Friday 16 June 2023

Frank Bellamy interview - Edition on the BBC


Radio Times 24 Nov - 30 Nov 1973 p.4

We got a nice surprise in 1973 when opening the weekly Radio Times (24 November 1973 - 30 November 1973). On page 4 there's an article which includes a photo of Frank Bellamy surrounded by his artwork. The title of the piece "Modest strip artist" has a half page article on Edition where Barry Askew interviews Bellamy for the programme broadcast on 30 November 1973. The photo - much used - was credited to Jeremy Grayson with a bye-line "Frank Bellamy: suffers agonies of diffidence bringing work to Radio Times".

 The article text:

Frank Bellamy must be the world's most modest strip artist The Eagle strips he created for schoolboys in the late 50s and 60s - Fraser of Africa, Marco Polo and The Happy Warrior - are legendary now. Garth, his Daily Mirror strip, is a cult hero.
But he still suffers agonies of diffidence when he's bringing in a piece of art work for RADIO TIMES. He's diffident, too, about appearing in Edition (Friday 11.40 pm BBC2).
"I never had an art school training", he says, "And I still remember my first day's work in an advertising studio: I made tea and cut myself on the guillotine machine. Never touched a pencil."
He says he sees figures as a camera might. "And I never cheat at drawing. If I'm in doubt, I use myself as a model. I know I've occasionally caught myself snarling in the mirror".

The corresponding page in the TV listings (page 51) shows:

Radio Times (24 Nov 1973 - 30 Nov 1973) Page 51

Bill Storie, a friend of the blog and keen Bellamy fan previously wrote on this blog:

In my view Barry Askew held the opinion that comics were ephemeral and hardly worth mentioning and the usual BAM, POW, CRASH were mentioned - a good indicator that someone's view of comics is stuck in the 60s Batman show. The programme, Edition, went out as the last programme of the evening (yes, TV used to be less than 24 hours a day!) and states "Frank Bellamy, the artist who draws 'Garth' in the Daily Mirror and the Daily Record [...]"

 Bill goes onto say:

The Radio Times "Modest Strip Artist" reference mentions that (erroneously) FB drew for the Daily Record - this is technically accurate inasmuch as he was never (as far as I know) commissioned to do art for that paper but his work did appear there quite often in the form of Garth and various other spot illustrations such as the moon landing piece. Back in those days the Daily Record was basically the Scottish version of the Daily Mirror (the Mirror did not have a large Scottish readership and much of the Mirror's daily output was simply re-jigged into the Daily Record). [See much more on this issue here ~Norman]

You can now hear the whole interview thanks to Alan Hayes (hiddentigerculttv) and he has this description on the audio:

Comic artist Frank Bellamy (1917-1976), who is famous for his work on publications such as The Eagle, TV21 and Radio Times, interviewed on the BBC2 late night programme 'Edition', hosted by Barry Askew.

Bellamy is highly thought of, particularly by fans of comic art, Gerry Anderson and Doctor Who, but also of The Avengers, for which he supplied on-screen artwork for the 1967 episode 'The Winged Avenger'.

Soundtrack only - a rare off-air recording. Originally transmitted on Friday 30th November 1973.

It's 8 minutes and 18 seconds long (including the intro and 'outro' plus station ident - I sound as if I know what I'm talking about!) I transcribed the version I had and have included it below so the text is searchable, but Bill is right. It's not the best interview! But Bellamy was paid £40 ""to provide own drawings and to be interviewed". As an ex-librarian I had the privilege of going behind the scenes at the BBC Archives and checked with an expert - the programme was another victim of the tape wiping that has caused many a Doctor Who fan to weep! If it ever appears, Frank's estate is due a re-broadcast fee!


The Transcript:

ANNOUNCER: “Now we close the evening here on Two with Edition.”


BARRY ASKEW: “Edition POW!, that’s one man’s view of me sitting here in the studio. The only thing he hasn’t drawn are my tortured tonsils, for which my apologies at the outset. Frank Bellamy, whose cartoons have a unique unchanging quality, stretching from Dan Dare in Eagle to Garth which he now does in the Daily Mirror. Later in Edition we look at his work in the world of comics.

BA Frank Bellamy, I suppose you’re best known for your work on Garth in the Daily Mirror, currently. Having looked at that film where mainly we saw American comics, in fact. What kind of comics did you grow up on, as a boy, yourself?

FB Well, the first ones were things such as Chips or Rainbow and then gradually getting Sunday supplements from the United States which contained Tarzan and that type of thing. There you see the American comic as you see it in the, er.. film, was non-existent in this country. There were comics, [little types] , for sort of eight year olds, right down to six and five…

BA Things like Beano and Dandy which I grew up on?

FB Yes. I’m afraid they didn’t affect me at all, I never used to read those sort of things.

BA Let’s look at what did, in fact, affect you. I mean, one of your classic periods was with Eagle and there we have an example of Dan Dare. Now what kind of technique development do you put into Dan Dare?

