Sunday, June 30, 2013

Mary Elsy

I have just noticed that Mary Elsy passed away earlier this year. She is perhaps best known as a travel writer, but I knew of her because she briefly worked on The Children's Newspaper in the early 1960s.

Born in Hampstead in 1922, the daughter of Albert Edward Elsy (a court photographer) and his wife Ethel Jeffrey (nee Forster), she was educated at Lymington House School, Hampstead, and Kingsley School for Girls, Hampstead, before attending Oakley Training College for Teachers, Cheltenham.

She was a teacher at state schools in Littlebury, Essex (1947-48), and London (1948-49) before teaching at a private school in Hampstead (1949-51). She worked a variety of odd jobs and as a freelance writer during the 1950s whilst travelling extensively throughout Europe.

She was associated with the Realist Film Unit (1957-58) and an assistant to script writer at Associated Rediffusion (1958-59), before becoming a sub-editor on the Children's Newspaper in 1960-62. She subsequently worked as an editorial assistant for B.P.C. Publishing (19563-64) and Evans Bros. (1965-66) before becoming children's book editor for Abelard-Schuman in 1967-68. From 1968, she worked as a freelance writer

She contributed to the Sunday Telegraph, Christian Science Monitor, Travel, In Britain, My House & Family, Elizabethan, Nursery World, Odhams Children's Encyclopedia, Observer, Voyager, She, Art & Antique, Illustrated London News and the the BBC.

For the latter she wrote a number of children's TV shows, including The Bus That Wouldn't Budge (17 March 1954), The Bed That Ran Away (Welsh Regional, 26 May 1955), The Adventures of Hetty the Hat (Welsh Home Service, 1 December 1955).

Elsy commented to Contemporary Authors:  
My parents' business/home stood opposite the main Hampstead Public Library, which was very convenient for me when a child, as I was a great reader ... I started writing when a teenager, gave it up for a period, and started again when I was a teacher. I wrote a large number of children's stories and tried my hand at novels, but unfortunately for me, it was a bad period, because it was not long after the war and there was a shortage of paper; there were also few magazines to sell them to. I suppose writing eventually became a habit, and/or it was necessary for me to have some form of self expression.
    My motivation is self-expression. I like to write, and would have liked to be an artist. I believe in internationalism and like people, but don't always practice what I preach. I often change my mind. I don't believe in dogma, but in pragmatism. I find life interesting, but am not very clear why I'm here.
    I am not sure what sort of message, if any, I am trying to put over. Certain things, like hyprocrisy and injustice, make me angry, and I am somewhat cynical, but I would never presume to try to reform the human race. 
Mary Elsy lived for many years in Finchley Road, Hampstead, and her funeral was held at Golders Green Crematorium on 3 April 2013.


Travels in Belgium and Luxembourg. London, Andre Deutsch, 1966.
Brittany and Normandy. London, Batsford, 1974.
Travels in Brittany, with Jill Norman. London, Merehurst Press, 1988.
Travels in Normandy, with Jill Norman. London, Merehurst Press, 1988.
Travels in Burgundy, with Jill Norman. London, Merehurst Press, 1989.
Travels in Alsace & Lorraine, with Jill Norman. London, Merehurst Press, 1989.
Pedals and Petticoats. On the road in post-war Europe. Chichester, Summersdale, 2005.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Bill Keal

Bill Keal's connection with comics was as an occasional contributor to  various titles, beginning, I believe, with TV Express Weekly, where he wrote a series of short stories during 1961. After penning episodes of 'Hand of Fate', 'What Would YOU Do?' and a couple of 'Mini-Mysteries' for Boys' World, Keal next turned up in Eagle as the regular writer of 'Roving Reporter' and, later, 'Bids for Freedom'.

Keal was better known on Fleet Street as a photojournalist working for newspapers, latterly as a sub-editor on The Times, and as a keen angler. He was a regular writer for the angling press in the 1960s, particularly Angling Times. "His stories of the small streams and rocky falls had the authenticity of having been lived and when one read his work you were carried back into the countryside as by no other writer," wrote "T.W." in an obituary (The Times, 10 November 1972). He was secretary of the Red Spinner Angling Society and wrote a couple of books on the subject of fishing.

