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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Perry's Picture Post part 15

I need to confess that in the 1950s, I had been weaned on MAD magazine and, in the 1960s, we had Willie Rushton’s Private Eye, which was also truly innovative. It was to be several years before Monty Python’s Flying Circus pushed the humour envelope even further. It is still spoken of forty years on.

Whether you consider my Art Editorship on Countdown to have pushed its design outside the envelope or not is your choice, although I rather think that the overall look of the magazine was a little out of the norm. Most comics of that era were pretty conservative in their overall design with the format being unchanged week after week after week. Along with Bill Kidd, I tried to break that mould by attempting to bring about a surprise so that the reader was never quite sure what would be coming next.

With the magic of the Monkees Annual still flowing through my veins, and rather wishing that I still had Andy Harrison as my assistant (neither 'zany’ nor 'humour’ were in Ruth’s or Blodwyn's vocabulary), I decided to take time over one – Top Pop Scene – with the aim of transforming it from being an ordinary, bog-standard, page after boring page collection of publicity stills of pop stars and groups, and turn it into something just a tad more exciting.

Working sometimes in half darkness – as we were now being hampered by the government’s enforced three-day-week and only had the luxury of electrical power on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays – I did what I could to push the boat out. Instead of typeset captions, I hand-lettered them using my very own crazy pica-style typeface; I inserted odd, jokey comments and pictures that had little or no relevance whatsoever to the pop scene, such as snippets cut out from Middle Eastern and Chinese newspapers; on an article featuring Mike Batt, I’d turned the whole page upside-down . . . just as one would find a bat hanging when it slept at night (or do they sleep during the day?); and although the text had been pre-set in yard-long galleys, these were cut up – sometimes individual words – so that when the text got close to the bottom of the page it did a 90° turn to the right and ran sideways along the bottom of the two-page spread.

When completed, I took the layouts in to Mike Thomas for his approval. He was ecstatic, and with a huge smile and his eyes popped wide open, he shot off at high speed to show Charles Harvey – the top gun at Purnell Books. While walking the 10 yards between the two offices, Mike’s excited shout – “Charles, if you have a moment, you really must have a look at this!” – was loud enough for all to hear. It would seem that I was beginning to make my mark.

I was with Purnell Books for eleven years and it is virtually impossible now to remember all the books that passed through my hands or even whether I contributed to the cover and/or the book’s insides with one of my grabbed shots or not. Purnell Books produced between 225 and 250 books every year, and, looking back after forty-odd years, it comes as a bit of a surprise at times when I suddenly spot a cover that I recognise.

Where on earth I got the ball from for Purnell's New Encyclopaedia of Association Football I cannot say. I might have borrowed it from one of the sporting shops in Maidenhead before getting artist Brian Edwards to illustrate the club badges and cups, for he was one of those brilliant artists who was in the habit of producing illustrations the same size that they were going to be printed.

Sticking a piece of flat artwork onto a spherical surface had been met with a couple of problems. However, the topmost surface of a piece of art-board will peel off nicely if coaxed and there was a new spray adhesive for artists around at the time – probably full of ozone-destroying propellants for it was a few years yet before we knew about CFCs, HCFCs and Freon gas. The adhesive we used was called Spray Mount and it took care of sticking down most things.

During 1977 and 1978, Purnell Books produced two Jim’ll Fix It! Annuals and over the two years, I probably visited the theatre at the western end of Shepherd’s Bush Green where the show was pre-recorded a dozen or more times. Apart from passing the time of day, I didn’t have an awful lot of contact with Savile as I didn’t care much for the man. I dare say that I hadn’t done much for him either. At the time, there had been quite a bit of gossip going around amongst the stage technicians about Savile regularly parking his motor-home in the BBC car park, and that he wasn't overly secretive about who he was taking out there.

Living out here in the Far East, there are an awful lot things going on in the UK that I am totally unaware of, and it was about two months after his death before I began hearing stories about Savile's activities that are now common knowledge. My own son and daughter had once sat on Savile's sofa and I was incensed when I heard that the BBC's hierarchy were denying any knowledge  of what Savile had been getting up to. In January 2013, I began an exchange of e-mails with the Metropolitan Police Service who were working on the Operation Yew Tree enquiry.

On 17 September last year, Howard Elson, a former editor at Century 21 Publishing – first on the comics and then on books – told me: "In later life Max Clifford was always very pleasant to me. Jimmy Savile on the other hand... I can remember Vicky Shaw (remember her?) coming back to the office after interviewing him for Lady Penelope (1966?) and she told us he had chased her round the settee in his flat, she was shell shocked."
Also in 1978, Purnell Books obtained the licence to produce Worzel Gummidge books, and so I had driven out to some place in the New Forest where Southern Television were filming the series. Once again, apart from capturing behind the scene shots of Worzel, the Crowman, Aunt Sally and the two children, my chief aim was to shoot a cover that included the four main characters. When I did finally come face-to-face with Pertwee, he looked me straight in the eye and had said: “Hello, Boy. I know you!” Mind you, I did have to remind him as to when and where it was that we had last met.

Oddly enough, we’d also crossed paths when Jenny and I visited the Boat Show in Earls Court. Dressed in a sub-aqua outfit, Pertwee had been involved in fixing something below the waterline. Again, we’d had a chat and I felt that, despite his elevated position in a variety of radio and television roles, he was an extremely warm and kind person.

