London Tower Bridge comic strip mystery solved!

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.

Top Spot cover dated 20th June 1959 - Tower Bridge Story
A comic strip mystery from the 1950s

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.

Bus on Tower Bridge - Daily Express, 31st December 1952
Daily Express, 31st December 1952

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.

Eagle - cover dated 20th August 1966 (with thanks to Steve Winders)
Eagle – cover dated 20th August 1966 (with thanks to Steve Winders)

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.

Tower Bridge Postcard by Mike Jeffries
Tower Bridge Postcard by Mike Jeffries
The Tower Bridge Cat, by Tee Dobinson and Steve Cox
The Tower Bridge Cat, by Tee Dobinson and Steve Cox

The incident has also been realised as postcard art, by Mike Jeffries, and fictionalised in the award-winning The Tower Bridge Cat, by Tee Dobinson and Steve Cox.

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.

The cover of the first issue of Top Spot, courtesy of Lew Stringer
The cover of the first issue of Top Spot, courtesy of Lew Stringer

“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!

WEB LINKS

Tower Bridge Museum

Cartoonists’ Club of Great Britain

Bear Alley

Blimey! By Lew Stringer – “Top Spot – The ‘Clint’ of 1958?”

Top Spot – Dan Dare Info Page

Avatar

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.



Categories: British Comics, Creating Comics, downthetubes Comics News, downthetubes News, Features, Links, Magazine News

Tags: , , , ,

1 reply

  1. In 1979 I was a member of a social club called London Village. Apart from members organising parties at their homes, there were theatre and cinema visits – and trips to see things of interest. On 4th August that year (long before it became open to the general public) a group of us was given a tour of Tower Bridge.

    We were shown the orginal steam engines that until 1976 had been the power to drive the pumps that filled the water accumulators which, via other pumps, provided the force to raise and lower the bascules. We also climbed the stairs to the top of one tower and crossed by the high walkway to the other. Thankfully then there was no ‘safety’ plexiglass stopping both the sounds of the river and the wind passing through the steel latticework.

    In fiction there is the film The Boy and the Bridge – about a young lad who makes his home at the top of the bridge. Also in Brannigan, starring John Wayne, a Ford Capri appears to jump the rising bascules. But the stunt driver Frank Hansen told me he drove the car to stop at the edge of one partly raised bascule – the rest is trick photography. Frank who died in 2019 owned the Chiswick hairdresser’s where I got my hair cut. That was how I met him; the salon had blow-up stills from the film, and a signed photo of John Wayne.

    Furthermore, while I lived in London I had the phone number of the bridge master – the person responsible for lifting the bridge. When I knew of a scheduled lift on a fine day, I would go to the bridge and photograph the lift, and spend time in the control room. I saw several ships pass through the bridge.

%d bloggers like this: