Town Characters: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Like all towns, it is fair to say that Port Elizabeth had its fair share of “unusual” characters. These are some of the best known “personalities” during the 1960s and 1970s.  

Main picture: Ruthrapathy “Peanuts” Pillay with his wares


She was a middle aged woman with a hard bitten look and, you guessed it, violently red hair.  Her habitat was the Main Street and apparently South End.  She gave you short shrift in language as colourful as her hair if you stared at her or got in her way.  It was reputed that she carried a half brick in her handbag.  On the two occasions that I spied her I checked out her handbag to make sure of the scuttlebutt.  All I can say is that the jury is still out.  As a child clutching Mom’s hand on our various forays in Main Street I just thought that she was stern and eccentric as most adults seemed to be to me.  Only years later it dawned on me that perhaps she was a street walker to put it mildly.  Well, she wasn’t a lady of the night as the only times I had seen her was during the day, but although I was an inquisitive little shit, I enquired no further as I was scared of that handbag.

Carrots was a Mrs. Stroebel from a well respected PE family.

Grand Theatre in Main Street


We only knew him as Peanuts.  He was an institution at every cricket, soccer and rugby match shouting, “Peanuts!”  He was a specialist.  He had only one product line and that consisted of small brown paper bags of peanuts that he doled out from a hessian sack that was slung over his left shoulder.  He was a small man but extremely energetic as he bustled up and down the steps and although friendly and engaging, his eyes would be constantly roaming for opportunities.  Although each packet was only a cent or two, I’m pretty sure that he put all his kids through varsity and I really hope that they respected their dad for this incredibly simple little thing that he did and that he did with so much energy and dedication.

Ruthrapathy 'Peanuts' Pillay

Ruthrapathy ‘Peanuts’ Pillay

Sam the vegetable man

We might not have had the supermarket conveniences of today but we had the equivalent of Superettes.  Ours was Texairas at the corner of 2nd avenue and Cape Road.  The problem was that Mom like a lot of woman didn’t drive or, indeed, have a car to drive.  Enter Sammy the fruit and vegetable man.  I think every town had their Sammy.  I know my ex-partner, Gaye, also had a Sammy.  Sammy was an industrious Malay who owned a Ford F150 (or was it the F250) pickup truck.  He had constructed a wooden platform above the bakkie so that he had a double decker display of fruit and veggie.  He had his customers on every street and would either hoot outside or send a helper to knock on the door and would come past at least once a week.  In keeping his overheads low, he would total up the purchases on a piece of wood from a fruit crate or a piece of cardboard torn from a box.  Like ‘Peanuts’ I’m sure that he saw his family through against all the odds of Apartheid SA. 

Pavement Evangelist with Tourettes

When we were teenagers we would go to Town to see movies.  There was the Grand in Main Street, the Astra, an art deco theatre around the corner in Jetty Street, or 20th Century close by in Strand Street.   The bus back to the suburbs along Cape Road left from Main Street in front of OK Bazaars.  After a night at the movies we would patiently wait for the bus there but this unfortunately this made us a captive audience for some deluded idiot evangelist who tried to save us singlehandedly from our sins by shouting various quotes from the Bible that he clutched in his left hand and making dire predictions.  He would beseech us with outspread arms to repent of our sinful ways etc., etc. lest the wrath of God etc., etc. come down on our puny, sinful heads … you get the gist.  I always wondered how did he know what I had been doing in the dark of my bedroom the previous night, or the dreams that I’d had of the latest student teacher at school?

OK Bazaars

OK Bazaars

It was mildly irritating as we normally had to wait between a half an hour to an hour for the bus late at night.  Luckily, the main windows of OK were inset and there were two display islands on the pavement which one could move around to get out of his vengeful line of sight and pointed Bible.  The only thing that I got out of his evangelising was that if I had a sudden epiphany and ‘mended my ways’ that my god would not be his vengeful, loudmouthed and mean spirited god.  It would always be a relief when the No.10 bus hove into sight to take us to a higher place, namely the top of Russell Road and beyond.

Inside the OK Bazaars

Inside the OK Bazaars

It was bad planning if it was the last bus as he would hop on and continue his hounding harangue all the way to Newton Park.


Maybe they should not be included as they were not Port Elizabeth characters per se, but were also nationally known. Despite this caveat, I have included them in this blog

Tickey the Clown was a favourite at circuses, zoos and aquatic shows. His real name was Eric Hoyland

Tickey the Clown

Tickey the Clown

In addition, there was “Francesco” – South Africa’s true auguste. Traditionally that is a white faced clown with red nose and baggy trousers. Francesco’s sad face actually scared some people and they much preferred the antics of Tickey.

Post script: Auguste is a circus clown who appears in white makeup and follows a chiefly slapstick routine





  1. amazing i recognised peanuts Pillay immediately and remembered my father buying those nuts with their slightly oily skin and the blotches they made on the brown paper …..then remembered Carrots and seeing her and being warned not to stare by my mother . There was another character a well known “ducktail” who “terrorised” the main street and once scratched my uncles brand new Buick and walked off with his entourage scoffing ” Society !!!…..” as he casually left the scene…..will find out his name sure it will spark some reminiscences

  2. Wonderful. One day the unfortunate lady who was given the name because of the colour of her hair gave my cousin a Bible. Apparently the day before she had mistaken him for another young Marist Brother student who had been disrespectful towards her.


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