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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Perry's Picture Post part 8


Due to the demise of Century 21 Publishing (Books) in June, I’d been cajoled into having a three week “period of rest” before securing employment with Hamlyn Books. Hamlyn Publishing by this time had moved out of London and was now ensconced in a high-rise office block that had gone under the name of Hamlyn House. Upon arrival, I was pleasantly surprised to find that John Kingsford, Brian “Benny” Green and Chris Spencer – all of whom I had once worked alongside at 96 Long Acre – were already in situ and, as old hands, were magnanimous in helping me settle in.

At Hamlyn Books, I had again rather fallen on my feet, although I found the environment I was now in most depressing when compared to my carefree days on Girl and the three years I’d had with Bob Prior and all those others I have spoken of.

There were roughly 40 designers occupying the open-plan 8th floor of Hamlyn House, who were working on a wide range of titles from cooking and gardening to how to care for your pet. There was also a brand new series covering all sorts that went under the heading of Hamlyn All-Colour Paperbacks, plus the odd book thrown in for good measure on how to test your dog’s IQ!

Although I remained at Hamlyn’s for about fifteen months, I never acclimatised to their hierarchical system of Cowboys and Indians, which I did my very best to ignore. The Art Director was Roger Garland who was permanently holed up in his office along with his female assistant. It would not have surprised me had I discovered that she was in possession of leather underwear, ropes, handcuffs, whippy canes and other forms of sexual-inducing torture, and that she had been placed in charge of Hitler’s Nazi Youth Movement. I do know that Garland designed diaries for Letts on a freelance basis, but apart from that, I have no idea what he did with himself all day long (in fact, I’m not altogether sure that I really want to know anyway).

Under him was Studio Manager John Youe. Youe also remained permanently in his office from morn to night, but at least he had an assistant named John Howard who had a commanding position overlooking the department as a whole and who, presumably, passed on any morsel of news worth mentioning to his boss.

I actually got to know John Howard quite well for he and I soon shared driving and cars when going to and from work, until, that is, his carefree driving on a hot sunny evening with the roof folded down had ended up with much of the driver's side of the car sheered off and the two offside wheels becoming virtually square-shaped. It was a bit of a shame really as the spot he’d chosen was right outside “The Pantiles” nightclub and restaurant close to Bagshot on the A30, where war ace Douglas Bader had met waitress and wife-to-be Thelma Edwards. (Reach for the Sky with Kenneth More and Muriel Pavlow is one of my favourite movies!)

We then had the Art Editors, of which there were eight, who spent their days chatting amongst themselves and drinking copious amounts of tea or coffee. Installed on each floor was a tea/coffee/hot chocolate dispensing machine installed by the management and anyone with a thirst could help themselves to a plastic container of free beverage whenever they wanted.

My Art Editor from this little cluster of cowboys was Brian Cullen, a pleasant enough guy in his mid-thirties who popped pain-killing tablets by the box-load for a gammy leg he’d succumbed to several years earlier from a motor-cycling accident. By the odd way he walked and stood, it was clear that the damaged appendage was being held together with metal rods, leather straps and the odd spring or two. I first knew of Brian Cullen when ex-Eagle designer Ron Morley worked alongside him on Fleetway annuals, in the days when George Beal ran the section in offices above Covent Garden Underground Station.

In a side office adjacent to the Art Editors, we had Bill Brott whose job it was to buy all the art that went through Hamlyn Books and who received all the colour-corrected proofs as they came in from the various repro houses. The most endearing thing about Bill was his enormous nose, which dribbled unabated morning, noon and night. It came accompanied by a great deal of sniffing and a quick wiping from a very large white spotted red handkerchief (of which he must have had quite a good supply of).

And finally, tucked into a small corner – which wasn’t really a corner at all for it was actually halfway down the room, wedged between the window and an internal 18”-square supporting structure – were ex-Eagle designer Brian “Benny” Green and his assistant, John Kingsford. Kingsford had been Eagle Art Editor John Jackson’s Number Two all the time I worked on Girl magazine (you may remember that I spoke of John Jackson in Part One).

