|Derek Pierson at the Cheshire Cheese in 2006|
Even before his hospitalisation, Derek was fiercely anti-Tory and argued passionately against the privatisation of the NHS and the imposition of an unjust contract on Junior Doctor. These were topics that dominated his posts on Facebook, although other shared posts revealed he retained his wicked sense of humour even in adversity.
Derek’s career spanned several decades in comics and he made many good friends, whom he was happy to meet and correspond with. To his surprise, a younger generation of fans also began contacting him and he graciously helped where he could. I met Derek in 2006, having been invited to a pub get-together of former Fleetway staff and he later told me, “To be honest I can't believe how much interest is shown in our world of comics from those days. I wish I had kept a diary and noted some of the landmarks along the way, as I lettered my way (to pay the mortgage and feed the kids) through some of the masterpieces being produced every week for the various comics and mags I did work for.”
Born in Woodford, Essex, on 22 November 1938, Derek James Pierson was the second son of Henry John Charles Pierson, a ship’s joiner working in construction, and his wife Madeline Elizabeth (née Luckman), who were married in West Ham in 1934.
Derek attended St Barnabas Secondary School, Woodford Green, leaving at the age of 15 to work in a variety of jobs—at a bakery, an insurance office in Holborn and at Foyles Book Shop’s warehouse in Charing Cross Road. In 1955, and in order to find himself a more prospective career, he approached the Youth Employment Bureau, through which he obtained a post as a messenger boy in the postal department at Hulton Press.
At the age of 18, when a vacancy opened up, Derek was able to join the art department responsible for Eagle, Girl, Swift and Robin, honing his design skills as Hultons paid for him to attend St Martin’s School one afternoon a week and for two evening classes a week in typography and design at the London School of Printing in Black Hill. Realising that his talent did not lay in illustration—“I couldn’t draw to save my life!” he would later admit—he switched to a further evening course in magazine design. Work in the art department also involved making good artwork that had been editorially changed, hand lettering titles—one of his favourite tasks—and hand-lettering balloons, a task Derek was later to specialise in.
In 1959, and with wedding plans in the air, Derek joined Express Weekly after receiving a better offer from Beaverbrook Newspapers, only for the paper to fold less than two years later. Derek began freelance lettering for Fleetway Publications on the War and Battle picture library titles and early issues of Buster, but, now married, had to seek full time work with Bristow Helicopters at Redhill Aerodrome ordering spare parts for aircraft, and with a local engineering firm as a progress chaser.
Finding the work as dull as ditchwater, he jumped at a chance to join Odhams Press, working in John Jackson’s art department on Eagle, Girl and Boys’ World and later found himself cutting and pasting of American strips to make them fit the British format for the Power Comics titles managed by Alf Wallace. Wallace, notorious for his indecision, caused many a late night: “He used to change his mind so much on the text in a balloon that sometimes the area of the correction(s) stood up proud from the surface of the rest of the artwork by millimetres.”
Following the demise of the Power Comics, Derek returned to Fleetway working on Jinty, Sandie and other girls’ titles before heading “over Blackfriars Bridge to Faulty Towers” to work for Whizzer & Chips and other humour titles under the management of Bob Paynter.
Derek was married to Rita Shubrook in October 1960 and they enjoyed over 50 years of happy marriage. For most of that time they lived in Hornchurch, Essex.
Rita survives him, as do their children, Gary and Jacki, and a number of grandchildren.
(* photograph: Fraser Gray)