When I first wrote up Pat Nevin in November 2007, I knew almost nothing about him. I knew he was an Irish artist, widely travelled in Ireland, England and Europe, who produced painting, illustrations, posters and comic strips. To comics fans he is best known as the artist on 'Captain Starling', the George Beardmore-scripted strip in Girl (1951).
He had earlier produced illustrations for Eagle (1950-51) and his work can be found in Eagle Annual, Girl Annual and Swift Annual. Unfortunately, a search of the web for information turned up very little—and most of that concerning Patrick Kevin Francis Michael 'Pat' Nevin, (1963- ), the Scottish footballer, or Louis Pat Nevin (1907-1998), the Irish-Canadian author of Ireland: Where Time Stands Still (1973) and Ireland: Where Our Roots Run Deep (1987).
Now, thanks to Pat's daughter Fiona, I can present a rather fuller picture of Pat Nevin, also known to many as Paddy Nevin.
Paddy was born near the town of Ballymena in Northern Ireland on 17 March 1912 and was christened Frederic Walter Nevin. He was the sixth of seven children and his talent for drawing was noticed at an early age. By the age of three he was drawing soldiers and battle scenes that he copied from the newspapers. His father, Francis (an exporter of Irish cloth) encouraged him and made sure that he supplies of everything he needed for drawing but died tragically young when his son was only 8.
In 1929, at the age of 16, he enrolled at Art School and spent three happy years studying art. When the Tourist Trophy races came to the roads around Newtonards his lifelong interest in motor racing began. He met Malcolm Campbell and drew his blue Bugatti and became a familiar figure around the pits, recognised for his fast and accurate sketches of the cars, their drivers and mechanics. His oil paintings of the heroic battles between Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union attracted a lot of interest.
In 1936, Nevin decided to try for a job in the film industry in England and moved to London. He found work in nearby Elstree Studios as a set designer and was involved in Fire Over England (1937), with Flora Robson as Queen Elizabeth I, and The Lady Vanishes (1938), the famous Hitchcock movie with Margaret Lockwood.
In 1937, he landed a job with The Motor magazine as their motor racing artist. His first job wa to cover the Le Mans 24 hour race and his drawings were flown to England in time for the magazine's deadline. Nevin cover all the major Grand Prix and sports car races of the day, including events at Brooklands and Donnington.
His career was curtailed by the war. Nevin joined the RAF and was involved in Special Duties, working as a photographic interpreter in England and North Africa.
After being demobbed, Nevin settled in Pinner, Middlesex, with his wife, Angela, and became a freelance commercial artist. In his garden studio he created cover artwork and illustrations for many publications over the years; in addition ot the titles mentioned above he also contributed to Boy's Own Paper, TV Comic, Pippin and educational books.
In the 1950s, he was commissioned to paint several British Railways posters for Scarborough, Jersey, Brittany, Ulster and the South of France. He also painted posters for the Cunard Shipping Line.
"As a freelance artist, my father was constantly working into the night in order to meet a publisher's deadline," recalls his daughter, Fiona. "Smoking 40 Woodbines a day, on cold winter nights he would come into the house frozen with paint brush marks all over his face. Sometimes I was lucky enough to accompany him the next day to central London to deliver his work to the publication offices, which was always very exciting. If I could get a day off school as well I was ecstatic! A lot of his work in this field was not signed or credited to him. The original artwork was kept by the publisher.
"In later life my father retired from commercial art and painted seascapes and landscapes. He recreated the pre-war motor races he loved so much from old sketches and from his excellent memory. He enjoyed late celebrity when he was in his seventies and was featured in Classic Car magazine on several occasions. he was invited to the Brooklands race track and museum and donated a painting for their permanent exhibition."
Pat Nevin died at his home in Pinner on 25 April 1995, his death registered at Harrow under the name Frederick Patrick Nevin; his early paintings were credited to F. P. Nevin. After his death at the age of 83, an art gallery building in north London was named Nevin House in his honour.
Fiona is still discovering new work by her father; as she told me recently, "My father kept very few examples of his work."
For Pippin he worked on many television favourites, including Bizzy Lizzy, Camberwick Green, Ivor the Engine, The Pogles and The Herbs. "I am certain that he worked on The Woodentops as I have a photo of one of the comic strips," says Fiona. "Also that he worked on the Pogles—I have somewhere a letter from Oliver Postgate in which he discusses how he would like my father to draw his characters.
"These later strips were my father's bread and butter work—he did, I believe, struggle with some of them as he was not given as much freedom. He naturally was inclined to the subject matter of his earlier work—cowboys, adventure, secret service, motor racing, etc.—and his heyday was in the '50s and early '60s."
Smiley Roams the Road by Moore Raymond. London, Hulton Press, 1959.
A Book of Boys' Stories by Robert Moyes Carruthers & Nicholas Marrat. London, Golden Pleasure Books, 1964.
Cowboys and Indians. London & Edinburgh, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1964.
My First Geography Story Book by Jane Clarke. London & Edinburgh, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1964.
My First History Book by John Kennett. London & Edinburgh, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1965.
The Reluctant Nurse by Elisabeth Sheppard Jones. London, Golden Pleasure Books, 1965.
My First Book of Kings and Queens. London & Edinburgh, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1966.
(* My thanks for Fiona for the photograph of her father; 'Sumana's South Sea Isle' is from Girl Annual 2 © IPC Media; Boy's Own Annual and the endpaper illustration © uncertain; the sailing illustration is from Swift Annual 1962 © Look and Learn Magazine Ltd.; and 'Marvell of M.I.5. from Eagle Extra © Dan Dare Corporation Ltd.)
Update: 23 June 2008
Don Grant, whose father Gregor edited Autosport magazine in the 1950s and 1960s, has sent over the above watercolour painting by Pat Nevin. The car shown is the 1939 Imperial Trophy race winning Alta driven by George Abacassis and the painting is dedicated to Eba, Don's mother.