Saturday, June 18, 2016

Perry's Picture Post part 18

A week or two later, “Wil” sent me another story, this one called “The Scarecrows of Spooky Hollow” – it was again a serial story that would continue over several weeks, but this time in Suzy, a comic aimed at the slightly younger age-group reader.

About halfway through capturing all the necessary frames (a story that spanned several issues would take me several weekends to complete), a police panda car once again drew up outside the main entranceway of the renovated farmhouse I was using.

I was pleased to see that it was Terry Weston – the boy-in-blue who had quizzed me over the swimming pool incident a couple of weeks earlier. When he saw who it was, he had a quick chat with the owner of the farm saying that, as far as he was concerned, everything was above board. However, as I’d had my car with me on that occasion – at least, it was close to hand and not parked in a nearby side-street – I suggested that it might be a good idea if Terry took down its registration number so that if any further anonymous calls to the station came in and that registration number was quoted, they’d have an idea who it was.

It was all above board, but marginally unnerving all the same. So when I received a story called “Juliana” – again a story that was to continue over several weeks in Suzy – I thought to myself: “Sod this for a lark” and organised it so that some of the characters depicted in the story were being played by Wells Police Detective Sergeant Dave Edwards, his wife Pat and their teenage daughter.

Some of the action took place in a bedroom and a bathroom, so we made use of their police-house too. I rather think that, after that, the Wells police really did believe that what I was attempting to do was “all above board”; in fact, on more than a couple of occasions, following a quick telephone call to the station asking for their assistance, Terry and his chums were more than happy to oblige!

“Wil” got in touch once again requesting that I start collecting portraits again. From the feed-back I was getting, it was being banded about by staff and editors of the papers who were using my pictures, that Wells City and its surroundings had more than its fair share of pretty girls. They could never understand how I kept coming up with magnificent-looking girls and boys.

The method was extraordinarily simple. Having found someone I felt was suitable, and having gained his or her permission, I'd take a series of 36 shots – the number of images that could be recorded onto one single roll of unexposed 35mm film. These I usually took somewhere outside and I'd have them doing simple things such as hugging a tree, lolling about on a five-bar gate or some other item that didn’t distract one’s eye from the face I was attempting to capture.

If he or she was under the age of 18, I requested that they obtain a signature from a parent or a guardian on the specially-printed Model Release Form, of which “Wil” had given me a good supply. Once I received the all-important signature – for not one person was photographed without the promise of having the Model Release Form signed – I handed over the £10 to the highly-delighted recipient . . . and, more often than not, I never saw him or her again (not entirely true, but I think you know what I mean).

I tried to come up with between four and six of these new faces each week, and only once did I fail to get the parent’s permission. That was because some bright spark had put it into the single-parent mother’s mind that I would be superimposing her daughter’s portrait onto an already obtained female nude body. To me, that sounded totally illogical, but what was the point of arguing? The girl didn’t get her £10 and I lost the price of one roll of film.

Apart from the up-front model fee, I only got paid by “Wil” when one of my pictures was published, so it was in my interest to (a) find good-looking people and (b) photographed them in places that looked interesting.

You could ask why everyone was so twitchy. Well, although it had taken place roughly fifteen years earlier, the Moors Murders – five children aged between 10 and 17 had been murdered by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley between July 1963 and October 1965 – were still fairly fresh in the minds of the British public. Three years later, in 1968, Mary Flora Bell was convicted for the manslaughter of two boys – Martin Brown (aged 4) and Brian Howe (aged 3). Then, in 1973, David McGreavy (nicknamed by the media “The Monster of Worcester”) killed three small children aged 4, 2 and 8-months and afterwards mutilated their bodies with a pickaxe before impaling them onto the spikes of a wrought-iron fence. And finally in 1978, the body of 13-year-old paperboy Carl Bridgewater was found in the house of a local elderly couple who had been out for the day.

So perhaps you can understand why there was a certain amount of unease attached to meeting up with teenage and pre-teen boys and girls who, until the moment I was taking photographs of them, were total strangers . . . and that unease was often accompanied by a great deal of suspicion from some quarters.

I've included this page of “Sealed With a Kiss” for no other reason than the shop used in the story was a couple of hundred yards from where I worked for Purnell Books in Paulton.

Prior to shooting the story – which appeared in Patches in August, 1983 – the staff must have wondered why I would occasionally come in, browse through a dozen or more of their teenage girls' comics and then buy one or two. Once I'd explained the situation to the shop staff, they expressed such an interest that, when the opportunity presented itself, they were happy to give me a free rein of the shop one Saturday.

Following on from the publication of The Royal Wedding in 1981, in the lead-up to Christmas that year, Robert Maxwell had a special run of 16,000 copies printed, which included a special Festive Seasonal Message, that was given to employees of the BPCC group.

Over the next three years, I was asked to produce several other Royal books. These were Diana, Princess of Wales (1982), Queen Elizabeth & Diana Princess of Wales (1983) and The Royal Children (1984). It was being bandied about that with all the attention he was giving them, Maxwell was fishing for a knighthood.

However, in late 1984, I had given Maxwell good reason to be temporarily in his bad books. In July of that year, he’d acquired the Mirror Group of Newspapers for the princely sum of £113 million – and by all accounts, this had been three million pounds over and above what he had hoped to pay (by way of a note, regardless of whether it was £110 million or £113 million, it’s still way, way out of my reach anyway!)

