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In Memoriam: “Look Out for Lefty” artist Anthony John “Tony” Harding

An opening panel from "Look out for Lefty", drawn by Tony Harding, the controversial strip that featured in Action in the 1970s.

An opening panel from “Look out for Lefty”, drawn by Tony Harding, the controversial strip that featured in Action in the 1970s.

(Updated 24/2/14, adding David Hunt’s comments on Tony’s passing): We’re sorry to report the passing of comic artist Anthony John “Tony” Harding, whose credits across over 30 years in British comics included work for both DC Thomson and IPC Magazines, on comics such as Bullet, Scorcher, Hornet, Action, Roy of the Rovers, Victor and Scoop.

Tony, who died in January aged 72, specialised in football stories and is perhaps best known for his work on the controversial “Look Out for Lefty”, one of the more controversial strips that featured in the boy’s comic Action, published by Fleetway in the 1970s.

Born in West Ham, Tony Harding joined Link Studios in London as an apprentice at the age of 16, and began work as a comic artist for DC Thomson and IPC Magazines in 1962 while studying at Saint Martin’s School of Art in the evenings. By day, he played football – a lifelong passion – for Gartan Sports FC in East London, helping them to win a host of trophies. He was also a talented boxer, athlete and singer.

He was only 20 when his agent at Link Studios agreed that he could he become a freelance illustrator, having proved himself as a worthy, talented and reliable apprentice working on The Hornet and other magazines.

Tony’s earliest credits include  “Wonder Mann” for The Victor in 1961-62, a revival of on an old prose serial from The Rover from 1946, that starred H. K. Rodd, a young man raised by scientists to be the perfect athlete. He moved to Guernsey in 1963, where he played for St Martin’s FC  helped that team win several  titles and trophies between 1963 and 1965 , and met his future wife Ann, who he married in 1967.

Another early credit at that time was “Bouncing Briggs”, which first appeared in The Hornet in 1963. The story featured Bernard Briggs, a young scrap metal dealer who became goalkeeper for Blackton Rovers after calling at the club grounds to collect some iron railings, and criticising their goalkeeper so loudly the team challenged him to have a go himself. The strip ran in The Hornet until 1976, and from then in The Hotspur until 1980.

He also drew episodes of “Alf Tupper, Tough of the Track” and “Terry’s Tornados”.

A cover for DC Thomson's Bullet featuring "Twisty", drawn by Tony Harding.

A cover for DC Thomson’s Bullet featuring “Twisty”, drawn by Tony Harding.

Returning to London to live in Stoke Newington, and then moving to the Isle of Wight in 1972, he also drew “Twisty” for Bullet in 1977 and “The Goals of Jimmy Grant” for Victor.

At IPC, he drew “Bobby of the Blues” for Scorcher in 1970 and 1971, and a number of strips for Roy of the Rovers such as “The Footballer Who Wouldn’t Stay Dead” and “The Safest Hands in Soccer” between 1976 and 1993, drawing “Roy of the Rovers” strips for the comic’s annuals.

In 1976-77 he drew the controversial football strip “Look Out For Lefty”, written by Tom Tully, for Action, taking over from his friend Barrie Mitchell. The strip, which followed the adventures of schoolboy Kenny ‘Lefty’ Lampton as he carved out his footballing career thanks to his powerful and accurate left foot proved controversial, with as many scrapes off the field as on it, including an ongoing feud with spoilt rich kid and hopeless First Division hopeful Sid Smythe. Lefty had a skinhead girlfriend and an evil temper, which could often be his undoing.

On his Sevenpenny Nightmare site charting the rise and fall of Action, Moose Harris notes the strip was very well received by readers, but as the story progressed, and reflected the true violence on the terraces of the time, Lefty ended up sailing too close to the wind.

“Writer Tom Tully was told that the strip was becoming boring, and was asked to liven it up a bit, and take it back to its roots. Tully rose to the challenge with great effect. The Football Association and the tabloid media took great exception to an incident where a bottle was thrown onto the pitch by [skinhead girlfriend] Angie, striking a player in the head. Tully then compounded this incident with a scaled-up repeat performance just a few weeks later. The second time, rival hooligans known as the Rotherfield Rippers threw a barrage of missiles at Lefty during a match.”

Tony regarded it as a “cheeky”, humorous story, but objected to some of the things he was asked to draw, for example refusing to depict Lefty sticking two fingers up to the crowd.

A controversial page from "Look out for Lefty" which contributed to the furore over Acton and eventually saw the comic banned. Art by Tony Harding.

A controversial page from “Look out for Lefty” which contributed to the furore over Acton and eventually saw the comic banned. Art by Tony Harding.

The furore over strips such as “Look out for Lefty” eventually led to Action  being banned, but the strip returned after the comic’s enforced hiatus, albeit in a much sanitised form and Tony continued to draw it. “[Lefty’s skinhead girlfriend] Angie became progressively more bland and eventually disappeared from the strip completely, to be replaced by a returning Sid Smythe in pantomime villain mode,” notes Moose . “… The story ground to a premature halt as Action folded, the strip being unsuitable for the style of Battle Action.

“In its original form, “Lefty” had the distinction of being a truly original football strip, with some realistic and sympathetic characters. Its transformation into another Tiger-styled Roy of the Rovers wannabe is rather sad.”

