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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Perry's Picture Post part 6

Trying to do something a little different can occasionally result in major problems. On the changeover from Thunderbirds to Captain Scarlet, it was Bob Prior’s decision to have one half of the annual (i.e. 48 pages of the 96-page book) devoted to Thunderbirds while the remaining 48 pages should be given over to the new-comer who pranced around wearing the scarlet hat.

This raised the question of who should appear first in the book and who should be the runner-up? Well, this was where I came in. My idea was to have Thunderbirds occupying 48 pages of the book, which could then be flipped over and Captain Scarlet would also have 48 pages. Although it was a common format elsewhere in the book industry, there were still a number of wholesalers who returned their consignment of the books to the distributor, complaining that it had been bound incorrectly.

I wasn't the only adventurous designer wishing to break away from the norm.

It was around that time that Harry Fieldhouse of IPC Media launched NOVA. The magazine described itself as being “a new kind of publication for a new kind of woman”, and yet, it had more male readers than female. There was also little doubt that the in-house designers were doing their utmost to push their designs outside the envelope . . . but this ground-breaking trend almost sounded the magazine’s death-knell.

Virtually 100% of magazines display their main title at the top of the front cover. There is good reason for this as with so many periodicals being placed on display, newsagent vendors checkerboard the product they wish to sell in a ‘tiled-roof’ fashion so that although the lower half is hidden, the purchaser can still spot the magazine he or she is seeking. But some bright spark at NOVA broke this tradition and displayed the main heading towards the bottom of the front cover. Consequently, vendors didn’t know what to do – should they display the magazine upside down, or should they just ‘hide’ the magazine’s title – whatever, sales plummeted as customers failed to spot what they were looking for.

Perhaps it had been on the back of the photographic material I had been producing for the Candy and Andy storybooks that prompted Gillian Allan to ask if I would like to supply her with some fashion pictures for Lady Penelope magazine. It was all very simple: she would hand over one or two dresses on a Friday afternoon; over the weekend I would visit one or more of my ‘contacts’; and on the following Monday morning, I would take the exposed rolls of film to the processing laboratory that was housed right next door in the basement of Hulton House. The development of these colour films usually took around two hours (including the drying) and, so, after lunch, I was able to pick the processed films and take them into the Lady Penelope editorial office where Gillian and the designer who put the pages together could choose which ones they wanted.

My favourite ‘model’ at that time was Mandy Walls, a girl of about 15 or 16 who lived not all that far away in nearby Redbourn. She was not necessarily a striking beauty per se, but she had great charm and was so relaxed and natural when it came to posing in front of a camera that she was a sheer joy to work with. Perhaps I should have stuck with her, for I tried out one or two of her chums, and in comparison . . . well, let me just say that it was blooming hard going. It was then that I began to understand the differences between those who had the knack and those who clearly didn’t – something that put me in good stead a number of years later.

I was also pleased to employ another 14-year-old – not because she was a natural poser, but because she was the only daughter of Eric Kincaid. As a point of interest, Eric had married a woman who was a great deal older than himself . . . like six hours! Eric and Lucy Kincaid had been born on exactly the same day, the same month and the same year.

On the day I took the pictures, Eric was telling me that, only the week before, he’d had a VAT inspector come from Customs and Excise to check his books, and the man couldn’t believe that Eric could possibly produce the work he did while cramped in what had once been the kitchen’s walk-in larder! Eric didn’t think to enlighten me on where Lucy had opted to store their groceries now that Eric had moved in.
Not too long after I became part of the Century 21 Publishing team, Bob Prior asked if I would take the following day off and drive up to the Birmingham television studios, as it was from there that the Tingha and Tucker programmes were being recorded and transmitted. Their host was Jean Morton, otherwise known as Auntie Jean, and Bob thought it would be a good idea to have some photographic reference material close to hand.

Although I got to the studios mid-to-late morning, the programme wasn't scheduled for recording until mid-afternoon. There appeared to be no sense of urgency and, alongside Auntie Jean and some of the studio crew who’d hung onto every word she’d uttered, we’d munched through a nondescript light snack supplied by the in-house canteen. The star of the show related stories using the most disgusting collection of verbal filth, which the crew thought was terribly funny . . . whilst my opinion of this aging, scrawny bat had sunk lower and lower by the minute.

