Scoffle started in mid 1950s London. Teenagers, as they were becoming known, were developing their own cultural identities through rock and roll music, dance and other ideas imported from their exotic and distant American cousins. Although it would be many years before the term ‘fast food’ found its way into popular parlance, the hamburger was already finding favour amongst the newly empowered Youth on both sides of the Atlantic. It was only a matter of time before a fusion of the terpsichorean and epicurean occurred.
The poor “washer-uppers” of London’s myriad cafes and coffee shops soon started using the implements of their trade, as substitutes for the unattainably expensive musical instruments used by the jazz and blues musicians, who influenced what was to become scoffle. In 1955 a down and out plongeur, named Terry Dagenham, assembled a band, which was to set the blueprint for all scoffle combos thereafter. Terry, who chose the stage name “Lenny”, was quick to see the musical possibilities of a piece of string stretched between two waitresses, and it is he who is credited with being the first to carry a rhythm by striking a steel draining board with a knickerbocker glory spoon.
Many other scoffle legends were to emerge over the next five years, including the incomparable Cheryl Croydon and her “Milk-shake Mamas”. Cheryl and the girls will be remembered for the enigmatic “Two espressos after sunset”, the heart-rending “No starters for table nine” and the epic “Fifty covers before midnight”.
It is Lenny Dagenham however, who was the undisputed king of scoffle. He became as famous for his novelty songs (“Does your relish lose its flavour in the ice-box over night?” and “My old man’s a waiter”) as for his more serious compositions (“Rock Island Diner” and “Seven golden burger buns”).
Unfortunately, the scoffle boom was short-lived and, as the sixties started to swing and the British public started to develop more sophisticated tastes, eschewing the coffee bar for the Chinese restaurant, the hits even dried up for Lenny Dagenham. In 1961 Lenny teamed up with Cheryl Croydon for the innovative “Shake, rattle and spring roll”, featuring Cheryl on chopsticks, but it was not well received by scoffle purists and didn’t threaten the charts.
Scoffle was gone, but no forgotten. It is believed that, prior to forming the Beatles, John, Paul, George and Ringo had all played in scoffle bands – maybe – and scoffle continues to influence song-writers and musicians to this day – probably.
Lenny and Cheryl are no longer with us, but who can honestly say they can order a cup of tea and a slice of toast, at their local greasy spoon, without remembering them?