Leonard Matthews, General Managing Editor of Fleetway and the Eagle Group of Comics, was a Creative Visionary… but that, Roger Perry argues in his extensive biography of the man which continues here on downthetubes, is only due to him having utilised the ideas of others.
Here, Roger recalls trouble at the top for ‘The Management”, the debut of Boys’ World – and the demise of Ranger…
Matthews had Upholsterers Stack the Odds in his Favour!
As far as we were all concerned at Hulton House (albeit that we were now ensconced in the Annex building at the back and overlooking Red Lion Court), after a number of disasters had assailed him, Leonard Matthews had crawled off somewhere and was now (possibly) licking at his wounds. It was remarkably quiet, and it would seem that his Mirror hierarchy chums – Cecil Harmsworth-King and Hugh Cudlipp – had found themselves with other things (and of a far more personal nature) to occupy their minds.
As it turned out, so too had Leonard James Matthews – or so I unintentionally uncovered fairly recently.
In the case of Harmsworth-King he had just re-married at the ripe old age of 61. The lady of his choice this time was Dame Ruth Railton, founder of the National Youth Orchestra and whose father had been the Reverend David Railton, originator for the proposal to acknowledge the Grave of the Unknown Warrior. (Remembrance Day and the millions of poppies that come with it and go towards commemorating that annually).
And what of Hugh Cudlipp? Well sadly, he had just lost his second wife, Eileen Ascroft, who had taken an overdose of sleeping pills.
Described in Ruth Dudley Edwards’ book Newspapermen as “blonde, talented and ambitious”, Eileen had an interesting background. Her first husband had been the celebrated film-maker Alexander Mackendrick, who had produced and directed such knockout films as Whisky Galore, The Ladykillers and A High Wind in Jamaica. She spent a lifetime in journalism and wrote The Magic Key to Charm in 1938, a book holding “the secrets to serenity and elegance”.
She was employed at the Daily Mirror when she met Hugh, marrying him in 1945. Her time at the Mirror came to an end when she was sacked by the Editorial Director, Harry Guy Bartholomew, for using his oak office door as a dartboard at an office party.
(An accomplished artist himself, Bartholomew had been providing cartoons for the Daily Mirror since the year dot and had become both Art Editor and a director of the paper in 1913 before becoming Editorial Director in 1933).
A lack of darts skills notwithstanding, she went on to become the Fashion Editor of the Evening Standard and was responsible for launching that paper’s Woman’s Page Among her many talents were the ability to navigate her husband’s motor-cruiser on one of their numerous cross-Channel expeditions – and piloting an aircraft, a skill she’d mastered during an idle spell while visiting down-under.
In the time leading up to her death, she and her husband Hugh were, allegedly, regarded as the two most powerful people in Fleet Street. Word had it that the combined power of Mr and Mrs Cudlipp over the livelihoods of hundreds – perhaps thousands – of newspaper men and women was not only immense… but terrifying. And this had been the world that Matthews had stumbled into.
As for Leonard James Matthews, well he was quietly feathering his own nest. On the 3rd July, he… Just a minute, just a minute! – it took me 53 years to discover the truth behind Leonard’s latter-life venturing! Sneaky of me, I know, but I think I am going to leave you hanging in mid-air just a little longer on that one… but I promise to return to this juicy morsel in Part Eight – which is not all that long for you to wait.
Back on the Juvenile Publications front, there had been just so many inconsistencies over what Matthews did or didn’t do – one of these having been in regard to his issuing of contracts. Although it hadn’t actually turned out the way he’d hoped, in 1959, Hugh Cudlipp had instructed Leonard Matthews to offer Frank Hampson a three-year contract with the view to poaching him away from Eagle. It had also been pretty common knowledge (at the time) that both Val Holding and Andy Vincent had each been given a one-year contract to sit in chairs at Hulton House and do very little else – and yet when it came to it… well, why don’t I just take yet another paragraph from the Reverend Marcus Morris‘ autobiography, Living with Eagles, as seen on page 222?
John Ryan was on an annual contract. When this unpleasant character slid in, I can’t remember who he was, the hatchet man I think, I went to see him and said my contract’s up for renewal, and he looked at me and said, ‘We don’t like contracts, John”. That was when I started edging rapidly into television.