FB The technique I used, you mean the materials?

BA Yes.

FB The materials I use are exactly the same during all my career as a strip artist; waterproof inks. In this case, full colour waterproof inks.

BA What about the design techniques themselves, how were those developed?

FB That was a development of mine. I was tired of seeing frame upon frame of little, squared off pictures which was the old fashioned idea. I wanted to bring out the page as a complete page or a spread as a complete spread, make it a unit in its own right.

BA You also I think had special thoughts on colour, didn’t you?

FB Oh yes.

BA If we look at, for example, we have Fraser of Africa there, which is another Eagle piece of work. Tell me about the colour that goes into that.

FB You’ll notice on this one it’s sepia run through it. The idea originally was to develop a different type of strip to the others, which were either full colour or black and white monochrome. This had to be reproduced in full colour, I gave them colour experiments which they put under the process cameras, all proved positive and that’s the net result; producing that sepia look and a different er..look to the page in the Eagle.

BA With something again for the Eagle, like Montgomery of Alamein, there’s an interesting example there of the way that you use frames and shapes in different ways.

FB Well, there once again is breaking up this square frame, one on top of another and to bring out important frames. For instance, the one in the centre there, was just to give a monochrome look to associate with the monochrome films of the second world war.

BA Yes, er..TV21, which was a magazine, that a completely different technique, or is that just a development of the one we’ve seen?

FB It’s just a development, the materials, as I said in the first place, it’s exactly the same here as the first, say, Dan Dare ones we had Eagles, which is going back to the 1960s.

BA Yes, and of course there we have Star Trek that I think is er.., is er.. the Radio Times

FB Yes, a full page in the Radio Times, once again, exactly the same technique.

BA This seems to imply that your technique hasn’t changed very much at all over the years. Is that so?

FB Er.. very little. It’s intentional because I’m always conscious of the printer and their limitations. It gives me limitations but I’m prepared to accept it.

BA What kind of limitations, if we are looking, for example, at that Sunday Times Colour Supplement front cover there, what kind of limitations do you have to bear in mind for the printer, in producing that?

FB I give him pure colour so that it will reproduce purely. There’s the red, there’s no black or anything, I use one red, one yellow, one blue. [So that you do] not confuse the process people with umpteen different colours on the original you see.

BA But to bring it right up to date, of course, you are I suppose, obviously most famous for Garth and here we have one or two examples of Garth. I think the first one in fact, is from last April, isn’t it.

FB Yes, yes, it’s a western strip, actually. Previous to the er..first one, which was of course taking place in the present day, he arrives in a ghost town and gradually changes off into er.. the old west.

BA He’s a remarkable looking character there, isn’t he?

FB Suddenly you see on the second episode there, he is er..a western Marshall.

BA And then you bring him right up to date, if we look at, for example, yesterday’s and today’s. What’s he doing here, what’ve you made him here?

FB This is what.. we, er.., loosely call it a suit story – this is when people are walking about in suits, this is espionage and all that sort of thing. I can’t tell you any further because that would be giving the show away on a present running story.

BA How long has that got to run?

FB Um.. they usually ..[run] about seventeen weeks, it varies one way and another, usually about seventeen weeks.

BA Right. You can’t give them any kind of sneak preview?

FB Er, ooh, all I can say is that with one mighty heave he gets out of it as usual.

BA I see. Tell me how one sets about drawing um..a Garth strip. Can you show me?

FB Well, yes. In this way; there is a piece of board exactly the same way I would use for the Garth strip. [scratching sounds of pencil  on board] Set it out in pencil in this manner and once again you’ll notice I break up the frames. I’ll show you on this one here. For the start, of course, there’s the balloon and stuff to go in, [scratching sound on board] [mumbling] it’s about the most important piece of all.

BA Does the scripting give you a problem? How do you relate the script to your your work?

FB I keep in general to the script. Occasionally you get little things that on a typewritten script don’t work visually. Then it’s up to me to er.. re-draw, [scratching sound] or re-think, or present it in a different manner.

BA If.. if you find a script that you’re not, yourself, in sympathy with, I mean, can you draw to that or not?

FB Well, yes, but er….

BA If you don’t actually feel the script?

FB More often than not, I try to make myself feel it and it’s much better if you, I can get one that I’m interested in in the first place. For instance, the western one, I was thoroughly interested in drawing a western because I want to get these little bits of authenticity in a western instead of just a cowboy story.

BA How long would it take you in fact to do a complete Garth strip?

FB Agh, that’s a difficult one. All I can say is that I have to complete bank of pen’s running out… six a week and come what may, a deadline is a deadline, it’s a religion to me. And er..they have to have one every week.

BA Well there we see it, the end of a complete live Garth strip, specially for Edition. And Frank Bellamy thank you very much indeed for that example of your technique.

FB Oh, thank you.

BA From Edition now it’s goodnight


Many thanks to Richard Farrell for alerting me to the fact there was now a public version to hear online!

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