On the Tuesday – my second day there – Benny came over and asked if I would care to join both him and John Kingsford for lunch . . . particularly as he’d had an idea that he wanted to put past me. Benny was in charge of the Christmas Annuals Section, producing 24 books each year (an average of one book every two weeks), which for all intents and purposes was the same job I had been doing for the previous three years at Century 21 Publishing.

The three of us had gone to a small cafeteria in the nearby precinct during which time Benny had suddenly blurted out: “Hey Rog, how would you fancy having my job?” It was probably something he had been bottling up ever since he told his wife Amanda that I had come onto the Hamlyn scene. I naturally replied that I would be honoured to be given the chance and, going by the smiles all round, it would appear that I had given both Benny and John the answer they had been hoping to hear.

Following on from his days when he worked in the same office as Chief Sub-Editor of Eagle, Dan Lloyd and “Madge” Harman (this can be read in greater detail on “Bear Alley – The Men Behind the Flying Saucer Review” particularly parts 4 and 5 dated Thursday, October 31, 2013 and Saturday, November 2, 2013”), as a sideline, Benny had become the proud owner of an occult bookshop that was situated in Crystal Palace, just a few miles to the south of London. Benny knew that I could do his job standing on my head, and it was pretty clear that he had been keen to move on to pastures new.

During that Tuesday afternoon, Benny had not only given his boss Brian Cullen (and the Studio Manager John Youe) a glowing report of my past capabilities, but had also handed in his notice. Even more surprising was the fact that when he departed at 5 o’clock that same day, due to having been owed a fair amount of holiday time, it was with some sadness that I never saw Benny ever again – too late now as he passed away after having succumbed to an undisclosed short illness in October 2015.

Having been handed Benny’s job on a plate, I decided that it would be prudent if I laid down a few ground rules right from the very start. I’d said to Bill Brott (with Brian Cullen listening in) that at Century 21, I had commissioned all the artwork that had gone through my hands and that incidentals such as colour-correcting proofs had also been within my domain. With nods of agreement all round, they both conceded saying that with something so complex as Christmas annuals, perhaps it would be best if I carried on doing what I obviously knew.

Following his somewhat rapid disappearance from Century 21 Publishing, Bob Prior set up a packaging business along the lines of Leonard Matthews’ Martspress. But the two operations were as different as chalk and cheese. Whereas Matthews’ outfit had had a touch of class about it, the one Bob had run very definitely had been a far, far seedier operation for all sorts of reasons. First of all, due to the break up of his marriage, he spent most nights sleeping under his desk in the office. Secondly, during those times when he needed the assistance of a designer, despite me living in Farnham, Surrey (some 50-odd miles from the centre of London), it was still worth his while to drive out to my house where my wife Jenny had kept a bed constantly made up for any sudden arrival that he might wish to make—this being usually around 9 p.m. or 10 and when I invariably had to remain awake for half the night when all I really wanted to do was to go to bed and sleep!

One of his regular commissions was to produce a four-page tabloid newsletter for the Radio Luxemburg 208 Club. It was what they call a “premium product” meaning that the advertising revenue paid for the typesetting, the newsprint and the printing of it, so it had become a freebie, given away for no charge.

The printer Bob engaged had a small printing press situated about halfway down Ruislip High Street, and Bob had called in on his way to Farnham to iron out any problems that might have arisen. Now it just so happened that rain – strong enough to have closed nearby London Airport – had begun to tip down unmercifully, and a girl wishing to get home had backed her car off Ruislip’s wide paving area and the two vehicles had momentarily “kissed”. Through the torrential downpour, Bob had shrugged his shoulders and indicated to the girl that, with the rain being what it was, it wasn’t worth getting soaked for. So she drove off and Bob made to follow in the same direction. However, after little more than five or ten yards, the off-side headlight on Bob’s rusting mini fell out of its retaining orifice and, due to his car having run over it, the front tire became deflated within milliseconds. So Bob had no option but to get out and get soaked anyway.