It was a good thing, for at around 4:00 when the light was beginning to go and director Reg Hill  called it a day, it was Jon who helped enormously in gathering together Geoffrey Bayldon and the two children John and Sue - as played by Jeremy Austin and Charlotte Coleman – so that I, too, could get what I had wanted.

It is interesting to note that one of Pertwee’s instructions in his will was that when he died, a small toy effigy of Worzel Gummidge should be attached to his coffin. I believe he enjoyed playing Worzel even more than he enjoyed playing Doctor Who. Much like my own feelings of loss when Bill Kidd died of cancer, Pertwee said that the accidental death of Roger Delgado had hit him pretty badly, and that the Doctor Who series was never quite the same again. Delgado died while on location in Turkey filming a Franco/German TV mini-series, when the Citroen car in which he was travelling went off the road and into a ravine. The two Turkish film technicians with him also perished.

With 1980 approaching fast, there was a great of unease in the air. Many of those with whom I had once worked were now gone and Purnell's boss man – Charles Harvey – had become a liability due to his secret drinking (a new bottle of vodka was secreted in the bottom right-hand drawer of his desk every day). For a while, he’d lost his driving licence and I’d had to step in to transport him back and forth in his BMW between Princes Risborough and Maidenhead.

But the straw that finally broke Purnell & Sons' back came through the reprint of a story called Three Little Pigs that was originally published in the United States as part of the Little Golden Books series. Little Golden Books is a popular series of inexpensive, well-illustrated, high quality books for children that deal with nature, science, Bible stories, nursery rhymes and fairy tales. Beginning in 1942, these staple-bound books have hardly changed in style or presentation in the company's seventy-five years of uninterrupted production.

One afternoon, Charles called me into his office to show me a book hot off the presses that had just arrived on his desk. The 24-page full-colour book was Three Little Pigs, the cover of which I was familiar with as, a few weeks beforehand, I had been instrumental in commissioning it. The work had been illustrated by Pete Adby, a seasoned and well-respected Disney artist whose full time job was with Falcon Jigsaw Puzzles.

I'd had little to do with the inside pages of this book for these were supplied in the form of four-colour film brought in from the USA and, although the text had been checked for Anglicising purposes by Wendy Hobson, a member of the editorial staff, I’d had no need to be involved as there was just nothing for me to do – the text and illustrations were already designed and in situ on the individual pages.

So what was the problem? Well the cover was in the style of Walt Disney – as had been requested. The inside pages were most decidedly not – not by any stretch of the imagination!

Ordering films from other publishing houses wasn't my jurisdiction and I knew precisely nothing about it. That responsibility was down to Purnell Books' Production Department, the section run by Dave Westcott and his assistants Martin Lewis and Michael Gee . . . but I don’t think they were involved in the procuring of these particular “repro films”.

There was one other person who had been pretty conversant with the buying and selling of films to foreign publishing houses as her official title was “Foreign Rights”. This was Leslie Wilcox, and she knew who to contact when something was required from, or being sold to, another publishing house. Should a foreign publisher be interested in the rights to publish a book that we had originated, it was Wilcox who carried out the necessary negotiations.

A further complication to all this was that, for quite some time, Charles Harvey and Lesley Wilcox had been romantically involved, although I believe that, by the time this fiasco took place, the admiration they’d had for each other had irretrievably cooled off.

When a book was initially proposed – usually by the editorial department (e.g. Senior Editor Sue Hook) – the sales force needed to become heavily involved as it was they who would have to twist the wholesalers’ arms to order x thousands of copies. But in the very late 1970s, there was a great deal of disruption to the once permanent staff at Purnell Books. Firstly, Michael Thomas – Charles Harvey’s number two – had been poached away by World Distributors in Manchester; and at more or less at the same time, Purnell's head of Sales, Bernie Wroe (despite being close to retirement age), also left to join WDL. As if that wasn’t enough, Bob Ridgway, the Sales Force’s number two, had died of a heart attack at the tender age of 53, and what was left of the in-house sales force was decidedly thin on the ground.

So, whose fault had it been? If you look at the above montage, each picture shows a variation of the Three Little Pigs story, but only two are in the style of Walt Disney Productions. Did the person who’d placed the order for the repro films from Little Golden Books make a genuine error, or was the harvesting of the inside pages a deliberate act of sabotage? Whatever the reason, Charles Harvey had been instructed by the directors of Purnell & Sons to “step down”. I am a little unsure of the connection, but I believe Charles was in some way related to Charles Dando Purnell, the man who had founded Purnell and Sons in 1839.

Harvey's departure hadn’t solved anything at all and, if I'm to be honest, it made things a great deal worse. His replacement was Mike Gabb, who had become second in command when Michael Thomas headed north, and all the fun of working for Purnell seemed to disappear down the pan. Mike's sole hobby seemed to be standing at the next urinal and running down his fellow workers to me . . . and he was almost certainly making comments about me to others when my back was turned.

Roger Perry
The Philippines

Coming Soon: In Part 16, it’s a joyous day for all when the UK’s very own bachelor Prince marries his charming and beautiful Princess.


Norman Boyd said...

Just to make sure you are Roger know someone is reading this - I think you're missing a picture " Picture 15B – Top Pop Scene – cover and inside pages & Monkees Spread"

Steve said...

Hi Norman,

We're aware of it... the note is a placeholder until the picture turns up.