William Derek Keal was born in Brixton, London, on 8 August 1931, the son of William Henry Keal (1902-1976) and his wife Kathleen Mary (nee Baker, 1911- ). He was evacuated to Devon during the war, where his love of the countryside and of rivers blossomed. His favourite fishing, which he became smitten with in the 1950s, was for carp and by 1962 he had caught a number of double-figure fish, and eventually achieved the carp fisherman's dream of a 20-pounder.

He was married in Wood Green in 1956 to Shirley Patricia Munday (1935-1999) and had three children, Lynn (Chamberlain), Carol (Sellwood) and Lewis. Keal and his family lived in Woolhampton, Berkshire. He died on 6 November 1972 in a road accident, aged only 41.

(* Photo is taken from the Carp-Talk website, which includes Bill Keal in its Hall of Fame; Boys' World © IPC Media.)

Friday, June 28, 2013

Comic Cuts - 28 June 2013

I took a short break from Boys' World last weekend to help put together a book for a publisher over in Holland whom I've been associated with for a couple of decades. The Don Lawrence Collection have put together some gorgeous books since 1989 when Don Lawrence: The Collection volume 1 appeared as a beautiful black, leather-effect hardback, to which I contributed a little piece introducing the character Karl the Viking. In 2008, almost twenty years later, the DLC published Karl in a 4-book box set in a slipcase. Between 2004 and 2010 I also worked on two 12-volume series reprinting The Trigan Empire and translating Storm, most of it into English for the first time.

There were one or two other books along the way, including a couple entitled Don Lawrence—The Legacy. These were sketchbooks containing some of Don's sketches and roughs, from pencil scribbles to colour roughs to thumbnails for stories that were never fully told. It was aimed at the Don Lawrence completist but there was some fascinating material, such as 13 pages of the original outline for Storm's ninth adventure, which Don both wrote and drew.

Although the published story was very different, it's interesting to see that one scene that survived all the drafts was to have Storm fighting Ember. In the early draft it was due to her drinking from a lake of red water; in the finished book, a poisoned dart causes her blood-lust. The end result was the same: a close encounter between Storm and Ember.

The latest book includes some close encounters between the two of a rather more adult nature. The new book deals with some of Don's erotica and includes works he produced as a way of relaxing and getting away from the anodyne strips he produced for children. Many of them – The Hermit and the Virgin, Naughty Nursery Tales – remained unfinished and unseen by even Don's closest fans, so the book offers a rare insight into the mind of one of Britain's most talented artists.

Due to its subject matter, the third volume has been given the title Boundaries, because Don often liked to push them and even cross them. Unfortunately, many of the images aren't suitable for Bear Alley but I will try to sort something out by way of a preview elsewhere.

The next Bear Alley Books book, a history of Boys' World, is heading in the right direction but this week it was at a snail's pace. Regular readers of Bear Alley have had to suffer me fulminating over the various attempts we've made to have the house insulated. After two attempts at the tail end of last year—both thwarted by last-minute cuts in funding—we so nearly made it last week, only to fall at the last hurdle. The workmen arrived to do the job but couldn't get their van down the driveway.

Attempt number four took place this Monday with a different, smaller van that also almost didn't make it. A few branches had to be removed where they were overhanging the drive and the trees took the opportunity to dump half their needles. I always thought trees either lost their leaves in autumn. Ours seem to be like dogs, shedding their coats during the summer.

Apart from that everything went like clockwork—I was completely wound-up by the end of it. I spent a few hours of Tuesday dealing with the mess and most of Wednesday distracted by the aches and pains caused by too much sweeping and shoveling on Tuesday. The joys of getting old!

That said, my attempts to get myself a little fitter I'm sure are helping. My back has always played merry havoc with my life, but I've noticed that the walking (I'm still doing roughly 2 1/2 miles a day) is strengthening the muscles around the base of my spine; carrying heavy shopping bags didn't seem such a problem last Saturday. I still need to up my game if I'm to lose any significant amount of weight but I feel I'm at least facing in the right direction, even if I haven't taken that first vital step!