In changing the wheel, the nuts had been so rusty that stud No. 2 had simply sheered of . . . and it was then that Bob decided to call out the AA, which he did from the printer’s office. After about two hours, the AA patrol-man finally turned up; took one look at Bob’s front wheel and said:

“I’m not touching that; its more than my job's worth!”

And with that, he got back in his own van and had driven off into the night.

So, with little or no option, Bob had to do the job himself and, fortunately, there had been no more sheering off of any further studs. But it did mean that he didn’t arrive at my house until nearly 11:00pm, which was when I’d had to start working on Bob’s freebie paper . . . and it was far from the type of design-work that gives me any pleasure.

Jenny had already turned in for the night and after fifteen minutes or so, Bob, too, had disappeared . . . into our downstairs toilet-cum-shower-room, where he remained for a good long while. I’d assumed that he was having dietary problems as he really wasn’t eating all that well, but had thought no more about it. It was a good thirty-to-forty minutes before he rejoined me at the dining table. Bob said nothing and I said nothing, and we left it at that.

A couple of years later, he decided to come clean. It would appear that Bob had been so thoroughly knackered that he needed to put his head down somewhere even if it was for only five minutes. He’d lain down on the floor with his head jammed between the toilet bowl and the shower tray and woken with a jolt just seconds before re-joining me. He’d been too embarrassed to tell me what had happened. It was rather silly really, as he could easily have gone to his made-up bed in the spare room . . . I wouldn’t have cared. It wasn't as if he was actually doing anything when he was with me.

(Incidentally, I apologise for the family shot below, but it's the only one I have of the dining table where I worked on Bob’s 208 Club freebie . . . however, may I draw your attention to the two bowls that Rae and Marcus are eating from; they are the bowls from the Candy and Andy set spoken of in Part Five) 

It must have been late October or early November that Bob called through to ask if I could meet him with my cameras at the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park. I know that it must have been about then as most of the leaves had already fallen from the trees. He’d come up with the idea of producing photo-strip stories whereby the individual frames were photographed rather than being drawn by an artist. Utilising the services of two “resting” actors (both in their early 20s), ultimately I produced a six-page dummy from the photographs I’d captured of the pair. It was a Boy meets Girl type of situation whereby the couple, having first met on the tree-top walkway (photographed at Battersea Park) had ended up by having a snack at the Serpentine lake-side restaurant.

With the presentation dummy now finished and complete with speech balloons, Bob touted the work around to various publishing houses including Fleetway and D C Thompson’s. And yes, editors were interested and yes, Bob did pick up some commissions, but with the idea now out of the bag (and free for all to use), the floodgates had opened and very quickly, dozens and dozens of teenage magazines had latched onto this idea. Soon after, everyone was doing very much the same thing.

As a sort of post script to all this – particularly having just spoken of The Serpentine – every two or three months, I had a strange individual call in to see me. He was an artist, but he’d supplied me with those very simple line drawings that one tends to see in cheap and cheerful colouring books. When he came – which was usually unannounced – he would hand over fifty or one hundred of these illustrations which I just added to the stockpile.

Mr Mayle was tall and thin; wore a shabby mackintosh both summer and winter, and trousers where the turn-ups were a good two-to-three inches above a pair of navy-blue plimsolls that clearly had seen better days. Much like Bill Brott, Mr Mayle always seemed to have a dew-drop poised upon the end of his nose, ready to drop.

Apparently, he swam the whole year round at the Serpentine alongside a group of his cronies, and he had been saying that, during the winter months, when feet and legs became numb through the intense cold, one had to keep a careful watch out that one hadn’t inadvertently kicked a submerged supermarket trolley, as if one wasn’t careful, you could easily bleed to death without even realising it.

Roger Perry
The Philippines

Coming soon: In Part Nine, one big step for mankind, the Clangers’ and lunchtimes with two-footed and four-footed friends in Richmond Park.

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