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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Frank Dickens (1931-2016)

Frank Dickens, famous for his cartoon ‘Bristow’ which ran for 41 years in the London Evening Standard—the longest running daily cartoon strip by a single author, according to Guinness World Records—and which was then syndicated the world over, passed away after a long illness on 8 July, aged 84.
    Bristow was a bowler-hatted cypher working in the buying department alongside his faceless colleagues at the vast RL Chester-Perry building. Although he is 18th in line to become Chief Buyer, and dislikes his job intensely, Bristow has an unquenchable conviction of his own importance, even if his delusions are fantasy. The sale of his autobiographical epic Living Death in the Buying Department is imminent and his future will surely include Miss Pretty, the ‘Kleenaphone’ girl on whom he has a crush.
    Surrounded by his co-workers—his boss Fudge, Jones, who might be his senior, typist Miss Sunman, gossipy Mrs Purdy the Tealady—the strip relates the daily grind of rumour, panic and office one-upmanship that takes place during Bristow’s day, which always begins late thanks to the invariably late arrival of the train for his daily commute from his bed-sit in East Winchley.
    Dickens was not always overly fond of the character, once saying, “I think he’s an awful character, really—heartless, cruel. Y’know, kick a man when he’s down sort of thing.”
    Bristow was turned into a play at the ICA in 1971, co-written and directed by Michael Bakewell and starring Freddie Jones. He was adapted as a Radio 4 series in 1999, 14 half-hour episodes being broadcast between April 1999 and July 2000. The three brief series starred Michael Williams as Bristow, with Rodney Bewes as Jones.
    Although ‘Bristow’ is his best known strip in most countries, the strip was not popular in the USA and Dickens made no attempt to make it more acceptable to an American audience. Instead, he created the character Albert Herbert Hawkins, the naughtiest boy in the world, whose curiosity always led to problems. The character was syndicated to over 200 newspapers in the USA by Field Enterprises in 1979-80 and appeared in the UK in the Daily Express. Albert was subsequently revived in a series of short pictorial books by Dickens as Albert tried to answer such questions as whether the Queen was afraid of spiders, or whether spacemen were afraid of mice.
    Alex Hamilton, interviewing Dickens in 1980s, noted that “He hates Bristow, but puts his essence into The Naughtiest Boy in the World.” Dickens’ naughty nature was often expressed through drunkenness. The British Cartoon Archive relates the following tale: “Returning home one evening to his Barbican flat, rather the worse for wear, he threw his clothes over his balcony. The next day, according to the Evening Standard, they appeared neatly piled and folded outside his door – a kindly porter having recognised them and returned them.” In January 1982 he was fined £700 and banned for four years after pleading guilty to drink-driving after a five-day binge sparked by being served his divorce papers.
    Dickens himself related that he once danced naked on the table at a meeting of the Bristow Fan Club, where he was a guest. “I went along a couple of times and it’s funny, I couldn’t get along with them at all. Their version of Bristow was so completely different from mine!” The club reputedly split up soon after.
    Dickens was rewarded with five Strip Cartoonist of the Year awards by the Cartoonists’ Club of Great Britain in 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965 and 1989. He was honorary president of the London School of Economics Debating Society in 1964, and a founder member of the British Cartoonists’ Association in 1966.
    Born Frank William Huline-Dickens in Hornsey, north London, on 9 December 1931, he was the son of William James Charles Huline-Dickens (1903-1971), a painter and decorator, and his wife Lucy Sarah (née White, 1906?-1969). The eldest of six children, he grew up in Hornsey and attended Stationers’ Company’s School.
    Dickens had no formal art training, leaving school at 16 to work with his father, then as a buying clerk with an engineering firm and selling vacuum cleaners and sewing machines before his National Service in the Air-Sea Rescue service.
    In 1955, aged 24, he worked in the buying department of an office but, after a few months, decided to pursue his passion for cycling, which resulted in his moving to Paris, hoping to compete in the Tour de France, but he failed to qualify. He was equally unsuccessful as a cycling journalist and, finding himself homeless and penniless, he began drawing cartoons, selling his first to Paris Match and L’Équipe, and producing a cycling strip for French newspapers.
    He returned to England, where he supported himself appearing as the straight man in the Dickens and Mandel comedy duo who performed in music halls in 1957-58 but split shortly after playing the Windmill Theatre. His first cartoon appeared in the Sunday Express on 30 September 1959, followed by sales to the Evening Standard, Daily Sketch and Daily Mirror.
    Aware of his limits as an artist, he began concentrating on the words to accompany his scrawled drawings, and this led to producing the ‘Oddbod’ comic strip for the Sunday Times. “I was very lucky,” he later said. “What I call the ‘no drawing school’ was just coming in—in other words, the idea was more important than the drawing. Because, really my drawing’s useless. It’s the same face over and over again. Although it has got slightly better now—no, not ‘better’ but it’s got more of a style about it.”
    He also produced the book What the Dickens (1961), which he described as “all about men killing their wives or wives killing their husbands.”
    The book contained the first visual hints of the character who was to become Dickens’ first great success. Bristow—a nondescript name the artist had spotted in a Michael ffolkes cartoon—was originally the driver in a series of strips conceived as a way to instruct people in motor car upkeep. Explaining the intricacies of maintaining vehicles proved impossible in the brief space of a cartoon strip and, instead, Dickens decided to keep his new character in his office.