Incidentally, I failed to photograph the final giraffe on Saturday because it was raining and I spotted our bus at the stop as I was heading to Firstsite take a snap. Hopefully I'll get to it next week.

But, to get back to Boys' World briefly, I'm now 5,000 words into the introduction with a further 18,000 or so words of notes. I'm thoroughly enjoying the research, which is taking me down some odd alleyways—as it always does—and providing me with far too many distractions. As if I need them.

My random scans this week are recent  purchases. Look how varied these are. Maybe I'm feeling a bit jaded after looking at quite a few recent crime covers with silhouetted figures against a wooded background or a road stretching out into the distance. It disrespects the author to wrap up what could be a year's worth of writing with a cookie-cutter cover.

'Three Men in a Boat' takes a break over the weekend while I cover a couple of people who have come to light while I've been doing my Boys' World research. The strip will be back next week.

Answer to 'What Would YOU Do?': The best thing our photographer can do is to ease himself gently down so that he lies full stretch along the main rope. By doing this, he distributes his weight evenly over a large area, rather than concentrating it on a small section. Inching slowly forward by this method, he might be able to reach the bank before the bridge collapses. If the worst happens, his chances of swinging to safety on the ropes will be greater.

(* Boys World © IPC Media.)

Three Men in a Boat part 6

(* artwork © Look and Learn Ltd. Reprinted by permission.)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

35 Years of Judge Dredd (video)

A fine precis of Dredd's history and importance although I have to disagree with Brian Bolland's statement that there hadn't been any science fiction in comics for 20 years. 2000AD's immediate predecessor, Action, had 'Spinball', which is a straightforward SF yarn about a futuristic sport. My own comic of choice had 'The Steel Claw' (an invisible man), 'Kelly's Eye' (invincible time-traveller), 'Mytek the Mighty' (giant robot ape), 'Kid Pharaoh' (an Egyptian pharaoh awakened in the modern world), 'Adam Eterno' (a castaway in time), 'Sergeant Strong' (a victim of cosmic rays) and 'Star Trek' (based on the TV show), amongst others. Champion was launched as a science fiction comic in 1966—as I pointed out in the introduction to the Hurricane & Champion index.

Three Men in a Boat part 4

(* artwork © Look and Learn Ltd. Reprinted by permission.)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Monday, June 24, 2013

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Three Men in a Boat part 1

I'd intended this as a nice way to celebrate the arrival of summer. We've just had the summer solstice and when the notion of running this strip popped into my brain, it was actually a nice, bright, sunny day. Cleaning up the artwork this morning was to the patter of rain on the roof and the clouds are still black and threatening.

So maybe I should say that rather than celebrating summer, I hope you'll enjoy this adaptation of 'Three Men In a Boat (Not Forgetting the Dog)' to make up for not having a summer. This is what summers used to be like in the old days before we managed to clog the atmosphere up with CO2 at 400 parts per million; cold water from melting ice is pushing through the North Sea, the Jet Stream is now funnelling through the Mediterranean, which is why we're getting really unpredictable weather. The summer of 2012 was the wettest summer on record and, despite the predictions of the Daily Express, it was not the "Coldest winter in 100 years" but the 43rd coldest... which means it was pretty average.

This adaptation originally appeared in Look and Learn in 1979, part of a run of very good adaptations of classics often drawn by Bill Baker or, as in this case, by C. L. Doughty. I make no bones about being a fan of Doughty – I even edited a book about him last year – but I think that, by the time you've had the pleasure of sailing down the Thames in his company, you'll be a fan, too.

(* artwork © Look and Learn Ltd. Reprinted by permission.)

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Captain Edric Vredenburg

Edric Vredenburg: Thriller writer who turned to writing and editing books for the very young and who, as ‘Father Tuck’, was as familiar as Santa Claus on Christmas Day.

Originally published 22 June 2013, this essay has been greatly expanded for inclusion in Forgotten Authors Volume 1, now available via Amazon in both e-book and print formats.

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Amazon DE | Amazon FR | Amazon ES | Amazon IT | Amazon NL | Amazon JP | Amazon BR | Amazon CA | Amazon MX | Amazon AU | Amazon IN

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Amazon DE | Amazon FR | Amazon ES | Amazon IT | Amazon JP

Friday, June 21, 2013

Comic Cuts - 21 June 2013

(Answer at the bottom of the page.)

