders. Sanders being the last company (apart from Geo Cox with their uglier shape and unattractive uppers) to really specialise in this type of crepe sole.
The Sanders sole unit is not goodyear welted, but that does have a benefit as they don’t feature the separate crepe ‘curtain’ (called foxing) which always seems to come away at the heel after driving. Rather, the Sanders soles are a clever one piece unit.
John Simons, purveyor of many models over the years told me recently that the Sanders were the only ones he’d never had returns on for the foxing coming away. I told him how easy it is to fix with a hot knife or crepe cement and they’re glued back for life but neither of us knew that when it was relevant to the goodyear welted models.
John Rushton also could have benefited from 1966’s sage advice about ovens and crepe as about 10 years ago he bought a huge stock of playboys from Edward Green during one of their ‘about to go bust’ periods. They’d been in storage in very cold temperatures and the crepe soles were rigid. Nearly every single pair got returned to him by customers after the soles cracked in half. If only he’d known about the oven trick the crepe would have been as good as new.
Thanks to David at Trickers for the scan of the old catalogue and 1966 for the tips
Professor Kelp from over on Film Noir Buff kindly sent me this photo of 1950s teddy boys with one of them wearing the Hutton Playboys. From the 3 eyelets it looks to be the shoe version rather than the chukkas. It’s worth remembering that the earliest crepe soled ‘brothel creepers’ were more like playboys than the outrageous monsters they became.
I have seen an episode of Bootsy & Smudge from about 1960 where Teddy Boys threaten the family. The main Ted, the one and only Derren Nesbitt, is wearing playboys, possibly Eaton Clubmans.
Here’s a pair of possible Clubmans that reader Andy B sent me a photo of – he’d come across this post looking for help on damaged and split crepe. Think I will post a future ‘how to’ on reviving crepe and use crepe cement etc.