And while I speak of cartoonist John Ryan, creator of ‘Captain Pugwash’ and ‘Harris Tweed’ for Eagle, I feel that I must bring in a story relayed by Chief Sub-Editor Dan Lloyd. It’s a story he wrote that appeared in Eagle Times summer 1999 issue:
It was not long after I had joined Eagle that I was involved in an amusing ‘kerfuffle’ arising from the antics of ‘Harris Tweed’. He and his boy companion had entered a house that Tweed was hoping to sell, and carelessly had left the gas on. Upstairs, he tested the floorboards by jumping on them, lighting his pipe as he did so, and at once fell through the floor. The consequence – BOOM! – and Harris Tweed, his client and the boy were blown sky-high in the gas explosion. This was all highly amusing.
Unfortunately, right above the half-page cartoon adventure was a half-page advertisement for British Gas! Somehow the unfortunate juxtaposition found its way into the press. One morning I opened my Daily Telegraph and glanced at the Peterborough column. There it was in black and white, the whole embarrassing story, with the sardonic comment that it would seem that Tweed’s right hand didn’t know what Mr Therm’s left hand was up to!
The Harris Tweed embarrassment appeared in Eagle in the issue cover dated 2nd January, 1960.
Continuing on with 1962, it was in June of that year that Barry Cork had popped his head around the doorway to give me the heart-stopping news that George Allen wanted to see me at Fleetway House.
“What about?” I asked, suspiciously.
“I’ve no idea,” he replied smugly, before sloping back to the security of his own office.
Now, if you’ve been keeping tabs on all this, you will remember that George Allen and David Roberts were the two henchmen who had acted as heavies when Matthews had come in and carried out his dirtiest of deeds, some nine months earlier. Mention of the name George Allen was received with a certain amount of fear and trepidation on my part.
Fleetway House was no more than a five or six-minute brisk stroll away from the Annex. I’d actually gone there dozens of times before, as the one and only good thing about Fleetway as far as I was concerned was that it had a pretty good restaurant in its basement where you could get a tasty two-course meal for half-a-crown (12½ new pence). At the main foyer, I asked for George Allen and was told by the uniformed attendant to take the lift up to the sixth floor. As the secretary showed me into George Allen’s office, he had waved an arm warmly, inviting me to sit in the comfortable-looking arm chair that was positioned just in front of his desk.
As you well know, gossip tends to get around, and I’d heard on good authority that Leonard Matthews also had a similar comfortable-looking armchair in his office… but it was a chair where many of the springs in the seating area had been removed. Like a scene from the still-to-come 1970s comedy The Rise and Fall of Regginald Perrin, the ploy was that the unsuspecting visitor would end up sitting almost on the floor, while Matthews (and I imagine Allen too, because they both were fairly short in stature) would be at least one head-height higher… thus having the strategic advantage. Not only that, but both had placed their desks so that the visitor had the glare of Farringdon Street blasting fully onto him.
I accepted George Allen’s invitation… but had perched myself onto the chair’s armrest instead. He gave me the sort of look that had said “Oh, so you know about the chair, then?” and I’d hoped that my non-spoken reply had suggested that I knew that he knew that I knew about the chair.
“I am told that you supply some of the animal pictures that are printed on the back page of Robin,” he said.
Up to now, Robin had published photographs of my own calico cat and that of my parents-in-laws’ Basset hound (there might have been others, but I can no longer recall).
My heart sank slightly as, in the union’s eyes, I was not accredited to take photographs and had wondered therefore how he had got to hear about it – the name Barry (the Grass) Cork had sprung to mind.
“Erm… yes,” I conceded flatly.
“I want your pictures to be ‘R’ pictures,” he’d said with a hint of enthusiasm.
“’R’ pictures?” I asked in an equally flat puzzled tone.
“Yes,” he cried out with joyousness in his voice. “I want the six- or seven-year-old child to pick up a copy of Robin, see your picture; and go ‘Aaahhhhh!’
“Oh, aaaahhhhhhh. I see.” I said somewhat flatly.
The only person likely to go “Aahhh” over my one of my pictures was me, and that was when I opened up the envelope and withdrew the cheque for the £15 which is what I got from Odhams’ for their right to use it.