We had fun last weekend. And when you read "fun" please read it as if sarcasm is visibly dripping from the type and pooling at the bottom of your computer screen.

If you have a memory better than a goldfish and you wandered through these parts of the world wide web about seven months ago, you'll know we were having some problems getting the house insulated. We went to three companies, were measured up twice and whenever we got close to getting the work done, the company supposed to be doing the job had their funding cut.

Having discovered that grants are still available for this kind of work, our landlady thought she'd try again. About four weeks ago we were measured up again by another company. This time it looked very promising because they did a risk assessment check and we had to sign all sorts of coulourful forms. We were given a date (Monday, 17 June) and a time (morning, between 8:30 and 12:30) and all we needed to do was to arrange to have someone come around to remove the plastic roofing slats on what our landlady calls the conservatory and what we call the laundry room – a lean-to at the back of the garage/office which means part of the outside wall of the house is now inside. And they need the plastic roof slats removed because they're not safe enough to walk on and they need to drill holes high up in the actual wall.

The first problem we had was getting someone around to remove these plastic sheets. The usual handyman guy is on holiday so the job went to somebody else who proved impossible to get hold of and, when I mentioned this to our landlady, she said "Well, he sounded a bit pissed when I talked to him." Turns out he'd taken our phone number down wrong and, when I eventually got hold of him, he insisted on calling me Richard.

Problem two was that when he said he'd phone back ten minutes later, he didn't. Nor did he phone back the rest of the day or the next day. And I couldn't get hold of him on the number I had been given. Again, messages were sent via the landlady who assured me on Saturday that everything was OK.

Finally we come to Monday. The guy due around at 8:00 am to remove the roof doesn't turn up. The guy doing the loft insulation turns up at 8:15 and makes a damn good job of stuffing the roof full of insulation. A job well done. He finishes at 9:00 and I phone the chap about the roof. Finally get through to him at 9:15. He tells me he has passed the job onto someone else and they should have been around on Saturday to assess the job. Didn't he come round? He'll try to track the guy down and find out when he's due.

9:30 am. The guys doing the walls turn up but can't get their massive front wheel drive van down the driveway. There's a discussion about maybe parking at the top of the drive, but it's a blind corner marked out with double yellow lines. So, no, they can't do that. They leave. The company who have sent them will call me when they have figured out what they can do... which is, basically, to send a smaller van!

Eventually I get a phone call from the company to rearrange the job for next Monday. And after that, I hear from the guy who was supposed to sort out to roof who tells me there was a misunderstanding. Really? Ar you sure incompetence isn't part of the equation? After all, you couldn't get my name right or my phone number right. You didn't have the sense to phone back to get the right number to make arrangements. And when you did get the right number (because I phoned you and gave it to you), you never called back. Not ten minutes later. Not ten hours later. And if it had been up to you not ten days later, probably.

Now that I've got that off my chest...

Ask me how I'm doing on the next Bear Alley book... go on... ask.

I'm doing OK. The various elements are all coming together. The main index is almost complete; I have contents for annuals (except one spin-off), so I'm almost ready to do the creator index and title index. I'm busy writing up the introduction which, with notes, has just tipped 20,000 words, although a good chunk of that is a breakdown of each strip by storyline. I have my feelers out as far as Denmark, Greece and Italy seeking information.

Giraffe news! I have now found all but one of the town centre giraffes that have invaded Colchester. I published ten last week and here are another six. Number 17 I will hopefully have for you next weekend.

You'll notice that one of these photos is not nearly as good as the others. Which company do you think has gone out of its way to spoil the pleasure everyone is having with these magnificent beasts? Step forward Williams and Griffin. Artist Jenny Leonard has produced an absolutely gorgeous giraffe, which Williams and Griffin has hidden away. Marks & Spencers have theirs in the entrance to their shop, which is bad enough. To get to "Jungle Jenny" (pictured above) you have to go to the third floor where the giraffe can be found at the back of the restaurant. It's impossible to photograph because you would be interrupting people's meals, as I was when I snatched the hurried shot below. You can't even get a decent head on shot because you're shooting into the light.

