Sunday, December 11, 2016
John Gillatt (1929-2016)
Although he was not the first artist on the strip, Gillatt’s arrival on the strip in October 1971 in the pages of Scorcher and Score brought together the story’s perfect team. Gillatt and Baker went on to follow Billy’s soccer and cricketing adventures through the pages of Tiger, Eagle and Roy of the Rovers before Gillatt finally departed in January 1988.
Gillatt was born in Peterborough on 17 August 1929, the son of Oswald Belton Gillatt, a master mason, and his wife Hilda May (née Hooke), who were married in 1918. John was the youngest of four boys and attended. Apart from his National Service and a period studying at Leicester College of Art, he lived in Peterborough his whole life.
Educated at Deacon’s School, he became a fan of comics whilst through reading American comic sections sent over by an American pen-friend during the Second World War, becoming a fan of Milton Caniff’s “Terry and the Pirates”; he was also a follower of Alex Raymond’s “Rip Kirby” when it appeared in the Daily Mail. However, his first employment was not in comics but as an illustrator with an advertising agency and as a draughtsman with the engineering firm of Perkins Diesel.
He was married to Josephine Wright in 1956 and their first child was born in 1957. To provide for his new family, Gillatt found work drawing comics and, thanks to his regular weekly output on “Jet-Ace Logan” he was able to give up his day job after only three months. He earned £1,000 in his first year.
It was in Tiger that Gillatt first turned his hand to sporting strips, taking over (from Geoff Campion, as he had Jet-Ace Logan) the artwork for wrestling Native American “Johnny Cougar” in 1963. In 1966 he took a break from the strip to draw “The Forest Rangers”, based on the Canadian TV series broadcast on ITV, and “The Black Archer”, a caped crime-fighter with a crossbow. In the guise of the Archer, Delago City’s clumsiest young TV reporter, Clem Macey, was able to battle fabulous villains like The Remover, who could alter the size of objects, and The Weatherman, who could use weather phenomena to aid his criminal activities. After a brief spell drawing “The Great Thesbius” (a former stage actor and illusionist who turns to crime when his fame wanes), he returned to “Johnny Cougar” until 1969, when he took over the comedy-adventures of the Robinsons, who ran and played in a unique family-owned football club, Thatchem United. Gillatt produced “Football Family Robinson” in colour for three years before switching to line and wash.
Although Billy Dane’s adventures came to an end in the early Nineties, reprints of Gillatt’s years on the strip remain popular in Holland where it was known as “De Wondersloffen van Sjakie”. In one instance, where Billy played a match in Holland, Gillatt had to redraw the strip for its appearance in Sjors and Dutch-born Sjackie hitch-hiked to the match in a lorry instead of arriving by ferry. 24 volumes of Sjackie’s adventures were reprinted featuring Gillatt’s artwork, with Gillatt providing new cover artwork.
Gillatt found a new market in the Daily Mirror where former Tiger editor Barrie Tomlinson was writing a daily football strip, “Scorer”. More adult-themed storylines required Gillatt to add elements that had never been aa requirement in his previous comics. “Johnʼs Scorer illustrations were, of course, brilliant,” Barrie Tomlinson has said. “The story needed an artist who could illustrate football action and also be able to draw beautiful women. John could do both those things and I felt honoured that my scripts could be turned into such excellent works of art which made the story so popular that it steadily increased in size on the Mirror cartoon page. When we later added photographic and computer effects, John adapted with ease and worked in close association with David Pugh, who did all the computer work. They were a great team. Johnʼs work was always delivered on time and always to the same high standard.
Gillatt suffered a stroke in 2003 and retired from “Scorer”. He lived in Eastfield Road, Peterborough, where he suffered another stroke in May which left him paralysed down one side and unable to speak. He was cared for at Philia Lodge Rest Home, where he died on Friday, 4 November, aged 87. He is survived by his three children, Simon, Matthew and Rachel.