Although it had taken them almost a year for Matthews’ shenanigans to come to their notice, halfway through 1962, as George Beal noted in his obituary in 1997, a weekly news magazine devoted its entire front page to a cartoon of Fleetway Publications’ newly created director, who eleven months earlier had irretrievably altered the course of comic history, dressed in Napoleonic clothing and was declaring him the “Napoleon of the Comics”.
1963 – 1964
After the absorption of Swift into Eagle, it was decreed by the powers-that-be that a brand new paper called Boys’ World should be created in order to take its place.
In its embryonic state, Andy Vincent – who was still with us in mind and body – was regularly seen having deep discussions with Jim Kenner, a 30-year-old (and almost completely bald) Canadian who, every now and then, would swing his right arm in a complete circle… either in the belief that he was on some local village cricket green or was in the act of trying to free a temporarily trapped nerve in his right shoulder. If nothing else, it was really quite entertaining to watch.
On the first anniversary of Destruction Day – 5th September 1962 – Andy, who had been Eagle’s puppet editor for the previous twelve months, packed his bags and had gone off elsewhere. (Is it my imagination or was France mentioned somewhere?) Robert (Bart) Bartholomew – ex-editor of the now defunct The Children’s Newspaper – replaced him, but he was not alone… accompanying him was Alfred Wallace, who had taken over from Val Holding, who had also been given a one-year contract by Matthews and which had now reached its sell-by date.
Thinking perhaps he’d done enough damage to the Eagle Group (without wishing to appear vindictive), Matthews now sat back to have a re-think about the Italian magazines Conoscere and La Vita Meravigliose. When they had first been presented to the Amalgamated Press board, the idea of imitating the format had been turned down, on the grounds that they might harm sales of The Children’s’ Newspaper, but in January 1961, rival publisher Purnell had brought out Knowledge, a British edition of Conoscere. It was published as a part-work which built up week after week into an encyclopaedia, an added attraction being that it was in full colour. It ran for a total of 216 issues, of which each successive 12 issues could be bound up to make an individual volume. The collector was able to purchase specially produced binders so that these issues could be stored effectively and efficiently.
Matthews re-assessed his original proposal; took the idea in dummy form once again to the board; and this time he was given the go-ahead. With the demise of The Children’s Newspaper, the board were now able to entertain an alternative view over the proposal.
In the lead-up to the launching of Boys’ World, massive misjudgements began coming to light. The man chosen to be the new paper’s editor, Jim Kenner, was an innovative man who possessed great enthusiasm and some terrific ideas. But as the launch date of the new title got uncomfortably closer and with many things not yet even commissioned, he also earned the disparaging accolade of not being able to organise a piss up in a brewery.
The following interview with Robert Bart Bartholomew is reproduced here from the spring 1995 issue of Eagle Times and is where ‘Bart’ speaks mainly about Jim Kenner:
He came to England looking for work; editorial work, writing work; and Alf Wallace, who was then IC at Odhams, [and] was so impressed by him that he offered him Boys’ World to start, to create. Jim started out working, with me in the next room doing Eagle and him doing Boys’ World.
Jim had the most ambitious schemes. He was, if you like, another Marcus Morris in his ambition but of course we’d moved on and there wasn’t that sort of money around. I remember he wanted to give a prize away of an aeroplane!
Jim had a number of good ideas but unfortunately he was so impractical. And as we neared the first press day we were weeks behind – weeks! He hadn’t got this written, he hadn’t got that written; he didn’t know anybody in Fleet Street. Basically, I was called in by the management, who said: ‘We want you to take over Boys’ World immediately – as of now – because we’re due to go to press in X days time. We’re told that the paper is way, way behind and I’m afraid that Jim has just got to give way.’
So I called in Jim. I said: ‘Look, I’m terribly sorry, Jim, but I’m told I’ve got to take over Boys’ World because it’s so ridiculously late. We’re never going to get anywhere near our press day.’
Jim was awfully good about it. He accepted he didn’t know what was happening. Of course, I knew everybody in Fleet Street, in the Juveniles. So I simply got on the blower, and phoned this man, that man, any man I could get hold of, offered them a fortune just to get me a story in, get me some artwork in, etc., etc. And so that was how Boys’ World came out, and how you see me as editor right from Issue One. But I was never intended to be. I then ran the two side by side.”
