Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Fred Baker (d. 2008)

Another comics' great has passed away. Fred Baker was a scriptwriter who specialised in writing sports stories for Fleetway and DC Thomson for many years.

His career spanned over 50 years, starting in Stanley Gooch's department at the Amalgamated Press where he worked on Chips, Film Fun and Radio Fun. Eventually he became the editorial manager of Fleetway's teenage romance comics, such as Valentine, in the 1960s before turning freelance around 1966.

One of his earliest long-running strips was 'Skid Kids' in Buster (1966-71) but the 250 episodes he wrote featuring Simon Starr and Brainbox Cox paled against some of his other successes. Some of his strips lasted almost a decade: 'Martin's Marvellous Mini' in Tiger (1971-80?) and 'Tommy's Troubles' in Roy of the Rovers (1976-85); some lasted even longer, including 17 years' worth of 'Skid Solo' adventures for Tiger. 'Hot-Shot Hamish' served for twelve years in the pages of Scorcher & Score and Tiger before being teamed-up with 'Mighty Mouse' (already a six year veteran) in Roy of the Rovers where their combined talents saw them through another six years.

'Hot-Shot Hamish and Mighty Mouse' is a gem of a strip—something I mentioned only recently—and if any publisher is looking for a reprint they could do no better than take a look at this one. The combination of Baker's witty scripts and Julio Schiaffino's equally witty artwork made Roy of the Rovers a must-buy for me in the 1980s (and I wasn't even particularly keen on football).

However, topping even this was Baker's twenty years as the author of 'Billy's Boots'. From January 1970 until May 1990, Baker regaled comics' fans with the story of Billy Dane, whose extraordinary footballing skills came from an ancient pair of football boots that were once owned by soccer legend 'Dead-Shot' Keen. When he was wearing the boots, it was as if Billy was channeling Dead-Shot's talent. Of course, the stories tended to get even more exciting when Billy and the boots parted company and he was left with only his own meagre footballing skills.

For many years, 'Billy's Boots' was drawn by John Gillatt and, as with 'Hot-Shot Hamish & Mighty Mouse', this was the classic combination of the right writer and artist working together. Other artists helped launch the strip in Scorcher (including Colin Page and Tom Kerr) and other artists continued the strip in later years (Mike Western amongst them) but, for me, Billy was at his best in the hands of Baker and Gillatt.

Towards the end of his career, Baker also wrote for D C Thomson, his strips including 'We Are United' for Champ (1984-85).

Baker retired from writing in the 1990s and lived with his family in Cornwall. At the end he was suffering from Alzheimer's and died, on 4 June 2008, from pneumonia.

Barrie Tomlinson (former editor of Tiger and Eagle) has written a tribute to Baker which can be found at the Down the Tubes website.

(* 'Billy's Boots' © Egmont UK Ltd.)

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