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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Peter Wallage

I first stumbled across the name of 'P. Wallage' in some payment records that came my way. Under the pen-name Peter Bruce, he contributed a text story, "Race Against Time", to Boys' World in 1963. Also with an episode of the "Mini-Mystery" series. Not a big contributor but, being a completist when it comes to this kind of thing, the number of contributions doesn't really matter.

Digging around, I began to suspect that P stood for Peter. Peter Wallage was a writer on cars and car maintenance and repair who had been a journalist for over 40 years. Now retired, he continues to write about his hobbies of photography, cameras and camera repair and has his own website (now closed) where he chats about his interests. I dropped him a line recently to ask about his contributions to comics and... well, you can read what he has to say for yourself.

Peter was in the RAF for his national service in the late 1940s. He was married to photojournalist Valerie Wallage in 1954 and worked as a design draughtsman for Rolls-Royce. It was here that he began writing.
Most of my freelancing was non-fiction, mainly for hobby magazines. I freely admit I was hopeless at writing fiction short stories for adults, I got enough rejection slips to paper a room. However, I had long held the opinion that literacy among children in the 1930s when I was growing up was higher than it was after the war. Rightly or wrongly I attributed a lot of this to the written comics of the 30s and 40s. I speak from a boy's point of view but I suspect it was similar with girls.

At the age of about eight most boys had 'graduated' from picture comics like Dandy, Chips and Beano to the written comics like Adventure, Wizard, Hotspur and so on. They were full of stories with daring larger than life heroes who swashed their buckles and buckled their swashes in fine style. If you couldn't read fluently you couldn't follow the stories. Moreover they were well written with good grammar and syntax. Yes, they demanded what Somerset Maugham called "a willing suspension of belief" but that's been true of adventure stories throughout history and still is today.

My wife suggested I tried freelancing for boy's comics and magazines and gradually I began to get more acceptances than rejections. The potential market was quite large. As well as the established comics, mainly from Fleetway and Thomson-Leng, several publishers launched new magazines such as Eagle, Boy's World, Look and Learn and Finding Out.

I recall the story "Race Against Time" which I wrote for Boy's World. I don't remember the details but seem to remember that the central figure was a racing driver who was considered past his prime by up and coming younger drivers but who got the opportunity to show that he was still as good as the best, and better than most.

I never had a lot of success with Fleetway, but wrote quite a lot of stories for Thomson-Leng. They always paid on acceptance, and put the stories in whichever of their comics they thought it suited best (or which had a hole that needed filling). I also wrote a whole series for Finding Out. These were not fiction stories, they were stories about events in history told in a style to interest children. I remember writing about the start of the Victoria Cross award for gallantry, the pilot Jimmy Angel who discovered Angel Falls, Bleriot's flight across the Channel and numerous other events. The stories had to be historically accurate, but the writer was allowed to dramatise them to some extent, imagining the thoughts and emotions of the central character. I remember the editor described them as 'faction', a marriage of fact and fiction. Most of the boys stories were published without a by-line, but for publications that used it I adopted the pen-name of Peter Bruce.

In the 1960s, written stories in boys comics began to give way to picture-strip stories. I wrote picture-strip scripts for a number of Thomson-Leng publications, including some of their Commando booklet series but didn't enjoy it as much as writing words. More and more of my freelancing was for hobby and enthusiast magazines, mostly in the vintage and classic car field.
In 1964, Peter gave up design work to join Iliffe (which later became part of IPC) as a technical editor on the weekly newspaper Motor Transport. He was also editor of Car Fleet Management and freelanced 'in house' for journals such as Autocar, Thoroughbred and Classic Cars. Resigning in 1979, he became a full-time freelancer and at one time was contributing regularly to eight magazines, all non-fiction and all commissioned work using his own name. He was also freelance editor of The Automobile.

Since 1988, Peter has published dozens of books under the Wallage Reprints imprint, editing collections of repair and service notes from old publications of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s covering such diverse subjects as cars, bicycles, tractors, watches, sewing machines and cameras.

Writing for boys' papers accounted for only a very small proportion of the millions of words he penned as a technical and industrial journalist. Now in his eighties, Peter claims that he "seldom writes for publication any more, but it's true that writing is an addiction and writers never fully retire. I still enjoy writing on various forums and internet hobby groups."

Non-fiction
The Restoration of Post-War Cars. London, Batsford, 1979.
How to Restore Car Interiors. London, Osprey, Oct. 1983.
How to Restore Electrical and Ignition Systems. London, Osprey, Oct 1983.
How to Restore Body Decoration, Brightwork and Instruments. London, Osprey, 1987.
Ford Escort & Orion Service Guide and Owner's Manual, with Lindsay Porter. Hereford, Porter Publishing, 1995.
Ford Fiesta: Service Guide & Owner's Manual, with Lindsay Porter. Broomyard, Porter, 1995.
Metro: Service Guide & Owner's Manual, with Lindsay Porter. Broomyard, Porter, 1995.
MG Midget & Austin Healey Sprite: Step-by-Step Service Guide, with Lindsay Porter. Hereford, Porter, 1995.
Rebuilding and Tuning Ford's Kent Crossflow Engine, with Valerie Wallage. Sparkford, Haynes, 1995.
Kit Car Electrics. Blueprint Books, 1997.
Rebuilding and Tuning Ford's CVH Engine. Sparkford, Haynes, 2000.
Repairing and Restoring Classic Car Components, with John Wallage. Sparkford, Haynes, 2001.

(* My thanks to Peter Wallage for taking time to answer questions about his writing career. The photographs comes from his website—which has subsequently closed.)

2 comments:

Emma Beatrice Roberts (Peter's daughter) said...

Just to say that Peter passed away in December 2011, aged 83.

Steve said...

Thanks for letting us know, Emma. It's always sad to hear of someone's passing... another link to the past gone.