Alf Tupper: The Iconic Runner who still Inspires

Known affectionately as “The Tough of the Track”, Alf Tupper, first brought to life by artist Pete Sutherland, featured in boys’ comics such as The Rover and The Victor over a forty year period from the 1950s onwards (transferring to the new picture-strip comic when it launched), last appearing regularly in 1992, a demise of the character widely reported  in the national media.

With running more popular than ever, artist and screenprinter John Patrick Reynolds celebrates the comic life of “The Tough of the Tracks”…

Alf Tupper Screenprint by John Patrick Reynolds

Alf Tupper was my favourite character in all the comics I read as a boy. He made running cool – and now that so many of us seem to have turned to running as a way of keeping fit during the pandemic, here is a tribute to him.

Although Alf was the flagship character in The Victor, which ran from 1961 until the early 1990s, he actually started life in the all-text comic The Rover in the late 1940s, but transferred to the new picture-strip comic when it launched.

He was hero to millions of British blokes who grew up in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. These included several generations of British middle-distance runners, including Ron Hill, Brendan Foster and Steve Cram, and he represents all that’s best about humanity: honest and brave.

Alf Tupper, as he appeared in Red Dagger Issue 22
Alf Tupper, as he appeared in Red Dagger Issue 22

He may have been from the wrong side of the tracks, but he was on the side of the angels and was indomitable, embodying the virtues that the British liked to thing they embodied. And of course he was a working-class hero – the phrase “The Tough of the Track” was a sort of pun – it referred to his humble background as much as his gritty determination in competition.

His other signature characteristics were that he worked as a welder and lived under railway arches. He would train by running along the canal towpath. Each story would involve Alf battling against some kind of iniquity – often at the hands of posher grammar-school boys or public-school boys. They would cheat in some way, which would disadvantage Alf but he would always bounce back and win in the end. The phrase “I run ‘im,” would end many stories.

I had a subscription to The Victor – most weeks the comic had an Alf Tupper story, which would run for several weeks. Then there would be a gap of a few weeks before the next one started again. I was always a bit disappointed if there wasn’t an Alf Tupper story.

If it was a week with a Tupper story, that raised my spirits when the comic appeared on the front door mat of my parent’s home each Saturday morning!

John Patrick Reynolds

Check out all of John’s Alf Tupper screenprints on the ComicArtWebSite

All of John’s screen prints so far are based on art Pete Sutherland, except for his “Got to keep going” release, which was drawn by Ted Rawlings.

• Alf Tupper has his now fan site here, and you can listen to the Tough of the Track theme song here, composed by Near Death Experience

Read Colin Noble’s downthetubes feature “When Saturday Comes”, about Comic Sporting Heroes of yesteryear

Categories: Art and Illustration, British Comics, downthetubes Comics News, downthetubes News, Features, Merchandise, Other Worlds

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