Monday 31 January 2022

Frank Bellamy auditions for newspaper strips

What do Leslie Charteris' "The Saint", "Modesty Blaise", "Antony Falloway", "Wes Slade" and "Garth" have in common?

Frank Bellamy drew them all. What? you didn't know? Well, let me explain....

Antony Falloway by Frank Bellamy

ANTONY FALLOWAY (Daily Express) c.Oct 1955

In chronological order, we have a strip which did appear in the Daily Express, in October 1955 just not by Frank Bellamy!  I would guess - and have no evidence -, that the above was a try-out for the newspaper, which for whatever reason was rejected or perhaps merely done for his portfolio! At this point in his career Bellamy was really busy - he was 38 years old and already appearing with "King Arthur and his Knights" in Swift; doing regular illustrations and covers for Boy's Own Paper; and even appearing in the South African weekly Outspan. He also drew a short 4 parter in Everybody's  weekly and went onto a long running "Robin Hood" two page strip in SwiftRead more about Antony Falloway here.

"The Saint" by Frank Bellamy - thanks to Alan Davis

THE SAINT (Daily Express?) c. 1969/1970

On 7 January 1969 Conrad Frost spoke to Bellamy about a newspaper strip project, saying the Beaverbrook Newspapers syndication agency was interested in The Saint. Steve Holland wrote to me that "Conrad Frost was a very prolific writer; he wrote hundreds of romance stories and newspaper columns before switching to comic strips in the 1950s; for twenty years or so he was the writer of the George & Lynne strip in The Sun".

The US version of "The Saint" strip started in September 1948  drawn by Mike Roy, then John Spranger, Bob Lubbers  and finally Doug Wildey ending 13 years after it started, in September 1961. In France they had comic stories which were even reprinted in India, using Roger Moore's version of Simon Templar! 

So in January 1969, Conrad Frost, who knew a thing or two about writing comic strips saw the immense popularity of Roger Moore's portrayal during the Sixties, with no strip produced in this country, and thought this a sure-fire winner. Bellamy's fee would be sixty guineas a week. A year later on 8 January 1970, Frost sent Bellamy an overview script "Meet the Saint". On 12 October 1970, 9 months later, Conrad Frost wrote "finally got a script that pleases Charteris" and it looks to be this that started Bellamy on a prospective regular strip again. However, after drawing these strips for the project, Frost wrote to tell Bellamy in the following month, it was a no-go and - for an unknown reason - might go to another artist! The following year would see Bellamy's brilliant run on "Garth" for the Daily Mirror. (Thanks to Alan Davis for preserving this bit of history)

"Wes Slade" by Bellamy

WES SLADE (Daily ) c. 1969

Now this is a bit harder to write about, despite knowing of the top two strips thanks to their owner Alberto. Paul Holder was contacted by John Hill, whom I followed up with and had a lovely conversation in 2015. John told me he was a design consultant to the Daily Mirror and employed Bellamy with Mike Molloy to do the Moon Landing feature.  John loved Bellamy's work in Eagle - "David" and "Churchill" particularly - and therefore tracked him down. "Frank visited the office to be briefed and brought in the "Wes Slade" strips to show them.  It was this that convinced Mike that Frank ought to be doing Garth". John went on that Frank visited with "his lovely wife Nancy" and Bellamy was very unassuming but a genius. He also added as an aside that he was pleased they gave FB work at a time when John thought things "were not going swimmingly" for Frank.

Now as to dates and why Frank drew this, I have no idea especially as George Stokes, a Canadian, drew and wrote "Wes Slade" in the Sunday Express, from 29th January 1961 to, at least, 1979, when Jim Edgar took over the writing chores and in 1980, after Stokes early death at 47, Harry Bishop took over as artist. I presume it was Bellamy's interest in Westerns and the fact he was looking for a regular strip (after coming off TV21) - and thus "things not going swimmingly". According to David Slinn, George Stokes had a dreadful dispute with Inland Revenue for two or three years about his overseas earnings from the Sunday Express which David believes affected his health.


"Modesty Blaise" by Frank Bellamy #2100-2102

MODESTY BLAISE (Evening Standard (London)), 1970

Steve Holland wrote in the Eagle Times (Vol 3:4 (Winter 1990) pp. 33-37 "Frank Hampson and Modesty Blaise") about Frank Hamspon's try out for the Modesty Blaise strip and discovered that Bellamy too, had tried out for the strip. Bellamy was called on when Jim Holdaway "drew the strip until his sudden death in 1970". Bellamy has coded the strips #2100, #2101, #2102 and from a quick search it seems that these would have appeared in the story "The War-Lords of Phoenix" (which eventually ran from 12 January 1970-30 May 1970 #2044-2162), reproduced below. As you can see, for some reason, Bellamy didn't get the gig, instead it went to Enrique Badia Romero (followed by John Burns, Pat Wright and Neville Colvin and then Romero again. 

Romero's "Warlords" Modesty Blaise strip

Nancy Bellamy (Frank's widow) once told Bill Storie "that although he did the Modesty Blaise tryouts (possibly at the request of his agent) Frank wasn't actually all that keen on taking over the strip as he didn't fancy "stepping into a dead man's shoes" as he put it and I think it showed in the art which didn't (imho) show him at his best. The Saint strips were a surprise to me though and they represent his work much better I feel" - Thanks for that Bill. 

I speculated that Doctor Janet Brown might also have been a newspaper strip, but I suspect now I was reaching a bit. What do you think? 

Thanks to so many people for preserving and sharing these beautiful missed opportunities! Imagine if Frank Bellamy had started a strip earlier than Garth what we would have got? A long running Western strip? Frank would have loved that!

Thanks to Alan Davis for saving so much from landfill; John Hill for sharing his thoughts and the FOUR strips; Garth Groombridge for help with Modesty Blaise; Steve Holland as usual; Bill Storie (for the quote and Gopherville Argus); David Slinn; Aberto Soares who first made me aware of "Wes Slade". And I mustn't forget Alan Vince who brought the Hampson "Modesty Blaise" and the Bellamy version to Steve Holland's attention.