We’re sorry to report that veteran comic artist and accomplished illustrator Bill Titcombe – perhaps best known to comic fans for his work on Look-In and TV Comic – has died, aged 82. He had been ill for some time.
Paying tribute in The Guardian earlier this week, his friend, magician Olly Day, noted his varied career as an artist, illustrator and cartoonist, who worked on more than 65 franchised cartoon characters, many of them for TV-related magazines such as Look-In and TV Comic during the 1960s and 70s. These included Tom and Jerry and Scooby Doo, and he also created comic-based representations of characters from Dad’s Army and Charlie’s Angels.
He long career has spanned both illustrating children’s comics and books from the 1950s onwards, to paintings of his beloved birds and wildlife in later life.
“Bill was very prolific as an artist,” noted his friend Olly Day on Facebook. “It’s amazing how many pages of artwork he turned out over the years during his busy career.”
Aware that he was unwell, we profiled his work last year, noting early credits on Amalgamated Press titles, initially working on Knockout, on strips such as “Billy Bunter”, and Film Fun, on “Jerry Lewis”, where his flair for caricature must surely have been quickly noted.
He went freelance in his early twenties, around the time he met wife to be Audrey Dorcas Taylor (1931 – 2010), who he married at Harrow, London in 1959, an author of a number of fondly-remembered children’s books. The couple first lived at Stanningfield, before moving to Beccles, both in Suffolk.
Bill’s most notable early work at Amalgamated Press was the creation of Buster, the son of Reg Smythe’s “Andy Capp”, for eponymous weekly comic Buster, later drawn by Hugh McNeill, a strip he drew from the title’s first issue until 1961, before moving on to work for other publishers.
“Bill was the first artist to visualise Buster 60 years ago,” notes fellow artist Lew Stringer. “Although the character was initially ‘The Son of Andy Capp’, Bill gave Buster his own personality, which I’m sure helped maintain the character’s success throughout the many changes of artists over the years.”
After working for Amalgamated, Bill’s uncanny ability for caricature resulted in employment adapting many favourite TV characters into comic strips for both City Editions, in both TV Century 21 and Lady Penelope, and Polystyle Publications, drawing many strips for TV Comic. He later worked on Look-In, again providing many wonderful strips for the “Junior TV Times“.
Alongside his comics strip work, Bill – who became an active member of the Society of Strip Illustrators in the 1970s – was also an artist for Dad’s Army books published by Piccolo in 1973, and his work also featured in Tom and Jerry comics for a Shreddies cereal promotion – and on lolly wrappers, too.
Bill did not confine his talents to the world of comics, however. Among other things, he also illustrated Tat the Cat, a series of books created by his wife, Audrey, and The Absent-minded Mallard, Morgan.
As the traditional British comics industry declined in the 1990s, he moved into new areas, including drawing the raunchy “Perils of Page 3 Pauline” strip for News of the World, written by Jonathan Stock.
The period proved something of a turning point in his life.
“I told Bill in 1991 that l admired his slick, fluid approach but really liked his mid-60s solid line/white outline style,” recalls Beano artist Nigel Parkinson.
“He said he’d been told by a friend that neither were very good and had he considered opening a pub. Which he then did!”
Fortunately, Bill didn’t completely abandon his art. From a studio in Beccles, Suffolk, he has been a prolific and highly regarded painter of wildlife, particularly birds, a passion he shared with his late brother Harry, who died in 2016.
In 2015, together with David Baxter, Miles Fairhurst and Stephen Govier, Bill opened The Art Gallery at the 18th century Earsham Hall, near to Bungay in 2015. On display there are some of Bill’s acrylics of birds and animals, along with the work of many new interesting and diverse artists.
Bill has also provided illustrations for film productions, including Prince Valiant in 1997, which was inspired by Hal Foster’s 1930s comic strip.
Bill didn’t quite put his comic strip skills behind him though, because he also both wrote and drew Jungle Medics, a comic book project initiated back in 1997, published by Seafarer Books in 2015.
Tributes to Bill
“Bill’s exciting zippy drawings were always a treat to see,” Nigel Parkinson told downthetubes, paying tribute. “His 1960s pen and ink pages captured a sort of clean, modern look that was instantly recognisably unique yet somehow also typical of advertising and television of the era. His spotting of blacks and occasional use of tone is still a masterclass in the economy of cartooning.
