An interview with Dave Gibbons has just appeared on the Comic World News website in which he discusses his early family life and his introduction to comics. Interesting reading in itself but I was pleasantly struck with something he mentioned about his father. Dave's grandfather was a customs officer and used to move around the country. To quote Dave:
During my dad's formative years, when he was nine or ten, they were posted to Dundee, where they used to live in the big Customs House, which had lodgers. One of them was an artist who used to draw for D. C. Thomson. He was a guy called H. M. Talintyre, and he drew their nursery comics... he drew the adventures of Oojah, a circus elephant! My dad was clearly very impressed with this guy, who was something of a bohemian type and quite unlike a customs officer. he actually gave my dad one of his paintboxes, which I still have.Why this particular passage jumped out was that, a couple of months ago, I tried to dig out information on Talintyre without any great success. When Look and Learn magazine picked up the rights to Jack and Jill last year, one of the strips was a licensed strip entitled 'The Wonderful Adventures of Jerry, Don and Snooker' which ran for 203 episodes between 27 February 1954 and 11 January 1958. The character of Jerry the elephant continued in the form of 'Jerry's Jolly Jingles' for another seven months before the strip finally came to an end.
Jerry, Don and Snooker were all characters from a newspaper strip that dated back to the early 1920s when the Daily Sketch launched a 4-page children's supplement called The Oojah Paper. Oojah had originally appeared in a single-panel cartoon as early as 18 February 1919, but expanded to a full page on Saturday, 8 October 1921. 'Uncle Oojah, Don and Snooker' were the front page stars of the Saturday supplement which, the following week, became The Oojah Sketch and was to run until 23 November 1929, although the original pull-out section became 3 pages from 29 April 1922 and 2 pages from 22 July 1922.
Uncle Oojah was an elephant. More precisely he was the king of Oojahland who shared his adventures with a small boy named Don and a black cat named Snooker. As the strip developed, many other characters were introduced to Oojahland, including Fatherwangle, the Mayor, and his two sons, Jerrywangle and Jimmywangle. It was Jerry who was to survive to become the main star of the Jack and Jill strip, although both Don and Snooker accompany him and many other original characters, like Lord Lion, the head of the Armed Forces, Pa Piggins, the Prime Minister, and Furdiston Foozle, an inventor of marvellous, if unpredictable, devices.
Oojah, who was occasionally also known as Flip-Flap in the early days, survived the demise of the children's supplement in the Daily Sketch. As early as 1922, Oojah was the star of Oojah House by Flo Lancaster and soon had his own annual. A piano suite entitled Oojah-Land was composed by Montague Ewing in 1922 and a number of light orchestral pieces such as Uncle Oojah's Frolic and Uncle Oojah's Party were popular in the early 1930s. Oojah was also the name of a pigmy elephant who, in 1925, had his crooked front legs splinted to get them back into shape, and the name of a number of racing horses.
(An 'oojah', incidentally, is slang for a whatsit, a thingumabob or an oojahmaflip... something you've forgotten the name of. Uncle Oojah was meant to be a forgetful elephant. Later expansions on the word included 'oojah-cum-spiff', a phrase meaning all right or well ordered which was used thus by P. G. Wodehouse. I've got a feeling that it was also a dance step in the late teens, early twenties.)
The original artist of the Oojah tales was Thomas Maybank, actually a pen-name for painter and illustrator Hector Thomas Maybank Webb, born in Beckenham, Kent, on 29 February 1869 [[Update: See comments below]], the son of William (a glass and china dealer) and Annie Webb, who began his career as a surveyor's clerk but turned to illustration in magazines like Pick-Me-Up and Punch around the turn of the century. Maybank died on 27 March 1929.
Maybank was the artist for the first five Oojah annuals. With Uncle Oojah's Big Annual for 1927, a new artist was introduced in the shape of H. M. Talintyre, who would draw the annual for Collins throughout the 1930s (a new artist took over in 1940 and the last, in 1942, reprinted material drawn by Thomas Maybank many years earlier). A number of books published in the 1940s kept Uncle Oojah's name alive but a brief run of a new annual in the late 1940s, once again drawn by Talintyre, was to be the end of the characters.
At least for a few years. In the early 1950s, Basil Reynolds was involved in the creation of Jack and Jill, a new colourful nursery paper to be published by the Amalgamated Press. He was approached by an elderly gentleman who introduced himself as H. M. Talintyre and who wondered whether Oojah could not be revived again. Reynolds, who had been fond of Oojah as a child, supported the idea and new stories by the original author, Flo Lancaster, were commissioned and Talintyre went on to draw the new series for another four years.
Despite a career that lasted at least thirty years, almost nothing is known about Talintyre. I believe he was Henry Matthew Talintyre, born in Gateshead in 1893, who died in 1962, aged 69. To take us back to the beginning of these notes, Dave Gibbons offers enough clues in his interview for me to state that his father met Talintyre around 1922/23 in Dundee, at which time he would have been in his late twenties. He began working on the Uncle Oojah stories at around the age of 33, at which time the annuals were still published by the Daily Sketch. In 1930, Talintyre was living at Brierdene, Sedgecombe Avenue, Kenton, Harrow where, I believe, he remained until his death. (Talintyre is a relatively uncommon surname, derived from "of Tallentire", a township in the parish of Bridekirk, Cumbria.)
A final word about the author of these stories. Flo Lancaster was a pseudonym; the British Library list her works under the heading of "Ellen Wallis, later Lancaster" but I'm pretty sure this is not correct as I think it refers to Ellen Wallis (1856-1940) who was an actress and stage manager. 'Flo Lancaster' would appear to have been the working name of Mrs. F. Edwardes-Jones. She was, apparently, a prolific author of stories for girls' and women's magazines who began writing before the Great War and she was writing Oojah stories for Jack and Jill in the 1950s when actress Ellen Wallis had been dead for some years.
Oojah Books (by Flo Lancaster)
Oojah's Treasure Trunk, crammed with pictures, stories and games. London, Daily Sketch and Sunday Herald, 1926.
Uncle Oojah's Travels (series):
__The Princess of Persia, illus. Thomas Maybank. London & New York, F. Warne & Co., 1938.
__Uncle Oojah's Ostrich Farm, illus. Thomas Maybank. London & New York, F. Warne & Co., 1938.
Uncle Oojah, illus. H. M. Talintyre. Glasgow, Collins (Silver Torch ser. 47), 1944.
The Uncle Oojah Books. London, Haverstock Publishers, 4pts, 1946.
Uncle Oojah's A.B.C., illus. H. M. Talintyre. London, Haverstock Publishers, 1946.
(* Some of the above history of Oojah is derived from an article by Will Costain from Golden Fun 13, 1983. Illustrations are from Jack and Jill, 6 July 1957 and 5 January 1957.)