Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Forgotten gurus: Lionel Stebbing

“Be tall”; “Robust health”; “Manly strength”; “Double your stamina”. Through the 1920s and 30s, advertisements for the Stebbing System in comics and magazines tantalised boys and young men with the prospect of a rock-hard, muscle-bound and lofty manhood. Much the kind of vision dangled before men today in Men’s Health magazine. 
“Your height increased in 14 days or money back” promised Lionel Stebbing, who called himself a personal consultant in body building and health practitioner. “I positively guarantee to give you perfect health and double your stamina in 30 days or return your money in full.”
All you had to do was send Mr Stebbing five shillings, then simply adhere to the suggestions Mr Stebbing sent to you in the form of a typewritten “4-in-1 supercourse”.  The course was a mere matter of meeting his daily requirement over the course of two weeks: 27 exercises, two and a half hours outdoors, relaxing, smiling, never bearing a grudge, drinking a quart of milk, eating fruit, vegetables and dripping, taking patent vitamins, deep breathing exercises, muscle control movements, bathing in Stebbing bath revitaliser... and much much more.
Sound advice perhaps (apart from the dripping) – but could a young lad’s life possibly accommodate so much healthy activity in 14 days?  
But Mr Stebbing was no fool. A man of many talents, his other publications included: “The Secret of Beautiful Magnetic Eyes”, “Stronger Sight without Glasses”, “How to Develop a Perfect Voice”, “Music, it’s Occult Basis and Healing Value” and “The Correction of Stammering”.  
It was only when he neared the end of his career, in the 1960s, that he let the cat out of the bag about his own dubious expertise in all these matters, when he published two little business books candidly titled: “How I made a fortune with a home mail order business” and “How you can build a second income fortune at home without special skill or expertise”. 

Yes, all Mr Stebbing’s endeavours selling his skills were made without any skill – apart from entrepreneurial, creative and typewriting ones – from his small semi-detached house at 28, Dean Road in Willesden, London – a house you can still see to this day. Alas there is no blue plaque.