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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Gerald Palmer (1935-2017)

The large opening frame is an example of Gerry Palmer 'ghosting' for Frank Bellamy.
Gerry Palmer, best known to comic fans for his association with Eagle comic and the ‘Dan Dare’ strip, has died, aged 82.

Born in St. Helier, Jersey, in 1935, Gerald Palmer was a schoolboy during the German occupation of the island between 1940 and 1945.

After showing some exceptional talent at school, his headmaster, Edmund Blampied—an established Jersey artist himself—helped him secure a grant which allowed Palmer to study at Portsmouth Art College.

With his National Diploma in Design secured in August 1955, Palmer headed for London with his portfolio and was employed as an editorial art assistant at Hulton Press in Fleet Street, drawing spot illustrations for Farmers Weekly and several papers before joining the staff of Eagle comic in 1957. “As staff artist, I was often asked to complete submitted artwork—bringing it up to the quality demanded in order to satisfy the standards set by my superiors,” he told Adrian Perkins in 2004. “I can still recall having to retouch several of the highly detailed centrespread paintings from Leslie Ashwell Wood.”

Enjoyable as the work was, it was not financially remunerative and Marcus Morris had to intervene to get Palmer a pay rise after he found his finances strained. Seeking other opportunities, Palmer responded to a job advertised within Hultons to work with Frank Hampson at his Bayford Lodge studio in Epsom. Palmer, who had to commute via two buses from Esher, joined the studio in 1958 and worked alongside Keith Watson on backgrounds for the ‘Dan Dare’ episodes ‘The Phantom Fleet’ and ‘Safari in Space’. Palmer later said that he got on well with Hampson, recalling only one bone of contention between the them: Hampson, an almost pathological perfectionist, would often ask his assistants to redo pages, working over the weekend if needed. “Frank often asked me to stay working late but, being somewhat strong-willed, I refused as I had a very busy social life; and besides, it was in my contract that it was a nine-to-five job.”

The Hampson studio was disbanded in 1959 while part-way through ‘Terra Nova’, and Frank Bellamy was tasked with painting the strip. Bellamy preferred working alone, and for most of the year he was employed on Dare (1959-60), he would produce one page, leaving Don Harley, Keith Watson or Palmer to produce the other in a compatible style.

Following Bellamy’s departure, and with Don Harley and Bruce Cornwell established as the new Dan Dare art team, Palmer drew a variety of editorial features for Swift (‘Jimmy Hanley’s Notebook’, ‘The Editor’s Notebook’, ‘Ancient Wonders’) and illustrations for Eagle, including a number of cutaway drawing for the centre pages. The preparation for these sometimes involved trips to manufacturers to obtain first-hand information and photographic reference. In one instance Palmer, along with art editor Charles Pocklington and a Fleet Street photographer hired for the day, visited Lotus for a feature on the Lotus Elite. The photographer, looking for a scoop, took the opportunity to roam around the factory, photographing several prototype cars until being caught, resulting in the three visitors being escorted to the factory gate.

In 1961 Palmer went freelance, continuing to provide illustrations for Eagle (including the ‘Kings of the Road’ cover feature) and contributions to Eagle Annual and TV Express Annual.

For much of his artistic career, Palmer was able to concentrate on painting, both as an aviation artist—he contributed to exhibitions of the Guild of Aviation Artists (GAvA)—and as a painter of portraits, seascapes and landscape in pastels and watercolours. He contributed illustrations to magazines and books, the latter including three volumes on aircraft for Hamlyn: The Story of Flight by John Llewellen, Irwin Shapiro & Maurice Allward (1970); Aircraft  by John W. R. Taylor (1971), for which he produced 290 full colour illustrations; and Spotlight on Aircraft by Graeme Cook (1972).

In later years, once again living in Jersey, Palmer was able to concentrate on painting and also established himself as a modeller and sculptor, an example of the latter being an 8-foot bronze sculpture of golfer Harry Vardon, cast at the Underwood foundry, Mayenne, France, and unveiled by Tony Jacklin at Royal Jersey Golf Course on 30 July 2001.

Palmer also designed stamps for the Jersey Post Office, his designs including a 20½p stamp dedicated to the RNLI rescue of the ‘Cythara’ (1984) and a set of aircraft designs to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain (1990).

Paintings of local life and landmarks and landscapes painted in France, Spain and Yugoslavia, can be obtained as prints. Recently, he returned to Dan Dare, producing two paintings for Spaceship Away..., one of the Anastasia (2006) and a collaboration with Don Harley on a 1960s-style Dan Dare spacescape (2009).

Palmer, who lived at St. Brelade, Jersey, counted designing and model aircraft, from skimmers to gliders, skin diving, sail boarding and sea fishing amongst his hobbies. He died on 16 August after a long illness. He is survived by his sister, Jean, wife, Valerie, children Christopher and Fiona, and four grandchildren.

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