Ron Embleton’s first painted strips
by John Wigmans
Almost two years ago, over at the ComicsUK forum, I raised a question regarding Ron Embleton’s first fully painted strip. This was the beginning of some in depth discussion with Phil Rushton and Steve Holland. Now that Ron Embleton’s Wulf the Briton: The Complete Adventures has been published, I thought it high time to add some information and new scans to the original post.
1957 was a halcyon year for Embleton for it also saw him blazing forth, for the first time in full colour, on the front page of the new Express Weekly comic with Wulf the Briton.and a few paragraphs further down
At about the same time  Embleton painted an Arthurian strip, entitled 'The Story of the Boy King Arthur', for the nursery comic, Playhour. This finely painted, three part strip ran across the colour centre pages of the comic in August 1956 and was one of his earliest works to be signed in full: ‘R.S.Embleton’.These inconsistent details about his early artwork made me wonder which of these could be considered to be his first full colour strip. So I did some research in the issues of Playhour in my collection.
Playhour was a beautifully printed British photogravure weekly with full colour covers and centre pages published between 16 October 1954 and 15 August 1987, a run of approximately 1,700 weekly issues. The comic was aimed at the nursery age group and, in a style by that time quite old-fashioned, avoided the use of word balloons common in contemporary British comics.
In May 1956, Playhour began featuring a series of colourful centre-spread adaptations of classic fairy tales and folk tales, including 'The Story of the Sleeping Beauty' (drawn by Portuguese artist E.T. Coelho) and 'The Story of Cinderella' (illustrated by Italian artist Nadir Quinto). Most of the early stories were illustrated by foreign artists, but at least three were done by Ron Embleton. The majority of the adaptations were scripted by assistant editor David Roberts.
'The Story of the Boy King Arthur' was indeed published in the Summer of 1956, on the full colour centre pages (4 August—1 September; 5 [not 3] episodes). A few months later the readers of this nursery weekly could feast their eyes on The Story of Beauty and the Beast (1 December 1956—5 January 1957; 6 episodes). This strip had ‘R.S. Embleton’ written, or rather drawn all over it too.
As Embleton set about the rescue mission [to revitalise Wulf], it was in fact not his first encounter with Wulf and his cohorts, as he had provided the artwork for an earlier eight page story which would eventually see print later that year in the Express Weekly Annual [for 1958, published September 1957].The above quote from Wulf the Briton: The Complete Adventures (p.7) implies that this short story might have been done before Embleton got stuck into Wulf on a weekly basis.
The Annual strip appeared shortly before another fully painted strip in Playhour: 'Tales from the Arabian Nights, No. 1: Judar and his Brothers' (5 October—30 November 1957; 9 episodes)
So his earliest full colour strips seem to be, in chronological order of publication:
1) 'The Story of the Boy King Arthur', Playhour, August/September 1956
2) 'The Story of Beauty and the Beast', Playhour, December 1956/January 1957
-) 'The Story of the Babes in the Wood' (alterations only), alterations to the original drawings by Jesus Blasco, Playhour, March 1957 (1st and 2nd instalment, but perhaps other episodes too?)
3) 'Wulf the Briton', Express Weekly, from May 1957
4) 'Wulf the Briton' (short story), Express Annual 1958, September 1957;
5) 'Tales from the Arabian Nights, No. 1: Judar and his Brothers', Playhour, October/November 1957
As a special treat: two pages from Fleetway’s Playhour Fairy Tales (British Library: 1968?; other sources: 1976), with a newly adapted version of 'The Boy King Arthur'. At least one of the illustrations was especially drawn for this book, but did Embleton do this himself? Compare the largest picture on page 32 with frame 6 of the original story…