Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Perry's Picture Post part 20: The Epilogue

What do you suppose the connection between 'Chap O’Keefe' and Brian Woodford is . . . a bit unfair of me as you could not possibly have known . . . but I thought I’d ask anyway? It transpires that Chap O’Keefe &ndash or Keith Chapman, to give him his real name – upped and emigrated to New Zealand in 1966; and at virtually the same time, Brian Woodford thumbed a lift and took a slow boat . . . no, not to China but to Toronto, Canada.

Do I hear cries of “So what?”

In the Comments that followed “Perry’s Picture Post – part 10”, Keith posted the following comment:
Roger, I'm enjoying your memoirs at Bear Alley hugely, not least because I've always wondered what I did actually miss by quitting Odhams Books for NZ's greener pastures. When the Hamlyn "rationalization" of IPC's book interests reared its ugly head circa 1966, I trembled at the thought of a daily commute to Feltham from Bishop's Stortford. Amazing that although I don't think I ever met you during those turbulent times, many of the situations, methods and people you describe so colourfully bring back old memories with renewed clarity. In this episode, we have the Heath Robinson-like Grant (often referred to as the epidiascope in offices where I worked) ... not to mention former colleagues like the quietly affable Brian Cullen, who had been George Beal's art editor during my time putting together annuals at Odhams above Covent Garden tube, and the calmly competent Tessa Bridger, who had looked after the romance and schoolgirls' picture libraries for Micron in Wallington and Mitcham while I had done similar for its war, western and detective series.
I was particularly intrigued to learn that Keith had been an editor on Fleetway's annuals and had daily worked at offices only some 200-yards from 96 Long Acre.

For those who have read my ramblings before, you will probably be aware that 96 Long Acre was where Juvenile Publications (i.e. Eagle, Girl, Swift, Robin and Boys’ World) had gone to during November 1963 having been transferred from the Hulton House annex – their home for the previous two years. It was while there that I had got to know Brian Woodford rather better due to the fact that our offices were next door to each other.

You might also recall that in part Eight, I spoke of Brian Cullen and Ron Morley as having worked under the guidance of George Beal in these same offices above Covent Garden Underground Station. But in his brief comment, Keith has already given me valuable information that I hadn’t known before: that sub-editor Tessa Bridger had been employed in a building so close to 96 Long Acre that we might have passed each other in the street during the time I worked on Girl.

I am ashamed to admit that I have said very little about Tessa, for although I knew her while I was employed at Hamlyn Books, my closer contact with the editorial section had been with Chris Spencer rather than Tessa. However, in 1974 – following Purnell Books' move to Berkshire House, Queen Street, Maidenhead – for reasons not explained to me, part of the first floor level where Purnell Books was based was also occupied by a sister company called International Book Publishers (IBP) – a packaging company headed by Mike Morris, where Tessa Bridger was employed as Chief Sub Editor.

In 1978, Tessa took her leave of IBP and, having taken up residence in offices further up Queen Street, had begun her own packaging company whose name had something to do with cats. . . although the exact name escapes me at this present time (Feline?).

In part 17, I spoke of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, but what I hadn’t explained was the fact that between 1976 and 1979 (inclusive), I had driven out to Bologna roughly one week before the fair was due to open so that I might prepare the pre-booked area in readiness for those staff who hoped to sell the foreign rights of our range of books from an individually-designed exhibition stand.

Prior to my driving out there in 1979, Tessa had made two requests – the first that I transport the books she wanted to exhibit and sell the rights to out there; and the second to take with me her gopher and assistant Andy (?) as an unpaid passenger– a likeable lad of about 20 who was several inches taller than me, wore thick-lensed John Lennon glasses and had bleached and permed his hair into a frizz that went every-which-way. He had also, to my horror, spent £400 on beer while holidaying on the Isle of Wight.

For that year, my creation had been a dark and lusciously salubrious affair with a false black gauze ceiling; floor-to-ceiling chocolate-brown Hessian drapes upon which were hung eighteen pieces of finished artwork and eighteen miniature spotlights that highlighted the art – the result looked like a million dollars. By contrast, the stand next to Purnell Books had been one operated by World Distributors Ltd. and on the fair’s opening day, Michael Thomas had popped his head round so that he could claim: “I got my silver stand at last!” The reason for him saying this was that, while still working at Purnell Books, Mike had repeatedly requested that I design a silver stand . . . something that I had ignored as I knew the results would have all the charm of a tart’s boudoir wrapped in Bacofoil! Interestingly, there were always more visitors to the Purnell Books' stand than to the one run by WDL with glowing congratulations being regularly offered to Charles Harvey by those who visited.