This is the most contemptuous, wrong-headed treatment I've seen meted out to these fabulous creatures. They're meant to brighten up the town centre and generate interest in the zoo. They're not for cynical exploitation, forcing people to walk through your shop; and think for one fucking second about the schoolchildren (and their parents) who have been running around town trying to photograph as many giraffes as they can. Oh, and I forgot to mention that these misanthropic bastards have also placed one of the smaller giraffes in their children's department?

You see, Williams and Griffin, what's happening now is that you're getting bad publicity for your shitty treatment of what is meant to be a fun way to publicize Colchester Zoo and raise money for conservation through Colchester Zoo's wildlife charity, Action for the Wild. If I was Colchester Zoo or artist Jenny Leonard I wouldn't be very happy that a shop has hijacked their giraffe for its own greedy, grasping ends.

Now that I've got that off my chest...

Tomorrow I'll be taking a peek into the life of Captain Edric Vredenburg to see what I can discover. And after that it's a terrifying void as my powers to see into the future have deserted me.

Answer to 'What Would YOU Do?': There is only one thing the fighter pilot can do. Sweeping down out of his dive he flies alongside the V.1., maintaining the same speed. Then, he gently manoeuvres his wing-tip under the wing of the deadly bomb. With a gentle pull on his stick, he turns his plane away, his wing whipping the V.1. over. Its delicate gyro-compass thrown off-course, the bomb hurtles earthwards, to explode harmlessly in open countryside.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Photos of Old Wivenhoe

Back in September 2010 I published a couple of photos: one a scene taken from a book of pictures of Wivenhoe from the past and the second a recreation of how the same view looked today.
The first pic. shows the Park Hotel (left) with a horse-drawn wagonette or brake standing out front. The hotel was built in 1863, although the picture, looking down the High Street, was taken in 1905.
Above is how the same view looks today. The hotel became a pub which has now closed; out of shot just off to the left of the picture it is obvious that there has been some building work going on and the former bar has been converted into a coffee shop. We haven't been in yet, but it seems to be quite popular.
Since writing the above we have been into the "coffee shop" – actually a very nice little restaurant called Jardines. I also noticed that Google haven't updated their "street view" for years and this was the scene when their Google car came down the High Street in July 2009.

Anyway, I thought I'd try again with another scene. One of the pubs in the area has a number of old photos of Wivenhoe and I occasionally try to snap one. The photos are never perfect because they're behind glass and I've managed to get some light reflected. But hopefully it's good enough.

This scene is further down the High Street (the road in the above pics) towards the quay. In the foreground is a furniture shop and, a couple of doors further down, is the Greyhound pub. The road leading off to the left is Queens Road and, almost opposite the Greyhound, on the right, is Clifton Terrace, where Dave Wallis lived.

The third picture above is the eerily similar shot from July 2009. Just shows you how little changes over the years and how little damage Mel and I have caused since our arrival in July 2010. No craters, no angry mobs... we really need to try harder.

(* Google photos are © Google)

Commando 4611-4614

Commando issues on sale 20th June 2013.

Commando No 4611 — See Paris And Die!

By Summer 1944, the Allies had broken out of the Normandy beach head and the race for Paris was on. The Convict Commandos were at the head of the advance — sent in to make sure the city wasn’t levelled.
   For once, Jelly Jakes was pleased with their mission; he’d always wanted to see Paris. Mind you, he hadn’t banked on seeing it as he hurtled earthwards from the top of the Eiffel Tower!

Story: Alan Hebden
Art: Benet
Cover: Benet

Commando No 4612 – Run To Freedom

In 1968, a series of reforms known as The Prague Spring loosened the iron grip of communism on Czechoslovakia. Looking forward to this new beginning, Marek Kaldova — an RAF avionics expert — returned to his native Czechoslovakia after twenty years in exile.
   Things didn’t go smoothly, though. The Russians invaded and Marek found himself on the run from the KGB who were desperate to uncover his priceless secrets.
   Help was at hand, in the form of British Secret Service operative Sergeant Bob Carter, but even he would have his work cut out on the Run To Freedom.