Tony continued to play football for the Isle of Wight team Rookley FC. His obituary in the Isle of Wight newspaper County Press notes he played over 300 games in total and won many more trophies. He was voted Life President of Rookley Football Club due to his many years of faithful service as player and captain. He was voted player of the year in 1976-77 and club man of the year 1982-83.

When the British comics industry began to falter in the 1990s, moving in the main toward licensed rather than original comics strips, Tony became an arts teacher, using art to help people recovering from strokes and worked with people with disabilities at Meadowbrook Day Care Centre, where he founded the Re-Cycle project, collecting over 1000 bicycles for Africa.

Although he continued to work on comics part time through the 1990s, on DC Thomson’s  Football Picture Story Monthly and a soccer comic in the USA, he eventually left comics altogether in 2000.

“Tony was not only a tremendously talented artist, he was also one of the nicest contributors I had the pleasure to work with,” recalls former Fleetway editor David Hunt. “It was always good to speak with or to see Tony … be it on the phone or at the office, he always made one feel you were in the presence of a very modest and warm human being. My sincere condolences to his family and, I’m sure, his many, many friends.”

• Anthony John “Tony” Harding: 9th January 1942 – 12th January 2014, survived by his wife, Ann, son Antony, three daughters – Suzanne, Claire and Laura – and three grandchildren

Tony Harding's cover for Wizard, cover dated 1st June 1975

Tony Harding’s cover for Wizard, cover dated 1st June 1975

Comic Strip Work

(With thanks to his son, Antony)

1964

Briggs the Bowler – Hornet 1964

Briggs the Goalie - Hornet, 1976

Briggs the Goalie – Hornet, 1976

1965

Briggs the Goalie – Hornet 1965 (Number 82 cover dated 3rd April 1965, also re-issued in 1973)

1968

Bernard the Boxer – Hornet 1968
King Bernard – Hornet 1968, reissued 1972

1969

The Ball of Fire – Hornet 1969
Bernard the Boot – Hornet 1969

Cover for Scorcher, cover dated 12th December 1970

Cover for Scorcher, cover dated 12th December 1970

1970

Bouncing Briggs – Hornet 1970

1972

Bernard Goes for Gold – Hornet 1972
Keep Cool Cassidy – Hornet 1972
What’s The Matter With Carter? – Hornet 1972

1973

Bernard Goes for Goals – Hornet 1973 reissue
Bobby of the Blues – Scorcher & Score 1973 + Scorcher

1975

Frail Johnny Frail – Wizard 1975
Larsen – Wizard 1975

Wondermann at the Olympics – Bullet, 1976

Wondermann at the Olympics – Bullet, 1976

1976

Bernard Briggs – Hotspur & Hornet 1976
Look Out For Lefty – Action 1976
Wondermann at the Olympics – Bullet 1976

1977

Twisty – Bullet 1977

 

"Look out for Lefty" spot illustration for the 19778 Action Summer Special

“Look out for Lefty” spot illustration for the 19778 Action Summer Special

1978

Look out for Lefty – Action Summer Special 1978 (illustrations)

1981

This Goalie’s Got Guts – Scoop 1981
Stark – Victor 1981

1982

The Footballer Who Wouldn’t Stay Dead – Roy of the Rovers 1982
Stark’s Soccer School – Victor 1982

1983

The Odd Man of the United – Victor 1983
The Striker From Karoma – Victor 1983
Tuffy – Victor 1983
Who Is Arrow – Roy of the Rovers 1983

1984

Roy’s Action Replay – Roy of the Rovers 1984
Boy Cross – Victor 1984

1985

The Goals of Jimmy Grant – 1985 + 1988
Roy of the Rovers – Roy of the Rovers Summer Special 1985
A Thousand Tough Miles for Alf Tupper -Victor 1985
The Toff of the Track – Victor 1985

1986

Jake’s Giant Killers – Victor 1986
Lord Lancelot Goes West – Victor 1986
The Sorcerer’s Apprentices – Victor 1986

1987

Space Hunter – Victor 1987
Wheels of Death – Victor 1987

1988

Fangs of Fear – Victor 1988
Finders Keepers – Victor 1988
Flash Harry – Victor 1988
Red Hot Shot – Hotshot 1988
Up for the Cup – Hotshot 1988

1990

The Boot Boys – Victor 1990

1991

Terry’s Tornadoes -Victor 1991
Up for the Cup -Victor 1991

1992

Billy the Kid – Victor 1992
The Doubles Act – Victor 1992

Other Work

Tony also drew “King of the Ring” and “Secret Agent Soccer Star” – dates and titles unknown (information welcome!)

Further Reading

“Does Your Dad draw Roy of the Rovers?”
Antony Harding remembers his father and his work

“A Lovely Bloke…”
Fellow artist Barrie Mitchell pays tribute to Tony Harding

Web Links

Wikipedia: Anthony John “Tony” Harding

Obituary: Isle of Wight County Press, Friday 7th February 

Re-Cycle Donation Page

 

About News Team

News Team
This account features guest posts by a wide variety of comics industry professionals, often cross posted with permission from their web sites. Our thanks to them for their support.

One comment

  1. Another staple of British comics gone forever. Hopefully, his name and his art will live on.

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