A little further down the coast towards the pointy-bit of East Kent, a mile or two away from Pegwell Bay, where “Hoverlloyd” had their hovercraft terminal, there is a military airfield. RAF Manston was the home to another Bristow Helicopters unit – this one supplying an air-sea-rescue service for the coastline and beaches around the Isle of Thanet.
We had been shooting the feature ‘TV Action’s All at Sea!’ and it was a day when, in general, everything had gone well . . . “everything”, that is, if one ignores the fact that the submersible suit the fly-boys lent me had sprung a leak. This was something I only discovered while bobbing about in the sea about two miles off Broadstairs beach. Between the time they dropped me into the sea and hauling me out again some ten minutes later, I could feel this trickle that, as I was floating on the surface, ran down to the suit's lowest point . . . which happened to be my backside.
We must have used Bill’s car that day, for I recall the embarrassment of having to travel home – first from New Eltham (where Bill lived) to London and then from London out to Farnham by train – with a soaking wet crotch and a ring of white salt acting like a large circular target as my trousers gradually began to dry out.
From what I’ve written over the past couple of episodes, you might be led to believe that Polystyle Publications was populated by truly wonderful people, all with terrific personalities . . . and generally that was the case. It was a great company to work for and, from the boss-man at the top (Managing Editor Arthur Thorn) down to the office boy, these had been some of the nicest people I’d had the honour to work alongside. Unfortunately, due to the extra-curricular escapades that Bill and I had become involved in, an element of jealousy began rippling about the place. Some felt that we were having far too much fun, going off to Brands Hatch to drive racing cars or spending a day at sea on a three-masted brigantine called The Royalist.
The Royalist’s captain had obviously been ordered by someone higher-up the chain of command to allow Bill and I to step aboard and this had affected his plan to immediately set off for the Bay of Biscay. It was abundantly plain that he despised our presence and, despite us having been on board from around 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. – which was when we were dumped upon the quayside at Gosport – we were not once offered anything to eat or to drink. Not even a mug of hot, sweet tea to while away the hour while the captain, his crew and the twenty or so trainees sloped off for their midday sustenance. Nope . . . we were totally ignored!
Because of this, plus the sudden death through stomach cancer of Bill Kidd, which came as a bitter blow to us all, for he really was a wonderful man to work alongside, and the announcement that TV Action was going to be amalgamated into TV Comic . . . well, let's just say that working at Polystyle Publications had changed for the worse. Don’t get me wrong, TV Comic was a great magazine, but it was far beneath my creative capabilities. Perhaps Sergeant George Garside of the Royal Signals was right, after all. Perhaps I really was “a toffee-nosed snob!”
With Bill Kidd having gone to the great big publishing house in the sky, Danny Fox admirably filled the gap as assistant art editor. At about 19 or 20 years old, Danny was the youngest of the team. He truly was a smashing lad, always very obliging and extremely polite and always willing to help out whenever he could.
Due to Bill’s death, Danny was obliged to come over from the other side of the room and take Bill’s place at the desk that butted next to mine. While we worked at putting the last few copies of TV Action together, it was quite normal for us to aimlessly chat about this and that. At one point Danny asked where I had worked previously. Proudly, I’d told him about my days working on the Eagle. “You remember the Eagle comic?’ I asked enthusiastically. “No, not really,” he replied in all sincerity, “I was far too young to read it.”
So why did Countdown fail? Well, for starters, the printing contract with Sun Printers of Watford had been for twelve months only and the magazine had been obliged to alter its image from around issue 53. Secondly, the wholesalers had been very twitchy about Countdown for a number of reasons – the main one being the inclusion of Gerry Anderson’s supermarionated characters and the fact that the Art Editor of TV21 was now the Editor of Countdown – the trade looked on it as a mid-Sixties clone.
When Century 21 Publishing collapsed, the gentlemen of the wholesale trade had had their fingers burnt pretty badly due to having bought huge stocks of “Project SWORD” toys that they couldn't shift.
Let us assume that a wholesaler had advanced orders for 1000 copies of Countdown from the newsagents they supplied. To make sure that he didn’t have any copies left on his hands, he orders just 975 from the distributor (Argus Press). The 25 disappointed readers who didn’t get their copies, might or might not re-order. So the following week, the total order coming in from the retailers is a little less – let’s say 980 – and the wholesaler once again had reduces his order from Argus Press to 960. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to work out what the likely result was to be after a few months. The readers were certainly there—some just weren’t able to get the copies they’d wanted and would turn to something else.
The really odd thing is that fifty-odd years on, despite having worked on Project SWORD, I probably know more about it now, thanks to such websites as Moonbase Central, than I did at the time. I will have to admit (although I cannot offer a plausible reason as to why) that I really wasn’t all that interested in the venture. I really ought to have spoken about this earlier on, but as they say, “Better late than never!”
I do recall vividly being asked by either Dennis Hooper or Angus Allen to take a load of portraits that had been meant to allegedly represent the crew. Most of these shots were captured on the roof of the City Magazines building.
an interview by Shaqui Le Vesconte.
As a matter of passing interest, if you possess a copy of the Project Sword annual, or can lay your hands on one, you'll see various stills of various kinds used among the line illustrations. These stills look suspiciously like bits culled from all sorts of sources, to me. From other Anderson productions, and – in a couple of instances – from 2001 - A Space Odyssey!Angus’s recollections are almost 100% correct, but the West Indian’s image was actually captured with a 200mm lens while he walked down Fleet Street and he'd known nothing about my illicitly grabbing his portrait; the Indian featured had worked as a cleaner-up and sweeper at the film studios in Slough; and the red jumper we are all seen to be wearing belonged to my assistant Bob Reed (who probably grabbed the shot of me—it was not taken by remote control). Now back to the story I had been speaking of a little earlier.
