Friday 4 October 2013

Frank Bellamy and "The Missing Lynx"

When trawling through books, magazines and comics, in the hunt for Frank Bellamy artwork (or my other favourite, Raymond Sheppard for that matter) every so often I detect traces of his style in an illustration, but can't decide with any certainty whether he drew it or not. The earlier we go back in his endeavours, the more difficult it becomes, together with a rapidly diminishing likelihood of any authentic connections to Frank’s career. So it's fantastic when such a breakthrough occurs and helps us add to the list of Bellamy's known works. Therefore imagine my reaction when, in the course of the exchanges related to ‘Red Devil Dean’, the following account quite unexpectedly unfolded before me. AND today's my birthday!

As before, I’ll leave David Slinn to chronicle the circumstances:

“While it’s generally thought the “Commando Gibbs” advertisements, appearing in Eagle at the beginning of 1952, brought Frank to the attention of the Hulton Press, his earlier illustration work for Home Notes, two years before, had not gone unnoticed by the art editor, Arthur Roberts. During 1951, both he and Jodi Hyland, from Woman’s Own, left George Newnes to play a major role in the launch of Hulton’s Girl that November.

The distinguished judges of the painting competition including
Marcus [Morris], John Betjeman and art editor Arthur Roberts (third from right)
Taken from Living with Eagles, p.179

Home Notes illustrators, notably Ray Bailey, Stanley Coleman, Roy Newby, Philip Townsend and, later, Stanley Houghton were to draw strip features for the new girls’ title – together with, of course, Raymond Sheppard. Interestingly, Frank’s debut on an adventure serial wasn’t until 1953, with ‘Monty Carstairs’ for Odhams’ Mickey Mouse Weekly. However, the development of his strip illustration technique was closely monitored by Arthur Roberts with a view to persuading him to join the Hulton children’s magazines – eventually, the arrival of Swift, widened the practical possibilities of this coming about.

“The immediate impact achieved by Eagle and again, though to a lesser extent, with the advent of Girl and Robin, was unfortunately not repeated on Swift’s spring launch in 1954. While intended to attract younger readers from both sexes, by far the best picture-stories – Harry Bishop’s western strip, ‘Tom Tex and Pinto’, and ‘Paul English’ drawn by Giorgio Bellavitas – were clearly aimed at boys. ‘Nicky Nobody’, nicely handled by Leslie Otway, Eric Dadswell’s ‘The Fleet Family’ and ‘Sally of Fern Farm’, drawn by Girl regular Roy Newby, provided the counterbalance; together with Patrick Williams on Chad Varah’s, ‘The Boy David’; plus various cartoon strips from John Ryan, Dennis Mallet and the ubiquitous Roland Davies.

“Other artists from Hulton’s companion children’s titles, including Richard Jennings, Harry Winslade and Will Nickless, also contributed illustrations to a weekly series of complete short stories. These appeared on the page opposite ‘The Fleet Family’ which, from the issue dated 14 August 1954, I’d spotted was now being drawn by the ‘Monty Carstairs’ artist who signed that strip, “Frank A. Bellamy”. While his arrival in Swift’s pages was the key to Frank’s long-term future, within less than a month a little flurry of related coincidences also occurred.

“For, the very week Junior Express and, incidentally, Junior Mirror first hit the bookstalls on 4 September 1954, I attended an interview in Shoe Lane with Arthur Roberts, now senior art editor on the Hulton Press children’s titles. Once my, over-optimistic, teenage creative struggles with ‘Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future’, ‘Belle of the Ballet’ colour-strips and other specimen drawings had been thoroughly perused and put to one side, I was kindly shown various examples of finished artwork. Amongst these was the first episode of ‘The Swiss Family Robinson’, due to appear in Swift dated 9 October.

Arthur Roberts particularly drew my attention to the balloon-lettering and the title-piece, pointing out that both had been done by the illustrator himself – he offered the sage advice that, becoming proficient in those skills, would considerably improve the prospects for any burgeoning strip-artist. Also on the desk was the short story illustration for “Jumping Wildcat” – though, I recall, my eye wandering to the unlettered cover artwork, drawn by Harry Bishop for ‘Tarna – Jungle Boy’, as I endeavoured to take in as much as possible. A few weeks later, “Caught” was published in Swift, 25 September; “David’s Good Deed”, on 2 October; with the story, about a lynx missing from a travelling circus, appearing in the 30 October issue.

Swift vol.1no.33 30 Oct 1954

“Clearly, the natural assumption that, in the intervening, close to sixty years, someone else was bound to unearth their existence, turned out to be seriously flawed. Even, despite the illustrations being positioned a blink away from any researching eyes, forensically examining the ‘The Fleet Family’ picture-story on the adjacent page, for clues as to when it changed hands. Moreover, the ‘Red Devil Dean’ connection and the title of the second Swift story, only add to the bizarre coincidences?”

Heeding Mr Roberts’ initial advice, his subsequent guidance and encouragement, eventually led to David working freelance for the Hulton Press on Eagle, Girl, Swift and Robin; also with Express Weekly, TV Century 21 and other children’s titles. I took the opportunity to ask if he knew anything regarding the circumstances of Frank Bellamy taking over ‘The Fleet Family’ from Eric Dadswell.

Swift vol.1no.28 25 Sep 1954

“This came about when Eric Dadswell landed a national newspaper strip, based on the BBC serial ‘The Grove Family’; an early television “soap” – that, incidentally, included the Reverend Morris’s sister-in-law, Ruth Dunning, in the cast. What I’ve always half-suspected, however, is that Frank was originally approached by the Hulton Press to join Swift for the planned autumn “re-launch” in 1954.

“It was Hulton’s usual practice to give a new artist – which, of course, Frank was at the time – something akin to those short-story illustrations, as a try out before a major assignment like ‘The Swiss Family Robinson’ strip feature. Cecil Orr, who’d drawn ‘Monty Carstairs’ prior to Frank’s tenure, had also been enlisted to contribute ‘The Rolling Stones’ circus adventures.

“In the event, as he would still have been drawing ‘The Living Desert’ for Odhams, Frank’s propensity for working well-in-hand, will have enabled him to meet the editorial request to take on ‘The Fleet Family’ at short notice. This would also account for his last feature in Mickey Mouse Weekly, being so close to his first episode appearing in Swift two weeks later.”

Many thanks to David for providing the missing links! To finish, here’s the last of the three newly added pieces of Bellamy artwork and my little pun to complete David’s own pun in our title above!

Swift vol.1no.29 2 Oct 1954

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