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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Dick Millington (1933-2015)

Dick Millington, who has died aged 81, was the creator of one of Britain’s longest-running comic strips. The title, ‘Mighty Moth’, disguised a slapstick epic with the simplest of concepts: a man is tormented by the constant attentions of a moth and despite every attempt to dispose of it, his plans backfire, leaving the moth giggling and the man, simply known as Dad, thwarted. Like Wile E. Coyote, Dad found hundreds of inventive ways to squash, choke or otherwise dispose of this airborne annoyance; for its part, the moth seemed happy just to buzz around a nearby lamp, at first allowing Dad's attempts at insecticide to simply backfire but later actively turning Dad's plans against him, flying close to a policeman so that Dad is tempted to swing at the lawman with a sledgehammer or rewiring a moth-whacking robot so that it attacks its creator.

This weekly tale of man versus insect ran for an astonishing twenty-five years in the pages of TV Comic, its longevity all the more surprising as 'Mighty Moth' had no TV credentials. The author and artist of this epic 1,314-week battle was a balloon letterer on the Daily Mail with only one earlier comic strip to his credit, 'The Adventures of Fred Bear', which had appeared in TV Comic in 1955. 'Mighty Moth', which debuted four years later, was also to star in annual spin-offs of the popular weekly comic and two of his own dedicated specials.

Millington's association with TV Comic eventually led him to take on a job as sub-editor under Mike Thorn in 1964 and then as editor when Thorn was promoted to editorial director. Millington held this position until 1973 when he handed over the editorial reins to Dennis Hooper. This allowed him to take on a second regular strip, 'Basil Brush', whose adventures he charted, often in colour, for the next decade. Millington also scripted other TV Comic strips, including 'The Telegoons' (drawn by Bill Titcombe) and 'Barney Bear' and for eighteen years drew 'The Moonbeams' for Pippin, a companion paper for the very young.

Millington was born in Islington, London, in 1933, and, as the only son—he had two elder sisters, Cicely and Ena—he was named after his father Richard Frederick Millington, who had married Maud Daisy Baker in 1924. Millington's youthful love of comics was inspired by American superheroes and at school he created his own stories that could be sold to school chums at a penny a time.

For some time he appeared on stage as a stooge for his father, a semi-professional comedian under the stage name Billy Jiggs. Millington later said, "We were children's entertainers by day and on the working mens' club circuit in London and Essex—an experience that has subdued better men than me. Unable to overcome stage fright, I decided to retire from showbusiness and become a cartoonist—where, in high-circulation newspapers like the Daily Mail, one can reach a huge audience without them shouting back!"

Aged 14, Millington joined the staff of the Daily Mirror as a studio boy, rising to the position of letterer on the 'Buck Ryan' strip. After a period studying at St. Martin's School of Art of performing his National Service with the R.A.F., he went to work for the cartoon department of Associated Newspapers, producing gag cartoons for the Daily Mirror, Sketch, Weekend and others before going freelance in 1963.

Millington's work was not limited to TV Comic. After departing as editor, he also began drawing strips for the rival comics published by IPC, contributing 'Jolly Roger', 'Hover Boots' and 'Happy Families' to Whizzer & Chips, 'Chalky' to Buster, 'Ray Presto' to Krazy, 'Cheeky' to Cheeky Weekly, ''Oh, Brother' to Jackpot, 'Creepy Comix' to Wow! and 'Lolly Pop' to Whoopee.

He became a regular contributor to the Daily Express illustrating a feature by Bob 'The Cat' Bevan in 1983 and later wrote and drew 'Guinness Book of Records' for the Mail on Sunday and 'I Don't Believe It' for the Mail, the latter starring George Damper, a curmudgeon in the vein of Victor Meldrew, although in looks he resembled Dad from the 'Mighty Moth' strip.

Millington died on Wednesday, 4 February 2015, after an illness. He was survived by his wife, Jean (nee Whiffen), whom he married in 1954, three children (Stephen, Susan and Jane) and a grandson.

(* Photo via Daily Mail Online.)


Kid said...

Nice to see a more detailed remembrance of Dick Millington. I was surprised that other blogs took so long to mention his sad demise after I reported it on the 5th, as, in my view, Dick was a major talent and one of our finest cartoonists - as well as an excellent letterer. What are the chances of you doing a collected book of Mighty Moth strips, Steve?

Steve said...

I'm not sure a collected Mighty Moth would be a commercial prospect for a tiny publisher the size of Bear Alley. I'm not sure I could cover the cost of a license with my tiny print runs.

Kid said...

Copyright might be up for grabs, Steve, if anyone even owns it anymore. Does Polystyle still exist nowadays? Might be worth checking, as, even if you did need a licence, you might get it for a song. You could do it in magazine form rather than a book. Ah, well - only an idea.