Story: Alan Hebden
Art: Rezzonico
Cover: Janek Matysiak

Commando No 4613 — Spy In Battledress

The Commandos were tough, dedicated men who had risen from the funeral pyre of Dunkirk to hit back at the Nazis with blazing tommy guns and a brand of courage that was unique. Their motto…United We Conquer!
   But there was one man who mocked that brave motto when he crept ashore on raids with his Commando mates. They all knew him as “Mitch” Mitchell, but German High Command knew him better as Leutnant Hans Reister of the SS.
   And what the Commandos didn’t guess was that each time he was leading them straight into a German ambush…


A traitor amongst Commandos? Not only would the man himself have to be bold, but the author of his tale would have to be similarly brave. Sustaining a story of treachery amongst a series of raids where the spy would have to avoid shooting his countrymen takes a lot of ingenuity. Fortunately for us, Eric Hebden succeeds admirably. And he manages to confound our expectations, too.
   Alvaro, who did a score or more of the early Commando covers, sets the scene for the story and between his covers, Amador does a fine job of carrying the tale along with strong black and white work — even when he’s supposed to be drawing a red hat.
   All in all a surprising yarn…for all the right reasons.

Calum Laird, Editor

Story: Eric Hebden
Art: Amador
Cover: Alvaro
Originally Commando No 89 (October 1963).

Commando No 4614 — A Pack Of Wolves

The three men were part of a band of Italian bandits, a pack of wolves who roamed through the mountains to make a fat profit while their war-torn country crumbled about them. There were other similar groups in the area too, but this lot had by far the strangest leader of all…an eccentric history lecturer from England!


Some people might think that they know exactly what to expect from the pages of Commando. But every now and then comes a story that plays with those expectations and ultimately turns them around.
   A Pack Of Wolves is a case in point. Instead of a fearless Tommy we have an utterly despicable one. Expecting a villainous German? Well, here’s a noble and honourable one. And when we meet the characters who we think might be the eponymous Pack Of Wolves — we meet another pack of them soon after. Nothing is quite what it seems here. And this memorable tale is all the better for it.  

Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: Allan Chalmers
Art: Gordon Livingstone
Cover: Jeff Bevan
Originally Commando No 2192 (June 1988), re-issued as Commando No 3660 (September 2003).

Friday, June 14, 2013

Comic Cuts - 14 June 2013

I shall try to keep vaguely to topic for a few minutes. I've spent the whole week reading through and making notes about the strips appearing in Boys' World. It's a long-winded job, which means that other than saying my notes currently run to about 18,000 words, I haven't anything to say that I won't be saying in the book.

I do, on the other hand, need some help with Boys' World Annual. I have listings for the contents but I'm missing some cover scans and a few examples of pages from inside for the following: 1966, 1967, 1968, 1970, 1971, 1972. For some reason unknown, I only have three volumes (1964, 1965, 1969) to hand and I'm sure I had more.

If you think you can help, drop me a line at the address below the photo (top left) and I'll try to spread the workload.

With that "news" out of the way I'm going to talk about giraffes. Yes, giraffes. These giraffes...

Colchester has been celebrating the 50th anniversary of its zoo and to promote the event a number of 7-foot high giraffes have turned up around town and other locations in Essex. Smaller giraffes have found their way into shops, but the larger ones, dotted around the High Street, the Castle, a few retail parks and elsewhere, have become quite a talking point. Grown ups are having as much fun as their kids trying to track them down. And, being as childish as the next person – especially when that next person is Melissa – I was scooting around town trying to find as many as I could last Saturday.

To be honest, I'd forgotten all about the promotion and spotted my first giraffe and was filled with wonder at this startling random act of art. Even when I realised it was a promotion and I was buying into what was in essence an advertising campaign, I was still overjoyed with each new discovery.

Some of them are brash and colourful, some beautiful and serene, others thought-provoking but mostly they are 7-foot high giraffes brightening up our otherwise dull summer. We've spotted eleven so far and I'm hoping to track down one or two more tomorrow. I'll let you know if I do.

Ulysses continues his voyages over the weekend and into next week.


Click on the above pic to visit our sister site Bear Alley Books