Today (February 22) in London History – “LESS LUST FROM LESS PROTEIN”

He was the nobody who was the most famous person in London. Today’s his birthday. He was born on February 22nd, 1915. 

I remember him well. 

Every Londoner over 40 does.

He was the most famous Londoner of all in the sense that we all saw him and his sign – face to face – repeatedly, week after week, year after year.

So he wasn’t famous the way the Queen or pop stars or film stars or news anchors or prominent politicians are famous. But their fame is different. It’s refracted, mediated. Presented to us on the screen or magazine covers. Most of them we never see face to face. Half a century in London I’ve seen the Queen, in the flesh, what, maybe two or three times. And apart from my 2012 invitation to Buckingham Palace, “meeting her, shaking her hand – and, yes, bowing” – the two or three other “encounters” – if encounter is the word – the two or three other “encounters” were fleeting glimpses – balcony glimpses, if you will – at a great distance. 

It’s my hunch that a lot of world-famous people are less recognisable – in the flesh – than Stanley Green – the subject of today’s podcast. Which is why I think in that one sense he was more famous in his day than, say, Elizabeth Taylor or Barry Humphries or Martina Navratilova or Princess Anne.

You set eyes on Stanley Green you instantly recognised him, instantly knew who he was. So, yes, bears repeating, he was in that sense the most famous person in London.

Elizabeth Taylor or Jim Callaghan or Tina Turner could probably walk by you and you wouldn’t be any the wiser. That’s certainly my experience in Hampstead. We often cross paths with Ricky Gervais. Most of the time I don’t see him. Quite often somebody in the group will have clocked him – they say, “Ricky [juh . vayz] Gervais just walked by us, did you see him?” And I didn’t. Nor did most of the rest of us. 

Well, ditto Elizabeth Taylor or Jim Callaghan or Tina Turner or Martina Navratilova or Princess Anne – once they were recognised the celebrity thing would kick in, there’d be a snowball effect of people wanting to see them, wanting to see what everybody else was excited about and gawping at. But until that chain reaction of identification occurred really famous people could probably go some distance without people cottoning on. It happens in my neighbourhood all the time. Emma Thompson lives up here. And she’s famously incognito. People just don’t see Emma Thompson the star. They see a fairly ordinary-looking woman – often in a scarf and scruffy jeans – and don’t clock that she’s Emma Thompson – they pay her no notice whatsoever.

Stanley Green, though, was always instantly recognised. There never would have been a case of him being seen and not being seen, as it were.

So who was he? Well, he was famous as “the protein man.”

He was an ordinary little Londoner. Very slight. Wire-rimmed glasses. Always wore a cap and overalls. Carried a satchel. The uniform was unchanging. Most famously, there was the crude, hand-made, hand-lettered signboard he held up. It read: LESS PASSION FROM LESS PROTEIN: LESS FISH MEAT BIRD CHEESE EGG: PEAS BEANS, NUTS and SITTING. And hanging from the main sign was a smaller sign that read: ASK FOR A BOOKLET. 

It was all in capital letters except the word “and”. The punctuation at first glance maybe looked a bit daft – but I’ve pored over it – studied it – with something approaching the care and close attention to detail I paid to the manuscript of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and it looks to me now that Stanley’s punctuation wasn’t completely daft. There’s a colon after the word PROTEIN. And another one after the word EGG. And a comma after the word beans – thereby distinguishing legumes from fruit (technically, nuts are fruit). In an earlier version of the sign LENTILS were up there on Stanley’s hit list. But when SITTING made it onto his axis of evil something had to go. LENTILS got the chop. 

If you’re interested in the finer points of Stanley’s punctuation, well, I’ve set it all out for you here in the transcript of this podcast.

The other thing that contributed big time to Stanley Green’s fame was his predictability, his routine, his dependability. Most days – six days a week for years – Stanley Green – like a prophet in the wilderness – would be out pounding the pavement in Oxford Street, his Less Lust from Less Protein sign borne along, up above the waves of shoppers. On Saturday evenings when Oxford Street closed up shop, Stanley would carry the campaign to Leicester Square. He lived in Northolt, in Middlesex. Until he got a bus pass he would bicycle the 12 miles into central London six days a week with his sign strapped to his back. Against a headwind that journey would take him two hours. Every weekday he’d soldier on at Oxford Street until 6.30 pm and then cycle the 12 miles back to Northolt. Saturdays – with their evening campaign in Leicester Square – were even longer days. On Sundays, he’d regroup. He bought a little printing press and on Sundays would print copies of his pamphlet for the coming week’s campaign. Interviewed in 1993, he claimed to have sold 87,000 copies to date.

So who was Londoner Stanley Green and how did he get where he got.

He was born in 1915. In Haringey. He was the youngest of four sons. Working-class home. Held various nothing special jobs. Joined the Royal Navy in 1938. His experience in the Navy was what did for Stanley Green. Years later he told journalists he had always been a moral sort of person and he was shocked during the war by the bawdiness of his fellow sailors. His word for it was “passion.” He never got over it. By the late 1950s it had come to him that said passion – lust, really – was all down to excessive consumption of protein-rich foods. He called his insight “protein wisdom.”

A decade later – in 1968 – Stanley decided to spread the word. He was 53 years old. He’d found his life’s work. For the first six months the crowds he worked were Sunday shoppers in south Harrow. Whereupon he set his sights on the big leagues: central London, Oxford Street. And Leicester Square on Saturday evenings. Twenty four years – 1969 to 1993 – until he died – Stanley Green did his utmost to roll back the flood tide of lust engulfing the world. Less lust from less protein (and less sitting) was the crystallisation of his message. He called it his life’s work.

Oh and in case you’re wondering how sitting found its way onto Stanley Green’s Honour Roll of Infamy, he’d concluded that sedentary living contributed to protein build-up in the body and that build-up gravitated to the reproductive system, where it enflamed things, fuelled lust. 

Some of his elaborations of his message are noteworthy. He urged wives ‘Wives not to dress to seduce very often – and he said single women should never dress to seduce. 

Oh and we shouldn’t forget the other front Stanley Green opened. His letter-writing campaign. He wrote to Prince Charles, to British prime ministers, numerous cabinet ministers and MPs, to the archbishop of Canterbury, to British prison governors, to the director-general of the BBC, the editor of The Times, the British Medical Association, the National Marriage Guidance Council, the American government, and Pope Paul VI. Enclosed in those letters were copies of his Eight Passion Proteins with Care booklet.

Having campaigned tirelessly to the last, the Protein Man, as he was known, died in 1993. He was the poster boy of eccentric London street life. Became something of a celebrity. Was profiled in the British and foreign press, appeared on television and radio programmes, featured as an Oxford Street character on a tourist postcard. His ‘less passion, less protein’ message even featured in a design range by a London fashion house. And the ultimate validation, his famous message board – plus copies of his booklets and other papers – are now part of the Museum of London collection. Stanley Green and his message live. Though whether they’re heeded is another matter.

Good night from London.


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