Glove puppets only come alive when someone’s hands are placed inside. Ahead of the recording, Tingha and Tucker – who had been lying dormant in a cardboard box – had as much sparkle as a moth-eaten doormat that had lain at the bottom of the dog’s sleeping basket for many a month. As for getting any reference shots, well there just weren’t any.

After lunch, in the hour before the recording began, the studio became more active as cameras were moved to pre-designated spots, marked by two strips of masking tape stuck in an ‘X’ on the floor. Up in the gantries, lights were adjusted and re-positioned; on-site painters touched up the odd place here and there; and Auntie Jean had had her hair washed, styled and was having a thick coating of make-up applied. While all this was going on, I carried out several checks on exposure levels and finding places to capture images without getting in anyone’s way. I thought to myself that, at long last, I could now take all the shots I had driven up from London for. But, no. Once again my plans were thwarted.

In the final seconds before the recording began, the level of studio lighting was cut to about 25% of what it had been. It was probably done to create a ‘soft-focus’ effect on the exceedingly tatty-looking puppets, while at the same time giving Auntie Jean a more youthful appearance by removing facial imperfections like worry-lines and crow’s feet. Naturally I could not use a flash and the ambient level of light was far too low for anything to register on the film without lengthy time exposures . . . so apart from enjoying the delights of the M1 motorway and a monotonous succession of cars’ and lorries’ rear ends, the day had been an utter disaster.

Following the takeover of TV21, Lady Penelope and Candy magazines by Leonard Matthews’ packaging company, Martspress, and, a couple of months later – in August or September of 1968 – the transfer of the book department to rooms in May’s Court, it was pretty surprising that our optimism for the future was as high as it was. We were still putting together new books like there was no tomorrow, and the fact that the Century 21 Production studios in Slough had closed its doors on 24th January 1969 almost passed us by without any of us even realising it.

It would be true to say that my involvement with Candy had taken a back seat. There were other things that kept me off the streets and photographically pretty busy.

For those of you who may not be entirely “in the know” on these things, in order to help keep unit costs down, books at times are often printed alongside one or more others – usually in multiples of two. Because of that, it was not unusual for us to be working on two, three or even four books of a similar type and size so that they could all be printed together. In the case of Alphabeat, there were certainly two other books – All About Cars and Action Girl (there might have been a fourth book, but if there was, I’ve totally forgotten what it might have been).

In regard to one of those books just mentioned – Action Girl – this is one that you might never  have heard of . . . and for good reason.

These books were printed in Rotterdam where my contact was Jacques Post. One week after I officially left Century 21 Publishing and had not yet become ensconced within the high-rise tower block of Hamlyn House), Alan Fennell asked if I might be willing to fly over to Rotterdam and cast an eye over the printer’s proofs prior to the books being printed. This I willingly did—on Wednesday, 11th June 1969, flying back the following day.

Now, before I go on with this particular tale, I need to bring in Howard Elson who had worked on TV21 from the very beginning. When the magazines were passed over to Martspress, Howard was transferred to the book department. I sent Howard a draft of all that I had written and he sent me a couple of additional items that I feel I ought to include:
After I left Century 21, I also made the journey to Holland (three times) to proof read the book. During one visit, Brian Jones of the Stones died and I was able to make a rapid correction to the copy of the Stones piece in the book.

As Brian Jones died on 3rd July, 1969, Howard must have travelled over to Rotterdam two or three weeks after I’d gone there. On Monday, 23rd June, I became employed at Hamlyn Books, based in Feltham, Middlesex, and it was a week or two after that, that Bob Prior called through to give me the devastating news. It would appear that through a documentation muck-up (although I dare say Bob had used far stronger words), the whole consignment of Action Girl books had been pulped and destroyed by customs officials.

I know for a fact that the Dutch printer was also producing hard pornography which, in Holland, was perfectly legal – you only needed to browse around the shops in Amsterdam’s red light district for proof of that. When I was shown around the print works prior to checking out the colour proofs, this pornographic material was being worked upon by technicians at another table. Maybe – just maybe – some “porn” had been included in the container along with our books. This is not a fact I can prove, but let’s call it an educated guess on my part.

Roger Perry
The Philippines

Coming Soon: in Part Seven, producing exclusive pictures for Alphabeat and All About Cars.

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