Until now, invoices had been settled by around the 10th of the month following the month in which they had been received. But in July, Maxwell issued a directive to various Chief Accountants within the BPCC group that, from August, all invoices should be delayed by a further month. By doing this, the interest saved on the overdraft would ultimately recoup the extra he’d had to fork out when buying the Mirror.

I’d been employing the services of a photographic studio in nearby Midsomer Norton and one day, the owner complained to me that his invoice hadn’t been paid – something that was quite unusual. I explained to him about the directive that had come from Maxwell, and the next thing I knew, Jerry had somehow not only spoken to the great man himself but had received what he was owed.

During their conversation, Maxwell asked Jerry how he had come to know of the current policy. According to Jerry, he had refused to name names, but Maxwell had said not to bother, as he was pretty sure that he knew who had let the cat out of the bag.

But that was small fry compared to the ding-dong I had with Purnell's Chief Accountant, David Bailey, some two or three months later.

During my time working on Countdown at Polystyle Publications, I got to know Leslie Branton quite well (albeit via the telephone for Leslie had lived in Hull). Amongst other strips, he regularly illustrated 'Hawaii Five-O' and was being represented by the London-based agency A S Knight Ltd., who represented both artists and writers. I have no idea as to where the offices of A S Knight were located and nor did I never meet Mr or Mrs Knight either. My only contact with them was through a very jolly, over-weight individual by the name of Geoffrey Wake. He had been the art buyer for the Saatchi and Saatchi advertising group; but after being made redundant, he found gainful employment with A S Knight Ltd. and by the time I started working for Polystyle, I had already known Geoffrey for a good many years.

Calling in to see me one Tuesday morning, I saw an expression on his face that I’d never seen before. If ever there had been a time when a man needed a drink, this was it and we left for the pub, which was just a few doors away.

Launching into what had happened, it would seem that his employer – Mr A S Knight – on the previous Friday evening, had taken a tumble down some stairs at the office and died shortly afterwards. This was not so terribly surprising for the old boy was already aged 80. Sadly, his wife – also part of the business (and being also in her eighties) – was so distraught over her sudden loss that she, too, had died about 72 hours later. Geoffrey – not even a partner in the business – had been left holding the bag and didn’t really know what he should do about it. Understandably, he didn’t feel that he had the right to just take over the agency.

Over a glass of vodka and lime, I made the suggestion that perhaps he might like to telephone every single artist and writer on A S Knight Ltd’s books, explain the situation and ask each one point blank if they wanted him to continue representing them. As it turned out, almost every single one did. Unfortunately, in 1979, Geoffrey Wake himself had passed away and as to what became of A S Knight Ltd after that I really cannot say as I’ve never been motivated enough to find out. But I’d had Branton’s home telephone number anyway and, over subsequent years, had commissioned work from him without the intervention of any agent.

In late 1984, I commissioned Branton to illustrate two eight-page stories for one of our forthcoming annuals, and, in November, both the work and his invoice for the first story had come in. Naturally I’d placed my signature onto it and passed it through to the accounts department for payment (which under normal circumstances would have been settled in early December).

Two months later, in early January, I received a memo from David Bailey saying that it was imperative that the book we were working on be ready for press by the 20th. In an attempt to clarify matters, Bailey was not only Purnell & Sons Financial Director but, on the instructions of Robert Maxwell, had been given the role of Managing Editor, thus effectively pushing Mike Gabb into second place.

Consequently, I got in touch with Leslie asking him when the second set of eight pages was likely to come in and his reply of saying that he hadn’t yet even started working on them had naturally horrified me.

“Why on earth not?” I demanded. He told me that the invoice sent in two months earlier still hadn’t been paid and that he’d had no option but to look for other work where the payment came through rather quicker.

I was angry, and immediately wrote a memo to Bailey saying that the book would now not be ready – not on the 20th, and most probably not before February either. Bailey stormed into my office a few minutes later demanding a full explanation, and I told him bluntly that as an employee of Purnell Books, Bailey expected to be paid at the end of each and every month just as I did . . . so why the hell should my artists – who needed the cash to survive – not be paid too?

I told him bluntly: “Send Branton a cheque tonight. I will warn him that it is coming and he just might start working on the strip pages tomorrow.” Bailey left without a further word – for he knew there was little point. He might well have been the Chief Accountant, but it was I who held all the cards.

Bailey had always found me a difficult individual to understand anyway. In 1979 when the Purnell Books’ Sales Manager Number 2 had suddenly died from heart failure, I’d paid my respects by going along to his funeral. There was a point where people had lined up afterwards to offer their condolences to Bob Ridgway’s wife Betty, and although I hardly knew the woman, for some unknown reason, I’d put my arms around her and had whispered gently into her ear: “Have strength, Betty . . . have strength.” In response, Betty had clung onto me for all she was worth for what had seemed like several minutes, and on looking up, I had seen the look of utter disbelief emanating from Purnell’s Chief Accountant David Bailey. Yes, it had been quite a memorable moment.

Roger Perry
The Philippines

Coming Soon: In Part Nineteen, I make the decision to take my leave of Purnell Books.

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