(Updated 12/11/13 to include plaque location): He might have been born in Manchester and educated in Nottingham but comics artist Dudley D Watkins, famous for his work on The Beano and The Dandy – and to the general public, for his work on Oor Wullie and The Broons strips for The Sunday Post – has been honoured by the Scottish government with a Commemorative Plaque.
The plaque was unveiled at Watkins’ former home on Reres Road, Broughty Ferry, by Scottish Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop, alongside Dudley Watkins’ niece, Angela Keyworth, the plaque’s designer Gavin Downie and five-year-old Jamie Webster, dressed as Oor Wullie.
Born in Manchester, Watkins studied at the Nottingham School of Art and later moved to Glasgow School of Art. His first published work appeared in Boots in-house magazine, The Beacon, in the early 1920s. It was the Glasgow School principal who recommended the talented illustrator to DC Thomson, and soon afterwards he moved to Dundee and worked for the company until his death in 1969.
Watkins life-long career in comics began as an artist on the company’s “Big Five” story papers – Adventure, Rover, Wizard, Skipper and The Hotspur. (He also earned a little extra income teaching life drawing at Dundee Art School).
“It is generally accepted that an Englishman born on February 27th 1907, in Manchester, England, Dudley D. Watkins, was Scotland’s greatest cartoonist,” notes artist Rod McKie in a tribute posted in 2009. “Undoubtedly some of the people who say it is so simply pay lip-service to that notion because he remains to this day one of the few cartoonists people in Britain can actually name (even if they only say ‘the guy who did the Broons’), but to many comic fans and cartoonists alike, Watkins simply was the best.”
In 1936 his talents were properly recognised and he began drawing two new comic strips, The Broons and Oor Wullie – both launched in the 8th March 1936 edition of the weekly newspaper The Sunday Post.
He also worked on titles such as The Beano from its very first issue drawing illustrations for a ‘Tom Thumb’ text story and the Lord Snooty strip (characters with whom the artist had a brief encounter in a strip published in 1942, below), and Desperate Dan for The Dandy.
Despite his prodigious output for DC Thomson, Watkins, a devout Christian, still found time to pursue activities related to his Christian faith. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the Church of Christ in Dundee (where he met his wife) and was also involved with the Dundee For Christ organisation and was president of the Dundee United Evangelistic Association and Tent Mission. He contributed artwork for mission calendars, and from 1956 he produced the comic strips William the Warrior and Tony and Tina – The Twins for Young Warrior, a children’s comic paper published by the Worldwide Evangelisation Crusade.
Watkins died suddenly on 20th August 1969 of a heart attack aged just 62, a half-finished Desperate Dan strip on his drawing table before him.
While The Beano employed other artists to take over Lord Snooty and Biffo the Bear, The Dandy, still under original editor Albert Barnes, apparently did not consider doing the same with Desperate Dan. From 1969 right through to 1982, Watkins’ work lived on in the form of re-prints of earlier stories. Both The Broons and Oor Wullie were also reprints for seven years after his passing.
Although Dudley lived and worked from his home in Broughty Ferry in Scotland – and for many, is an honorary Scot – his family remained in Nottingham.
“When I was a young girl, Dudley and his family would come to Nottingham on holiday once or at the most twice a year to stay with my Grandmother,” recalls his neice, Angela Keyworth. “I can vividly remember sitting on Dudley’s knee in my Grandmother’s front room watching him ink in the cartoon characters and write the speech bubbles.
“Such was his work load that he always brought work with him on holiday. In the afternoons we would go out into the countryside and Dudley and my Aunt [Dorothy] who was also an artist would set up their easels and sketch. I would run between the two of them to see which drawing I preferred. I always liked Dudley’s the best and I would whisper in his ear and tell him so!”
A fine landscape artist as well as cartoonist, Dudley also illustrated four books – Kidnapped, Oliver Twist, Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island.
“At Christmas time my Aunt and Uncle would send a parcel from Dundee,” Angela recalls. “It was always packed with drawing paper and crayons along with a ‘proper’ present, and always with the Broons or Oor Wullie Annual.”
The first year of Scotland’s Commemorative Plaque Scheme celebrates the Year of Creative Scotland. Members of the public were asked to submit nominations then an independent panel of experts selected the final 12.Watkins was nominated by Frank Boyle, the cartoonist for the Edinburgh Evening News.
“The Commemorative Plaque Scheme highlights the range of incredible creativity shown by the talented people in Scotland,” commented Scottish Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop, “celebrating individuals such as Dudley D Watkins, illustrator for DC Thomson whose illustrations of well-loved characters from Oor Wullie and The Broons still bring humour and joy into our lives.
“It also commemorates historic figures who have made a significant contribution to Scotland and the world, including television pioneer John Logie Baird, steam pioneer James Watt, Scottish colourist Cadell and Archibald Findlay, Fife potato geneticist who produced the first blight-resistant potato, making the food safe from disease.”
• While researching this article, I discovered Dudley was part of a talented family: his sister, Dorothy Eva Watkins, was also an artist. Her published work included postcards of fairies and her “Four Seasons” paintings were exhibited in Debenhams Nottingham’s Four Seasons cafe for many years. She also had an exhibition at Nottingham Castle when she belonged to the Society of Artists.
A Mormon, she emigrated to Salt Lake City to be with her American relatives, the Dexter family who also had artists in the family. Born in 1911, she died in Orem, Utah, on 17th August 1998.