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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Roger Perry (1938-2016)

Roger Perry, an artist, designer, art editor, photographer and writer, who worked in the 1960s on  Eagle and TV Century 21 and in the 1970s on Countdown, died on Saturday, 23 July at 12:30 pm (local time) at his home in the Philippines. A day after celebrating his 78th birthday, he suffered a heart attack, brought on by an infection in his legs.

Roger was well known to the small hardcore of collectors interested in the history of comics. He had written a number of articles for Eagle Times and Roger and I began corresponding heavily in 2013 when I was researching my book on Boy's World. It was due to Roger's volumous notes that I decided that the next book to work on would be about Countdown, on which paper Roger's design influence was very visible.

During the research, on 8 November 2013, Roger – then living in Tacloban City on the island of Leyte – was caught up in typhoon Haiyan, which meant he was out of communication for some time, during which he had suffered the same deprivations of many of the islanders, with no electricity and little fresh water. After a spell in England, he returned to the Philippines where, a few weeks later, he was hospitalized by illness, his treatment including three operations on an infected leg and foot where gangrene had set in.

Despite bouts of infection and illness, Roger enjoyed reminiscing about his lengthy career designing, doing photography for and occasionally writing for comics and annuals. A comment I made that he should "write something about Charles Bowen" led to the two of us writing a multi-part history of "The Men Behind the Flying Saucer Review". More recently, Roger supplied two very lengthy series to Bear Alley ("Perry's Picture Post") and to John Freeman's Down the Tubes ("Eagle Daze", part 1 here). 

His willingness to reminisce about his days working for Eagle and other titles were greatly welcomed by those of us who have fond memories of reading comics in the days when comics entertained millions of kids every week. That said, Roger did not pull any punches in print and occasionally his brutal honesty had to be reined in if we were to avoid crossing the line into libel.

Even in his seventies, Roger embraced technology and his rambling, humour-filled e-mails could arrive with terrifying regularity – two more arriving while you were answering the first. He was not a big fan of Facebook (although he signed up) or the iPad, preferring his PC, which was a source of endless suffering, thanks to the sometimes patchy electricity supply and equally patchy internet access. More than once I received e-mails that had passed from Roger through three or four pairs of hands before reaching a town with a working internet cafe where it could be posted. Snail mail had an equally interesting journey with books sent to a friend who had to collect them – usually only after several visits and words with the manageress – from the post office.

Born at Mount Alvernia Nursing Home in Guildford, Surrey, on 22 July 1938, Roger Prölss Perry was the youngest of three children – the given name of Prölss deriving from the maiden name of his paternal German grandmother. His father, Eric Charles Perry, had been seriously wounded in the Great War having been gassed in the trenches and shot twice—the first through the jaw and the second in the groin. Although doctors gave him a life-expectancy of six months and had said that he would never be able to father children, on leaving Roehampton Hospital they advised him to take on work that allowed him to remain outside in the fresh air. Due to his rank of Major, ex-military personnel returning to civilian life were given assistance by the Government. At the time Roger was born, his father was running a seven-acre small-holding in Tilford (three miles south of Farnham, Surrey) with his wife, Violet Elizabeth Perry (née Appleby) and daughters Erica and April.

School for Perry began with “Miss Murrell’s” in Farnham, but with the Second World War now over, due to Eric Charles’ flawless German he was offered a five-year commission to act as translator at the Nuremburg War Crimes tribunal. The family moved to Broadstairs, Kent where Perry went first to Haddon Dean, run by a Miss Vyse, and then to Cliftonville College School, run by Reginald Llewellyn Freebairn-Smith (later to become Mayor of  Margate in 1962–1963). In his final report, Freebairn-Smith had said: “Roger has no brains ... but he has guts.” In response to that, Perry sat for just two O-Level exams—Art and Maths—passed them both thus giving him the perfect credentials for producing Painting-by-Numbers sets.

From September 1954 to March 1959, Perry attended the Regent Street Polytechnic School of Art close to Oxford Circus, the West End and the BBC, where he achieved the National Diploma in Arts and Design before commencing with a further year of study in commercial design under the guidance of Ley Kenyon DFC, noted for his writing, art and underwater photography, and lithographer Henry Houghton Trivick.

While still at the Regent Street Polytechnic under Principal P F Millard’s leadership, his secretary Miss Angel—having been contacted by Alfred Harwood, Art Editor of Farmers’ Weekly to say that “he was seeking an in-house illustrator to work in his studio”—gave Perry the message, suggesting at the same time that he could use her telephone. Five days later—on Monday, 9 March 1959—Perry commenced  employment on the 7th floor of Hulton House, 161-166 Fleet Street, London W1. Perry had been there for just five short months, but during that time, there had been a six-week-long national print strike and the government decided that Perry had been deferred long enough and needed to carry out his two years of National Service (August 1959 to August 1961).

Perry had been detailed with the trade of Nursing Attendant (Class II), but as he settled in, it became noted that his skills in art had not been forgotten,   It had begun with hand-written name-plates on desks and doors;  signs such as “No Entry” and “Keep Left” on notice boards utilising throat-swab brushes that had been “borrowed” from the medicinal cupboard (until such time the powers-that-be  began to realize that Perry seemed to know what he was doing);  followed by murals for the walls of the Officers’ Mess and on to designing and building carnival floats inside the rarely-used morgue for the two annual sports-day events.

