Alternative Running Role Models #1 – Leonard out of Butterflies

This month’s Runner’s World has a feature on “running heroes”, but for some reason, there was no mention of Leonard from Butterflies. Leonard was the first amateur runner I can remember appearing on TV. This was in an era when families regularly crowded around their televisions to watch duels between the likes of Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe. “Runners” were super-human, people that you were astounded by, not people you ever thought you might be able to emulate.

Butterflies was a BBC sitcom starring Wendy Craig as Ria, who juggled her role as a suburban housewife with a nagging feeling that maybe she was destined for a life less mundane. She lived with her dentist husband (played by Geoffrey Palmer, one of very few celebrities I’ve seen travelling on the London Underground) and two half-heartedly rebellious teenage sons. Ria spends two series contemplating the idea of having an affair with Leonard, a recently separated businessman, but as far as I can remember, never quite goes that far (hang on, I’ve got a vague recollection of a scene involving Wendy Craig, away from home, looking guilty, wearing nothing but a dressing gown…..quick, get on with the running related bit…)

You can find whole episodes of Butterflies on YouTube and fast forwarding through a few programmes, I can’t imagine the BBC will ever bother doing a re-run. The reason I was browsing Butterflies was because I was trying to find out how my hazy memory of Leonard running around the park compared with how he really appeared “back in the day”. There are no Google images of actor Bruce Montague plodding around, just a few latter day publicity shots and an ancient signed photo someone had offloaded on eBay.

My memory was of a podgy middle-aged man, huffing and puffing in a baggy shell-suit. The reality was that he was probably 5 years younger than I am now (everyone aged over 30 looked on the verge of retirement to me back in the 1970s and 80s). The podginess was imagined although he was certainly no beanpole. Leonard was also able to put on a burst of speed – check out how he zooms up the hill at 13:02 in this clip:

It was probably (thankfully) a pre-shell-suit era. Leonard actually had a nice line in (flared) Adidas tracksuits, slightly let-down by his failure to wear anything underneath – Leonard probably ran naked from the waist up on a hot sunny day.

His unique selling point as a runner was how he got to the park for his lunchtime workouts/failed seductions of Ria. He didn’t jog there gently as a warm up, he didn’t get the bus or drive. No, Leonard got his chauffeur to drop him off, who then had to wait (in the kind of vehicle you wouldn’t expect to be driven by a chauffeur) until his boss flopped back into the car, his fartlek ticked off on the training programme. You can see Leonard being delivered at the park gates by Thomas the chauffeur, as well as probably predating the concept of the “Santa run” at 0:58 here:

Leonard (surname unknown), chauffeur-driven park running pioneer, Alternative Running Role Model #1, we salute you.

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