“I first noticed him in TV Comic doing ‘The Telegoons’ in about 1964 or 5, his facile ability to capture likenesses in a few deft penstrokes made even the wooden sculpted puppets appear dynamic and let’s not forget, hilarious. When l was writing and drawing ‘Harry Hill’ in The Dandy, it was these Telegoons pages that were my benchmark that l was trying to come close to.
“TV characters came to life even more in the 1970s and later when Bill switched to a looser, more sketchy style, according to Bill at the suggestion of a friend who thought his earlier style too staid. It wasn’t. As l told him 30 years ago the Bill Titcombe style, whether 1960 or 1990 was always a treat for the eyes and continues to bring a smile to my face.”
“TV Comic was the first non-nursery comic I got every week, from 1968-9, and Bill Titcombe’s ‘Ken Dodd’s Diddymen’ on the front and inside cover was the first strip I saw every week,” recalls comic artist and comic art curator Steve Marchant. “Late last year, in a between-lockdowns period, I bought a bundle of old UK comics from Gosh, which included a 1968 TV Comic, and looking at the strip with adult eyes I realised how ahead of the time it was, compared to many of Titcombe’s contemporaries. I love the bold black backgrounds with characters/objects framed in white, the liveliness of the phone and its sound effects, the expressive linework.
“His ‘Laurel & Hardy’ strip looks great too, better than the US reprints that were available.”
“Bill was one of those artists who did more work than was possible for a factory of artists working at full steam ahead,” notes comics writer and editor Tim Quinn. “And it was all wonderful.”
“I’ll have to admit I’ve only come across his work more now then when I was a kid of the 1980s,” Muses artist and comics archivist Peter Gray, “so missed his great ability to draw famous people in his fun way for Krazy comic.
“His work has a lovely loose line and full of energy in each panel… it’s like it glides from panel to panel.”
“Bill Titcombe. What an artist!”enthuses cartoonist and writer Lew Stringer. “So versatile, making everything look easy but his masterful artwork was the result of years of experience. When many cartoonists were following the Leo Baxendale style of art, Bill was following his own path. Whether it was ‘My Favourite Martian’, ‘Ken Dodd’s Diddymen’, or ‘Cannon and Ball’, he adapted a style to suit and gave perfect results. Styles that were easy on the eye, superb examples of sequential art (especially his ‘Tom and Jerry’ strips), and always funny.”
“Bill was a lovely man and great fun to collaborate with,” author and comics writer Andrew Donkin told downthetubes. “I was lucky to work with him early in my writing career on a comedy strip for Roy of the Rovers called ‘The Sunday Squad’. Every week, my co-writer Graham S Brand and I would send Bill the next instalment and every week he’d bring up with a joke to make us chuckle.
“We became firm friends and I’d go and stay with Bill and his lovely wife, Audrey, who Bill adored. ‘Aud’, as he used to call her, baked the most fantastic cakes.
“It was a pleasure to work with Bill. Not only was he an absolute gent, but I had grown up reading TV Comic with his ‘Tom and Jerry’ on the front page in colour dynamically drawn by Bill each week so he was a piece of living comics history to me.”
As a fan of his work, but whose paths unfortunately crossed just the once, in an effort to bring his superb work on “My Favourite Martian” strips to print, I’, very sorry to learn of his passing – his strips were an integral part of so many comics I read and enjoyed growing up. He was much loved, his work much admired. My sympathies for family and friends at this time.
Bill Titcombe, born September 1938 – died February 2021. Bill’s wife, Audrey, died in 2010. He is survived by their daughters, Claire and Charlotte, grandchildren Daisy, Arthur, Felix and Florence, and great-granddaughters, Poppy and Mabel
Some of Bill’s work is on display at this gallery near to Bungay, Suffolk
Bill described Audrey as an inspiration to all who knew her. “I met her in 1959 and was immediately taken by her generosity of spirit,” he recalled, “as she paid my bus fare to the station at Romford, north-east London, where we both lived. After a brief romance, we married and went on to live together for 51 years.”