We’re used to thinking of John Worsley as the artist on the “The Adventures of PC 49” strip in the original Eagle comic, but of course he was a professional illustrator who worked in a number of different fields – as a war artist, police sketch artist artist and illustrated Wind in the Willows books.
Worsley was also president of the Royal Society of Marine Artists and over on his Boys Adventure Comics Blog, downthetubes Richard Sheaf has highlighted a stunning painting currently on sale on eBay (auction ends Monday lunchtime) that shows this side of his work off perfectly.
Bidding starts at £2,000 for this painting of the Royal Yacht Britannia (and 2 initial water colour trials).
Born 16th February 1919, John Worsley studied Fine Art at Goldsmiths’ School of Art, buying a second-hand Fiat for £4 in his final year, After leaving college, he travelled the south coast, making sketches to sell to magazines.
He served in the Royal Navy during World War Two, spending three years escorting convoys in the North Atlantic and the North Sea.
In November 1940 he was serving in the Royal Navy on HMS Laurentic when it was torpedoed, and he was rescued from an open lifeboat, subsequently producing a painting of the scene.
When his art was brought to the attention of the War Artists’ Advisory Committee, he became an official war artist, taking part in the landings at Sicily, Reggio and Salermo. But in 1943 he was captured while on an island in the Adriatic, recording the activities of a party of saboteurs.
Interrogated and initially held in solitary confinement for two months he was then imprisoned at Marlag O. It was there that he met the journalist Guy Morgan, who was about to be repatriated with serious war wounds, and who smuggled out a number of Worsley’s drawings in the plaster cast on his arm.
Then came the Albert RN escapade, when Worsley created the head of Albert R.N., a dummy made from papier maché, a wire frame and human hair who stood in for an escaped prisoner at roll calls for four days. Albert’s eyes were made from ping pong balls, and – thanks to a device created by Lieutenant Commander Tony Bentley-Buckle involving a pendulum made from a sardine tin – ‘he’ could blink and move his eyes.
The film Albert R.N., released in 1953, was based on this tale, and Worsley made the head of the dummy used in the film.
An illustrated book, John Worsley’s War, documents his wartime experiences, published in 1993.
Following the war John Worsley continued to paint for the Navy. The Imperial War Museum has 61 portraits by him, and the National Maritime Museum a further 29. Three of his works featured in a “War Artists at Sea” exhibition in 2015.
He also worked for the Eagle, initially providing a full-page advertising/ adventure strip for Walls ice cream, starring Tommy Walls.
Most notably, he illustrated some most of the comic strip’s based on the eponymous BBC radio show created by Alan Stranks, “The Adventures of PC 49″ (initially drawn by Strom Gould), with further tales in Eagle annuals and various spin-off books. P.C. Archibald Berkeley-Willoughby’s story appeared on page three, directly after the Dan Dare lead strip. His work was highlighted in Eagle Times back in 2015.
He also drew “Belle Of The Ballet” for Girl, a strip that proved very popular drawn latter by Chris Garvey (in reality, the painter June Mendoza), Stanley Houghton, and Harry Lindfield. It was later reprinted as “Lindy of Latmyer Grange” in Princess Tina.
It would also be remiss of us not to mention John’s long run drawing “Wee Willie Winkie” for Treasure – this illustration even seems to include a self-portrait, along with other members of Treasure’s editorial and creative staff on the third floor of Fleetway House!
Amongst Worsley’s other commercial work is a series of Army Recruitment posters, offered as prints here on Manning Fine Art, in an inspired feat of recruitment as his style would have been instantly recognisable to the potential recruits who would have been brought up on Eagle.
Worsley also produced for Esso a series of paintings showing life on oilfields in Iraq and America, and created hundreds of colour illustrations for television readings of children’s stories; many of them later found their way into books; some occasionally are offered at auction.During each programme, one picture was held on the screen for anything from a few seconds to full minute. The amount of time the camera spent panning a picture depended on its detail and some pictures, such as the Weasel’s Banquet for Wind in the Willows, took Worsley up to three days to complete.
For the one-hour network special of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, broadcast in 1970 and available on DVD, Worsley provided 150 new paintings and the last painting had barely dried before the cameras rolled, finished within just one hour of the recording.
The show was acclaimed by the TV critics and became one of the jewels of the Christmas season that year.
Even in his late 70s, he could still be found busy, always working on a marine painting, sculpture or glass engraving, and proved a popular guest at events that had their focus on his works.
“The Eagle Society Event in 1997 was a memorable event, meeting John Worsley for the first time,” recalls William Rudling, co-ordinator of the Jeff Hawke Fan Club. “What a versatile artist – and excellent in all aspects of illustrating.”
• View the Royal Yacht Britannia art by John Worsley here on eBay – the item was re-listed on 14th February 2019
The Anglia TV adaptations John worked on were:
• The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame
• The Winter of Enchantment by Victoria Walker
• A Christmas Carol By Charles Dickens
• Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stephenson
• Baldmoney, Sneezewort, Dodder and Cloudberry – based on The Little Grey Men by ‘B.B.’ (natural history book illustrator Denys Watkins-Pitchford)
• The Whisper of Glocken by Carol Kendall
With thanks to Philip Rushton, Richard Sheaf and Ron Tiner