downthetubes gets a number of queries about old British comics, and strips, but a recent one featuring a real-life bus accident on London’s Tower Bridge resulted in a terrific combined effort by several British comic archivists to track the source.
Cartoonist Chris Williams contacted us in his role at the Cartoonists’ Club of Great Britain, on behalf of London’s Tower Bridge Museum, asking if we could identify a strip describing an accident in 1952. In it, a bus got stuck on the rising parts of Tower Bridge.
Sophie Jordan from the Museum was keen to find the source, a clipping the Museum had received as a donation.
“The bus jump is a true story and I’d love to use this cartoon in a learning resource,” she explained.
Also reported in newspapers of the time, on 30th December 1952, Matt Gedge notes here on the Fun London Tours site that an incident described as “1 in 150,000” by the Daily Mail occurred when the northern arm of Tower Bridge began to open with a Number 78 double decker bus on it, driven from Shoreditch to Dulwich, by Albert Gunter, travelling at about 12mph.
Newspapers reported that Gunter, who went on to become something of a minor celebrity, much to his amazement, realised he had no option but to speed up, otherwise the vehicle would have fallen into the River Thames. Luckily, the south side was slower to lift which meant that the bus dropped the much more preferable several feet and miraculously remained upright.
Back in 1952, few people walked around with a camera, unlike today, and it was left to newspapers to report the event, later brought to life in comics.
It was downthetubes contributor Steve Winders who noted the incident was also featured on the cover of EAGLE in 1966, as part of that comic’s “Did It Ever Happen?” series.
But it was Bear Alley publisher and author Steve Holland who not only discounted possible sources such as The Children’s Newspaper, now owned by Look and Learn Limited, and kindly pointed the Museum toward the now Rebellion Publishing-owned title Top Spot, even identifying the exact issue – cover dated 20th June 1959 – that the strip appeared in.
David Roach, author of Masters of British Comic Art, was among others who identified the artist of the Top Spot strip as Bill Baker. In fact, as Steve Holland notes over at Book Palace, his first comics work was one-off stories in Top Spot, followed by a brief serial, “New Rider at Clearwater”, and illustrations for Girl in 1960-64. He remained active in girls’ papers for the next decade, contributing to Tina (“Two on Cockatoo”) Princess Tina (“Life with Tina”), June (“Call Me Cupid”, “Wedding in the Family”) and Pixie Annual.
Later, he drew a number of literary adaptation for Look and Learn, the first in 1974 with a version of Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, but appears to have stopped working in comics in 1976.
Mystery solved, we’re delighted to report the Museum has secured a copy of the actual comic magazine.
Top Spot was launched in October 1958 and ran for 58 issues before being merged with Film Fun in 1960.
The title was the brainchild of Leonard Matthews and the original concept was for it be a male counterpart to the very successful girls title, Valentine, published by Amalgamated Press.
“I worked on Top Spot as an editorial assistant from its first issue,” noted Brian Woodford back in 2016, “when we had an extensive staff and put together the last issue as editor when we were down to just two people…myself and staff writer Edmund H. Burke.”
Initially feature led in terms of cover design, the title grew more comic-oriented the longer it ran, featuring strips drawn by Jesus Blasco, Geoff Campion, Arturo Del Castillo, Graham Coton, Gino D’Antonio, Cecil Doughty, Robert Forest, Ruggero Giovannini, Phillip Mendoza, Colin Meritt, Cecil Orr, Renato Polese, Ferdinando Tacconi, and many more.
Thanks to everyone who chipped in with suggestions and both Steve’s for being, as ever, invaluable walking encyclopaedias of British comics knowledge!