In a way, Michael Thomas was a round peg in a square hole as he had really set his heart on being a Sandhurst Army Officer. But his dreams had been dashed when, following an accident while playing Rugby, he'd had his spleen removed—and with no spleen, you cannot combat the effects of diseases such as Yellow Fever, so an army career was out.

For those of you who are unaware as to who Brian Woodford is, not only is Brian spoken of extensively in Steve Holland’s history of Boys’ World comic (as he was instrumental in producing Boys’ World for almost its entire run) but much of his background can be gleaned by visiting Eagle Daze Part Seven, where he contributes much to the unfolding story.

Brian Woodford immigrated first to Canada in January 1967 and then a number of years later to Salt Lake City, Utah. Having kept in touch, he sent this email in April 2016:
Roger. I am receipt of pieces you are currently writing for Down the Tubes. Much of this is beyond my involvement there but I do find it somewhat interesting. My last working days in the UK were in December 1966 and you may remember I shared an office with you and Bob Prior. From that point, the happening in comics and such became a mystery to me since I was thousands of miles away by that time. With this big knowledge gap it has always been somewhat puzzling to me as to how the comics fell into nothing. TV21 seemed to be doing well...TV21 books also, and new titles coming from Odhams and Fleetway left me leaving the UK thinking all was well. It was only after working back there for three months in 1973 (on Sandie) that I got a sense of decline. How it happened, the process and such, what happened to all the people I knew is still a mystery to me. So your piece adds a few bits and pieces to fill in.
    Your photos have included shots of Bob Prior and Howard Elson. While the shot of Howard is as he is today, I most certainly would not have recognized him. The Bob Prior shots are closer to the time I last saw him but yet he looks nothing like the Bob Prior I knew. He is thinner and long haired so perhaps that is the big change as I recall him somewhat chunkier with very short hair and a kind of short double quiff in the front. Even the picture of Alan Fennell you included does not look like him...far less hair, of course. The pics of Dennis and Todd Sullivan look pretty much as I remember them. Hey ho, the passing of years and our memories eh? Glad I still look exactly the same as I did back them.
And this brings me onto something that perhaps I ought to have spoken of earlier – the overall character of artists and the type of illustration they enjoy doing the most.

Jon Davis was a giant of a man . . . six-foot-something in his socks; not fat but certainly ‘heavy’ and someone of a kind and mild disposition. He enjoyed illustrating elves, goblins and airy-fairy wisps in a dingily-dell environment. Also represented by Linden Artists were Elphin Lloyd-Jones and his wife Kate who, in direct contrast to Jon (although they too carried out dingily-dell illustrations of the Mrs Titmouse-type stories) were themselves both quite tiny people – not dwarves but stood certainly no higher that five-foot-one or five-foot-two. They lived in Hounslow, right under the flight-path of Heathrow Airport, and when an aircraft passed overhead, Elphin and Kate automatically ceased talking (even in mid-sentence) and only carried on with the story when the decibels were at a low enough level for them to be heard.

When Bill Titcombe visited our offices, his attire of mid-blue shirt, sparkling white collar and a smart charcoal suit generally put us all to shame. With what he wore, he could easily have joined in one of the Queen’s Garden Parties with his head held high.

There are, of course, always exceptions to every rule, but when you think of Don Harley, Frank Bellamy, Eric Eden, Keith Watson, Ron Turner and a host of others who illustrated the likes of Dan Dare, The Hulk, Superman and other equally similar dynamic characters, where these artists themselves were fairly small in stature, mild-mannered, and generally wouldn’t say boo to a goose! It was as though they were placing themselves into a light where they couldn’t possibly be in real life. In the Eagle strip “Frazer of Africa”, Frank Bellamy illustrated himself as the lead character in the series. One of his greatest desire was to go on safari . . . but he confided to me that he had never plucked up the courage to go.

Roger Perry
The Philippines

1 comment:

  1. Your "Picture Post" series has been fascinating, Roger. Your career in UK comics and books was far longer than mine ... and your memories more extensive and probably sharper and clearer! But a couple of corrections are needed to your Epilogue. I didn't work alongside Tessa Bridger in Long Acre, but in Wallington and Mitcham a few years earlier for Micron Publications. I think Tessa went to Fleetway in Farringdon Street when Micron went into its Spanish reprints, "meltdown" phase. Also the annuals I worked on in the offices above Covent Garden tube, Long Acre (behind those distinctively arched windows in your picture), were then Odhams, not Fleetway, titles: Eagle, Boys' World, Wham!, Smash!, Girls' World, etc. I left for New Zealand in April 1967.



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