Army Recruitment posters by John Worsley

Creator Spotlight: Eagle’s PC49 artist John Worsley

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.

A Wind in the Willows illustration by John Worsley, used to illustrated Anglia’s first children’s serial but also in an illustrated book of Kenneth Grahame's story
A Wind in the Willows illustration by John Worsley, used to illustrated Anglia’s first children’s serial but also in an illustrated book of Kenneth Grahame’s story

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).

Royal Yacht Britannia by John Worsley
Royal Yacht Britannia by John Worsley

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.

Naval Officers Room at Marlag O, Prisoner of War Camp by John Worsley. Image: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Naval Officers Room at Marlag O, Prisoner of War Camp by John Worsley. Image: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

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.

The opening page of “The Adventures of PC 49” from the second Eagle annual
The opening page of “The Adventures of PC 49” from the second Eagle annual

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.

“Belle of the Ballet” from Girl Volume 2, Number 4 (cover dated 19th November 1952) illustrated by John Worsley. With thanks to Philip Rushton
“Belle of the Ballet” from Girl Volume 2, Number 4 (cover dated 19th November 1952) illustrated by John Worsley. With thanks to Philip Rushton

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!

Treasure - “Wee Willie Winkie” - art by John Worsley
Treasure – “Wee Willie Winkie” – art by John Worsley
Wee Willie Winkie's Adventure in Cairo - art by John Worsley for Treasure magazine Number 19. Via the Illustration Art Gallery
Wee Willie Winkie’s Adventure in Cairo – art by John Worsley for Treasure magazine Number 19. Via the Illustration Art Gallery

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.

Some of John Worsley's illustrations for "A Christmas Caro" used to illustrate its telling on Anglia TV, broadcast in 1970, available on DVD. The illustrations were also used in a book and you could see that he had drawn street scenes with rather strange perspectives so that the camera could pan across as the story was read.
Some of John Worsley’s illustrations for “A Christmas Carol” used to illustrate its telling on Anglia TV, broadcast in 1970, available on DVD. The illustrations were also used in a book and you could see that he had drawn street scenes with rather strange perspectives so that the camera could pan across as the story was read.

A Christmas Carol by John Worsley

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.

John Worsley and "Albert RN" at an Eagle Society meeting in 1997. Photo: William Rudling
John Worsley and “Albert RN” at an Eagle Society meeting in 1997. Photo: William Rudling

“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.”

WEB LINKS

There is a detailed account of John Worsley’s life here on the Old Brightonians web site

View the Royal Yacht Britannia art by John Worsley here on eBay – the item was re-listed on 14th February 2019

A signed copy of John Worsley’s War is currently at auction on eBay

Around The World with Hannibal and Wee Willie Winkie
Around The World with Hannibal and Wee Willie Winkie – art by John Worsley

Art by John Worsley for sale on the Illustration Art Gallery

John Worsley art on ArtUK

“Belle of the Ballet” from Girl is the subject of discussion here on ComicsUK

There’s a great article about The Adventures of PC 49 here by Karl Williams

Read about the background to the making of A Christmas Carol by Anglia TV

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

Art for Baldmoney, Sneezewort, Dodder and Cloudberry, based on The Little Grey Men by ‘B.B.’, natural history book illustrator Denys Watkins-Pitchford, sold at auction last year
Art for Baldmoney, Sneezewort, Dodder and Cloudberry, based on The Little Grey Men by ‘B.B.’, natural history book illustrator Denys Watkins-Pitchford, sold at auction last year

• 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

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John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

3 thoughts on “Creator Spotlight: Eagle’s PC49 artist John Worsley

  1. Ah yes, ” police sketch artists” – before the days of Identikit, I presume. One still sees them in the occasional old film on TV, perhaps on Talking Pictures TV.

  2. Wonderful work! When John Worsley took over the illustrations for PC49
    he gave it a visual impact it lacked previously. It the atmosphere of a quality black and white British film- Elstree Studios come to mind..

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