The company (once known as Hulton Press, now called Longacre Press) contacted Perry during his final weeks in the R.A.F. with the offer of work as a layout artist (designer) at Juvenile Publications—the umbrella name for the magazines Eagle, Girl, Swift and Robin. He joined the team of three other layout artists (designers)—Bruce Smith, Ron Morley and John Kingsford—on Monday, 28 August 1961 where he quickly became Larry Line, “Eagle’s Roving Reporter” ... not that he physically went anywhere. He remained with Longacre until May 1966.

On the following Monday, Perry began work as Art Editor at Century 21 Publishing. As he says: “Yes, I suppose I could be described as a 'layout artist' but I commissioned art (Art Buyer), had total control over the art in all the books that went through my hands (Art Editor), kept an eye on Andrew Harrison and Bob Reed (Studio Manager), took photographs as and when needed (Resident Photographer) and generally made sure that everything was present and correct when it required being sent to the printer (Office Boy). Also (with the help of Linda Wheway), I came up with the ideas and photographs for five books (Author?). I remained with Century 21 Publishing from May 1966 to June 1969."

From Century 21 Publishing, Perry then went to Hamlyn Books (July 1969 to October 1970), and it was during the Autumn of 1969 that ex-Editor of Century 21 Publishing (Books) Robert T. ("Bob") Prior came up with the idea of producing photo-strips whereby the individual frames of a story were photographed rather than being drawn by an artist. Utilising the services of two “resting” actors, Perry produced a six-page dummy from photographs captured at the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park following on from which Prior had touted the work to various publishing houses including Fleetway and D C Thompson’s. With the idea now out, the floodgates had opened and very quickly, dozens and dozens of teenaged magazines had latched onto the idea.

For the next twenty-odd years, through Bob Prior and then through Theodore "Wil" Wilson (formerly with Syndication International), Perry produced hundreds of photo-stories – not only the photography but also the ultimate page design – for the likes of Suzie, Jackie, My Guy, Patches and a host of others. As he has said: “Finding the models was easy enough, having to scour through the mags on newsagents’ shelving to see where my work had been printed was quite another.”

Following his departure from Hamlyn Books in October 1970, Perry went to work for Bob Prior's premium packages for two months before joining Dennis Hooper, ex-Art Editor of Century 21 Publishing and now editor of Countdown magazine, in December 1970.

During his three-and-a-half years with the company, alongside his No. 2, Bill Kidd, Perry devised and became the magazine’s (now TV Action) investigative on-the-spot reporter (about four years before John Noakes did much the same thing for Blue Peter).

Perry remained with Polystyle Publications until November 1973 when he became Art Editor for Purnell Books, remaining with the publisher for eleven years until 1985. From then on, he operated his own public relations business. Due to his growing interest in the art and the close proximity of Bath, the nerve centre of the Royal Photographic Society, he achieved the distinction of Associate Member in 1987 for audio/visual presentations thus entitled him to display the letters ARPS after his name, although he rarely did.

During the final three months of his National Service tour of duty in 1961, Perry married Jennifer Edscer; they divorced in 1991. Perry, having had a life-long fascination for the Far East, moved to the Philippines, where he married Marilyn Gesmundo. He lived for 11 years on Cataduanes before moving a number of times recently following the typhoon. Most recently he was living with Raquelyn Navarro in the city of Naga in Cebu.

He is survived by his daughter, Rae. His son, Marcus, predeceased him after a long battle with cancer.

(* much of the biographical information, written by Roger, was originally posted 29 July 2013; revised 3 April 2016; revised again 25 July 2016.)


Mikeodee said...

Sad news indeed, especially as I’d kind of only recently got to know him, so to speak, through those reminiscences that had been run just a few weeks ago. Enjoying Countdown every week back in the 70s I suppose I gave little thought to what went into producing it but just accepted that this fabulous comic arrived at my newsagent fully formed once a week. Little did I think that more than forty years on I’d be enjoying the insights into the production process and, more importantly, the many characters involved. Rest in Peace, Roger.

Kid said...

Another link to childhood gone, although I never knew him. Odd that one can feel sadness at a stranger's passing. Really must get organized and buy that Countdown book of yours.

Chap O'Keefe said...

I made contact with Roger after reading his "Picture Post" series here, raising a couple of points in comments, and receiving his email address ... for which thank you again, Steve.

Roger wrote on June 23: "Hi Keith, what a wonderful surprise! May I first thank you for (a) taking the trouble to make a reply in the first place and (b), for making it nice and lengthy and chatty. I am sure that over the coming months, we shall be exploring much of what we remember of those days half-a-century ago."

We then corresponded busily, sometimes informatively, and always entertainingly, over the next few weeks. My last email from him was his seventh, on July 4. It ended humorously: "I live a life of having my head buried in the sand – someone told me the other day that Sir Winston Churchill had died! Amazing what one finds out eventually. Speak again soon. All the best. Roger." The email's subject header was "More Nonsensical Ramblings!"

Sad indeed to learn we will be hearing Roger's ramblings no more.