Also, in two places towards the end of the annual, we had the idea of putting in biographies of main characters in the stories, using photos of real people (no matter that the likenesses varied somewhat from the arted characters!) Running through them, in sequence, we had Roger Perry (our art editor, annuals – who also took the photographs; his one by remote control), then Dennis Hooper (Chief Art Editor), then me, then a West Indian guy Roger pulled in off Fleet Street, then Laurie Kuhrt, one of our subs, then Tod Sullivan, assistant editor, then another bloke (an Indian also culled from the pavement), then a chap on City Mags called Len Flux. The final pair of portraits were Howard Elson, a TV21 editorial man, and then some Canadian guy who worked with us for a spell, and whose name I can't remember. Thus, at least some of us were immortalised!
One great sadness about the closure of a magazine (or where it is being amalgamated with another paper) is having to lose certain long-standing contributing writers and artists. One of these artists was Brian Lewis.
His mode of transport had seen better days, too, for at one time it had been either a General Post Office van or one the GPO had used for the telephone side of their business. By the time I saw it, it had been re-painted by hand in a dull, flat mid-grey.
But for all this, Brian was a dedicated man, always took his work seriously, always supplied good value for money, and always delivered work on the day that he said he would . . . all of which I discovered to my delight when I began to commission him to work for me on Countdown. He probably knew of me years before I’d ever heard of him – for he had been one of the band of artists who had illustrated “The Roving Reporter” series for Eagle, in which I was depicted as the investigative reporter Larry Line.
In Part Eleven, I mentioned that I had come across Brian when he was producing Quo Vadis-type illustrations for some outside seedy outfit that Bob had probably found. The English translation of quo vadis is “Wither goest thou?” and I rather think that at the time when TV Action was about to amalgamate with TV Comic, both Brian and I had also become temporarily “lost”.
So just before lunch on the day I have in mind, Brian had arrived at our offices – still driving his old, beaten-up, hand-painted ex-Post-Office van – and it gave me no pleasure to tell him that I could no longer offer him work and that the magazine was dying on its feet. In order that we might drown our sorrows, the two of us walked to a pub fifty yards down the road, and it was there that he had asked for my advice.
“Brian,” I uttered confidently and calmly, “you really need to get yourself an agent.”
“What?” he blurted out, all but spraying me with a mouthful of Light Ale. “Those so-and-so’s rob you of twenty-per-cent of everything you earn! Hmph! No thanks!”
“Yes, that’s quite true,” I’d answered slowly and casually, “but isn’t it better to have eighty-per-cent of a lot of money, rather than holding onto one-hundred-per-cent of bugger-all, which is precisely what you’ll be earning pretty soon now?”
Despite being onto his second pint, he saw the logic in my words and asked who I would recommend. I gave him the names and addresses of three, but had suggested that he try Dennis Bosdet at Linden Artists first.
Well, the bottom line was that it wasn’t all that long before Dennis was informing me that Brian had already done a job for The Daily Telegraph Colour Supplement, and that he was doing enormously well and bringing in loads of money. The funny thing was, it wasn’t too long after that, that Brian Lewis’s wife Betty – who had been a qualified accountant – was also being employed full time at Linden Artists, so it all worked out rather well . . . even if I do have to say so myself!
On one of his visits, and for the second time in three years, Dennis Bosdet called in with the specific intention of passing on the information that a publishing company called Purnell Books was on the lookout for an Art Editor (and quite possibly a couple of dozen other positions – Editors, Sub-Editors, designers and the like although he didn’t actually say).
A small nucleus of staff remained to help run the show (mostly those who had lived in the direction of Maidenhead anyway) so, by the time I arrived to take up my new post, there were probably thirty or forty books that had been stockpiled and needed to be worked upon. It was all very orderly – both the written copy and whatever art had already been commissioned and delivered was neatly wrapped up in brown-paper and piled up in readiness for me to tackle as and when I could get around to it.
85% of the staff had walked out and were now strutting around with placards alongside other pickets or just laying asleep in bed – I really had no idea what they did or didn’t do, nor did I care. On my first day, I had been placed into a large room that would normally have accommodated 14 or 16 people and, having taken down the first brown-paper parcel, had just got on with the work in hand. Although I was on my own, apart from Purnell Book staff members with whom I’d had to liaise – Michael Thomas and Sue Parker, I had two visitors that day.
The first was a youngish lad – perhaps five or ten years younger than me – who came into the room without knocking and had entered into a conversation which, to be honest, I could well have done without . . . I needed to concentrate and all I wanted to do was to get on with putting the book I had chosen into some sort of order. He asked:
“Are you coming to the meeting tonight?”
I looked up. Having had my concentration thoroughly disturbed by this bad-mannered intruder, and responded somewhat grumpily, “What meeting?”
“The Union meeting, of course” he replied, thinking that I really must have known all about it.
“No. I don’t go to Union meetings – I never have done and I don’t intend to start now.”
“Then I shall have no option but to fine you,” he said smugly.
With my blood now boiling unmercifully, I came back: “If you try to do that, Sunshine, then you can stuff your effing Union. I don’t go to Union meetings and I never have done. What went on here before I came along is none of my business. Now, piss off and leave me alone – I have a job to do and I’d be obliged if you let me get on with it. You're beginning to more than irritate me!”
With that, he was gone and I never saw the fellow again. But I have often wondered since whether this had been a set-up to test my loyalty towards my new employers.
Coming Soon: In Part 14, my second visitor delivers some news that absolutely stuns me . . . and I'm not easily stunned!