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Monday, August 10, 2015

Fred Bennett

I've always liked Fred Bennett's artwork. I was not really aware of many of the artists who worked on boys' papers – my research tended to be into the authors using the limited resources I had available to me. However, I've seen a fair number of boys' papers over the years, enough to have spied a few artists that I particularly like.

I probably first saw Bennett's artwork on Union Jack as I have been a fan of Sexton Blake for many years. Bennett was, however, also to be found elsewhere, notably in Chums and The London Magazine. His boys' adventure illustrations were to be found in Halfpenny Marvel, Big Budget, The Boys' Friend, Boys' Herald, Crusoe Magazine, Nelson Lee Library and Champion – for which he produced the debut front cover. John Jukes, a prolific artist himself, said of Bennett: "He ranged widely with his work ... I well remember a classic week when I came across a Bennett in my father's Punch, a full-pager in the Penny Magazine of some comic pirates, a Jack, Sam & Pete series in the Marvel and a sketch in the Daily Mail advertising Dunlop tyres, I think they were. At the time he seemed to be all over the shop."

His work wasn't universally liked. John Jukes considered Bennett as a great favourite. "I liked his unusual style and when he illustrated Jack, Sam & Pete yarns you always used to consider they were all the better stories for it." John Medcraft, on the other hand, took the opposite view of his efforts in Halfpenny Marvel: "Fred Bennett perpetrated the illustrations to the first few titles, very poor stuff, his characters were nondescript and his conception of the aboriginal inhabitants of South America and the Philippines was ludicrous."

Bennett was also an illustrator for The Scout and was the Official Artist at the 1929 Boy Scouts' World Jamboree.

Frederick Stanley Bennett was born in London in 1876, the son of Henry George Bennett, a lithographic draughtsman, and his wife Sophia Elizabeth (nee Winn), who were married in Islington in 1873. They had seven children, six of whom survived childhood, namely: Henry G. (1874), Frederick Stanley, Norman Charles (1878-1958) Laura Sophia (1881-1967) Jessie E. (1883) and Olivia Alice (1885-1974)

Frederick grew up in Stoke Newington and later in Hampdon Road, North Haringay [fl.1901], and Spencer Avenue, Bowes Park [fl.1911] with various members of his family. He had begun his career as a solicitor's clerk after leaving school at 14, but soon after turned to lithography, following in his father's (and elder brother's) footsteps. His first illustrations began appearing in the late 1890s and, around the turn of the century, he joined Amalgamated Press as a staff artist.

His work was enjoyed by many of the older fans of boys' papers, especially Len Hawkey, who collected photocopies of Bennett's Union Jack illustrations (some of which found their way to me, forming the basis for this little series!) and appreciated what he described as Bennett's "seemingly effortless style, impeccable line, always brimming with action."

His illustrations also appeared in comics, including Illustrated Chips, Merry & Bright, The Jester, Puck (dating back as far as the very first cover) and The Favorite Comic.

Although he was already 39 years of age, Bennett enlisted on 10 December 1915 to fight during the First World War. He was called up in May 1916 and served with the 6th Battalion, The Buffs (East Kent Regiment) from 1917, promoted to Corporal in France in 1917 and then to Sergeant in 1918 ahead of his return to England.

Bennett continued to work for Amalgamated Press throughout the inter-war years, towards the end of his career producing covers and illustrations for Modern Wonder, Wild West Weekly, Chums Annual, Arthur Askey Annual and Sexton Blake Annual.

Some of this artwork was published posthumously, as Bennett died in Palmers Green, Middlesex, on 13 September 1939, aged 63. He left his effects to his sister, Laura.

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