Rushed over from Fleetway to help Bob at this late stage in the game were Brian Woodford and Colin Gibson (although the latter had never worked on children’s papers before). Also joining them was Albert (Cos) Cosser, a senior sub-editor who had been working in the comic section at Express Newspapers.
There were rumours and unproven suspicions at the time in regard to “indiscretions” on the part of the Boys’ World editorial team, but it was only with the discovery of a payments document by comics archivist Steve Holland that these were confirmed. Ex-editor Jim Kenner, Chief Sub Editor Albert Cosser and designer Colin Gibson had all put through extra-curricular payments, charged to the title’s budget.
In order to hide the originators of this work, payments were being paid through Miss Doris White of Link Studios (shades of Top Spot, methinks). A fuller account of this underhandedness can be read in Steve Holland’s Boys’ World: Ticket to Adventure.
Such dubious activities were not confined to Boys’ World.
Aside from having been the sole designer on Girl magazine, I also did what little was needed to be done on Robin magazine (something that might have taken me not much more than one whole hour, perhaps two at the outside, each week). Apart from a Readers’ Letters Page, the title’s format remained much the same week after week, a title over seen by editor Barry Cork.
Barry – one of the new staff brought in from Fleetway by Leonard Matthews – was, like others, someone who essentially hid himself away in his office all day long without ever emerging. For all I knew, he might even have had a camp bed and a wardrobe in there and probably hadn’t gone home at night, either!
But it would turn out that at least he wasn’t being idle. Apart from browsing over each week’s Robin dummy from printers Eric Bemrose – which must have occupied Barry’s precious time for at least thirty minutes – he was spending the remaining 34 hours and 30 minutes each week writing romantic stories for the likes of Woman, Woman’s Own and Woman’s Realm, under a variety of pseudonyms.
I have no idea as to what his remuneration for taking on the role of Robin’s editor was, but his weekly salary must have doubled, trebled, if not quadrupled through taking on this extracurricular work to fill those hours that otherwise would have consisted of little more than thumb-twiddling.
I need to bring in John Sanders here, a subordinate of Matthews, who would go on to have an instrumental role in the creation of several memorable comics of the 1970s such as Action and 2000AD. Most of Matthews’ cronies – the likes of David Roberts, George Beal and George Allan – I knew… or at least, I knew of. But Sanders had been someone new to me. It was during this year that Sanders had left the editorship of Matthews’ successful Look and Learn magazine and had gone to edit another of his creations, a comic called Ranger.
Ranger offered a mix of features, stories and strips (um, isn’t that what most of these comics had consisted of?). It was a paper that Matthews had hoped would take off in much the same way that the Eagle had done 15 years earlier. But then, that was unlikely to happen.
In 1950, five years after World War Two ended, there had been thousands upon thousands of “war-babies”, all of whom had just about reached the right age in wanting something new, bright and exciting… and there had been nothing else on the market for Eagle to find itself competing against. That was why Eagle had been so successful. Ranger made its début in September 1965 (cover dated 18th September) but had run only for 40 un-numbered issues before being incorporated into Look and Learn with the issue cover dated 18th June 1966.
It’s widely documented that Sanders had had ambitions to move into Fleetway’s mainstream of children’s’ comic strip papers. Reading between the lines (and knowing what I knew about Fleetway), this has led me to thinking that, by hook or by crook, Sanders was in some way going topple Leonard Matthews from his position.
In Part Eight, we follow Matthews’ plight as he takes his leave of Fleetway and becomes the sole owner of a company that packaged magazines. But what was the cause of his leaving . . . did John Sanders play a part in Matthews’ departure?
Acknowledgements to David Slinn and to Darren Evens of Eagle Times for producing certain scans as used in this article.
Boys’ World is one of the most fondly remembered of all British comics from the 1960s. An Eagle for the new decade, it featured across its centre pages the mighty ‘Wrath of the Gods’, an epic tale of deities and demons beautifully drawn by Ron Embleton. Readers thrilled to the adventure of ‘The Sea Ape’, puzzled over the question ‘What Is Exhibit X?’ and roared at the sporting antics of ‘Billy Binns and his Wonderful Specs’.