    Around the same time the ‘Oddbod’ strip ended its three-month run, and a colleague offered to agent the strip, called ‘9 to 5’, whilst on his travels as a steel salesman. He promptly sold the strip, retitled ‘Bristow’, to The Press and Journal, Newcastle, and the Aberdeen Press and Journal, both at £12 a week.
    Two months after the strip’s 19 September 1961 debut, the Western Mail became the third paper to take the strip, quickly followed by others, including the Glasgow Evening Citizen and, on 6 March 1962, the Evening Standard. With the arrival of a new agent ‘Bristow’ gradually began to be syndicated even further until the character became known world-wide, appearing continuously for 41 years.
    A second strip, ‘Willie Biggelow’, began appearing in the Sunday Express in 1966, but Dickens still had plenty of time to work as a freelancer, writing several children’s books, including Fly Away Peter (1964, illustrated by Ralph Steadman) and three books featuring The Great Boffo, a moustachioed cyclist of renown, The Great Boffo (1973), Boffo, the Greet Air Race (1976) and Boffo, the Great Motor-Cycle Race (1976). Over the years, Dickens also produced cartoons for the Daily Mail, Daily Express, Sunday Times, Today and TV Times, and advertising for companies such as British Telecom, London Transport, Haig Whisky, Peugeot and Mercedes-Benz.
    For the Daily Express, Dickens wrote ‘Spare Ribs’, drawn by Don Roberts (1976-77) and ‘tEMpS’ (1977), which he drew himself; another strip, ‘Mavis’ appeared in Woman’s Realm.
    Cycling had remained one of Dickens’ great loves and he wrote two novels in which cycling was central. A Curl Up and Die Day (1980) concerned a cycle trial in Spain livened up with a defecting Russian and a murder; and Three Cheers for the Good Guys (1984) featured a cycling-mad cartoonist keeps getting kidnapped by crooks with their eyes on some pots decorated by Da Vinci. An exhibition of paintings in the late 1970s also had the theme of cycling.
    Dickens’ remained a keen cyclist all his life. He had joined the Unity Cycling Club in 1947 and, when almost fifty, won the Oldbury Cycling Club’s 12-hour event by riding 229 miles in the allotted time.
    When ‘Bristow’ came to an end in 2002, Dickens created ‘Patto’ the cat for the Evening Standard (2002-04). He was British editor of the magazine Linus, a European cartoon magazine for which Dickens drew a sporting strip.
    Dickens is survived by his former wife, whom he married in 1960, and his daughter, Julia Huline-Dickens.


What the Dickens? London, Dobson, 1961.
Bristow. London, Constable, 1966.
Bristow! London, Allison & Busby, 1970.
Bristow. London, Abelard-Schuman, 1972.
More Bristow. London, Abelard-Schuman, 1973.
Bristow Extra!, Abelard-Schuman, 1974.
Il violino d’oro. Milan, Vallardi, 1974.
Bristow Latest!, Abelard-Schuman, 1975.
Bristow No.1. Sydney, Beaumont Books Company, 1977.
Bristow No.2. Sydney, Beaumont Books Company, 1978.
A Curl Up and Die Day, P. Owen, 1980.
The Penguin Bristow. Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1981.
Bristow’s Guide to Living. London, Macmillan, 1982.
My First Bike Book, illus. Lisa Smith. Sparkford, Haynes, 1998.
The Big, Big, Big Bristow Book. London, Little, Brown, 2001.
A Calmer Sutra. London, Sphere, 2002.

Books for children
Fly Away Peter, illus. Ralph Steadman. London, Dobson, 1964; New York, Scroll Press, 1970.
Albert Herbert Hawkins, the Naughtiest Boy in the World. London, Abelard-Schuman, 1971; New York, Scroll Press, 1971.
The Great Boffo. London, Abelard-Schuman, 1973.
Boffo, the Greet Air Race. London, Cape, 1976.
Boffo, the Great Motor-Cycle Race. London, Cape, 1976; New York, Parents’ Magazine Press, 1978.
Albert Herbert Hawkins, the Naughtiest Boy in the World, and the Space Rocket. London, Ernest Benn, 1978; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1978.
New Albert Herbert Hawkins. London, Benn, 1980.
Albert Herbert Hawkins, the Naughtiest Boy in the World, and the Olympic Games. London, Benn, 1980.
Teddy Pig and Julia’s Birthday. London, Quartet Books, 1981.

Illustrated Books
Wise Up on Law for Holidaymakers by John Wise, illus. with Russell Kent. London, Tallis Press, 1971.
Wise Up on Motoring Law by John Wise, illus. with Russell Kent. London, Tallis Press, 1971.
The Catt Concept: The New Industrial Darwinism by Ivor Catt. London, Hart-Davis, 1972.
Kids, Bloody Kids: A Parent's Guide to Children by Merry Archard. London, Allen & Unwin, 1972.
Wise Up on Law for the Householder and Tenant by John Wise. London, Tallis Press, 1972, published as Law for the Householder and Tenant, London, Mayflower Books, 1974.
How Not to Pay Your Debts: A Handbook for Scoundrels? by Peter Clyne. London, Abelard-Schuman, 1973.
How to Complain by Christopher Ward. London, Secker & Warburg, 1974.
Growing Pleasure. The reluctant gardener’s handbook by Geoff & Faith Whiten. London, Foxwood Publishing Ltd., 1977.
Ronnie in the Chair by Spike Mullins. Walton-on-Thames, M & J Hobbs / Michael Joseph, 1978.
Molly Parkin's Purple Passages by Molly Parkin. London, Star Books, 1979.
Our Cheque Is in the Post by Christopher Ward. London, Secker & Warburg, 1980.
The Rights of Women. The essential question-and-answer guide to women’s legal problems by Nicholas Charles and Janice James. London, Arrow Books, 1990.
The World’s Best Men Jokes by Fanny Adams. London, HarperCollins, 1996.

1 comment:

  1. Sad news indeed. I read Bristow for years and it never failed to raise a smile.