Boys’ World: Ticket to Adventure relates how the paper came into existence at a turbulent time for comics, how its original editor was replaced before the first issue even reached the newsstands and how it eventually folded into the paper it was meant to replace.
Compiled by Steve Holland, the book also includes extensive indexes to the paper’s contents as well as those of the Boys’ World Annuals; the book also includes title and creators’ indexes, outlines of every comic strip storyline the paper ran and a unique look at the payments made for three key issues.
• The New Camden Journal web site has an excellent overview of Newspapermen by Ruth Dudley Edwards, including photographs of Fleet Street power brokers Hugh Cudlipp and Eileen Ascroft
• Newspapermen: Hugh Cudlipp, Cecil Harmsworth King and the Glory Days of Fleet Street
By Ruth Dudley Edwards
They were ‘Cudlipp’ and ‘Mr King’ when they met in 1935. At 21, gregarious, extrovert and irreverent Hugh Cudlipp had many years of journalistic experience: at 34, shy, introspective and solemn Cecil Harmsworth King, haunted by the ghost of Uncle Alfred, Lord Northcliffe, the great press magnate, and bitter towards Uncle Harold, Lord Rothermere of the Daily Mail, was fighting his way up in the family business. Opposites in most respects, they were complementary in talents and had in common a deep concern for the underdog. Cudlipp, the journalistic genius, and King, the formidable intellect, were to become, in Cudlipp’s words, ‘the Barnum and Bailey’ of Fleet Street; together, on the foundation of the populist Daily Mirror, they created the biggest publishing empire in the world. Their relationship foundered sensationally in 1968, when – as King tried to topple the Prime Minister – Cudlipp toppled King. Through the story of two extraordinary men, Ruth Dudley Edwards gives us a riveting portrait of Fleet Street in its heyday.
A feature on the life of the late John Ryan, together with links to his many works. There is a list of these here on the same site. There’s also a very informative site about John here, created to mark an exhibition of his work in Rye in 2012
More Eagle Daze…
Roger explores the beginnings of the destruction of the Eagle…
The comic magazine Top Spot, published in 1958, was Matthews’ brainchild – but it was the male counterpart of an already existing magazine and it was a title that faced plenty of problems as it ran its course before merging with Film Fun after just 58 issues…
Roger outlines how Matthews jealousy almost destroyed the Eagle…
Roger reveals a possible mole working on the Eagle and trouble behind the scenes on Girl…
How a Marks & Spencer Floor Detective Became Managing Editor of Eagle…
Roger reveals how Dan Dare co-creator Frank Hampson was thorn in Leonard Matthews side…
Trouble at the top for ‘The Management”, the troubled debut of Boys’ World – and the demise of Ranger
On the creation of Martspress, the company that would publish TV21 in its later, cheaper incarnation – and reveals an intriguing mystery surrounding some art commissioned by the company…
Moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, Roger recalls how Men Only was given a new lease of life – and Leonard Matthews’ ignorance of Star Wars…
A phone-call out of the blue brings about a closer relationship with the one man Roger had once feared the most…
A search for elusive promotional film stills end in the middle of nowhere in a one horse town without a horse – and Eagle‘s production methods are recalled
Roger clarifies points made in past chapters, looks back on Leonard Matthews career – and sums up his contribution to British comics – and publishing in general…
This article, which is being published in a total of twelve parts, has been put together using material from Leonard Matthews’ obituary as written by George Beal for the Independent newspaper dated Friday, 5th December 1997; also taken from the Independent newspaper dated Sunday, 23rd October 2011 is a piece authored by Jack Adrian (a.k.a. Christopher Lowder); Living with Eagles compiled and written by Sally Morris and Jan Hallwood (particularly pages 219 to 222); David Slinn’s research notes during 2005 in connection with the authoring of Alastair Crompton’s Tomorrow Revisited and from Brian Woodford’s association with Matthews at the Amalgamated Press between 1955 and 1962. Entries also come from both Wikipedia and from the internet under the heading Fleetway Publications.
Further pieces have been taken from Eagle Times as and where identified; the blog-spots of Michael Moorcock’s Miscellany (particularly 9th and 10th April 2013) and Lew Stringer’s Blimey! where he refers to the Top Spot magazine. The remainder is from my own personal association with Leonard Matthews between the years of 1978 and 1991.