We are pleased to publish Part Five of the memories of Roger Perry – memories of now more than half-a-century ago – of his days at Fleetway Publications and beyond, working on Girl, Eagle, WHAM! and other titles…
During those lucid moments when I have been relatively sober, it has come to my notice that the two websites of Bear Alley and downthetubes – and the memorabilia magazine Eagle Times – have mainly spoken of artists, but have said virtually nothing about artists’ agents – which I feel is a great pity. It would be impossible to say what would have happened to the publishing industry had this band of two dozen individuals not had the interests of artists at heart, but greater credit should be given for their part in first introducing and then bringing the art to those comics and magazines that you admire and love.
The General Manager of Purnell Books – Charles Harvey – once said that I had been the meanest person he’d ever known… and this I had accepted gracefully as having been a particularly congenial compliment!
Being given the job of an Art Editor (Art Buyer) means that you not only have to have a certain loyalty towards the publishing house that employs you, but you also have to earn the respect, the trust and the loyalty of those around you from whom you commission the art work.
The Art of Keeping Within the Budget
In the production of a book, a comic, a magazine (or whatever the published item is), there had (and still has) to be some form of budget to make the whole venture viable – both for the editorial side of the project and also for the art side… and that is even before the nitty-gritty of other running costs, such as staff wages, office overheads, design, typesetting, reproduction, and the high cost of paper and printing time. All these have to come into the ultimate equation. The budget would, of course, vary depending upon the size of the product for it is a bit like asking someone: How long is a piece of string?’ But I have to start this article off somewhere, so let us assume that as a ballpark figure, the budget for the book I was working on would be £1000.
I will start off by saying that in all the years that I worked as an Art Editor (and therefore as an Art Buyer), I don’t believe there was ever one single occasion when I had gone over budget. I had a method, and it was – as far as I was concerned – so extraordinarily simple.
Step One: An artist (or an agent) would come in to discuss the project and I would tell him that my budget was £925 (thus creating a saving for the company of £75). Depending upon the artists’ / agents’ reaction (and also as to whether I had liked or disliked the individual who had been sitting there beside me), had there been any sign that he (or she) couldn’t (or wouldn’t) accept the job for that price, then my reply would go in one of two directions.
On the bolshie side, I would say, “Well in that case, we just won’t do the book. The figures just don’t add up and therefore we might just as well squash the whole idea even before we make a start”. It was as simple as that. Usually, the artist realising that he no longer had the work he thought he had, usually gave in.
As to others – with whom I was rather more on favourable terms – if they should ask as to whether there might not be just a little more in the kitty, I had a second crafty card up my sleeve.
Step Two: I would put on an act of thinking about it – you could almost see my brain working. I would then open a drawer in my desk – one that was furthest away from my visitor which normally contained little more than my sandwiches for that day but the artist / agent couldn’t actually see that). Then, in the guise of running my finger up and down a list of non-existent figures, would hesitatingly say that as I’d saved £50 on something else, maybe – just maybe – I could up the figure to £975. The artist / agent would then be all smiles thinking that he’d skilfully extracted a few more akkers than originally were offered, and I in turn had inwardly smiled knowing full well that I was still £25 under budget… hence the reason for Charles Harvey’s highly-commendable comment.
So Who Were these Agents?
Over the years, I got to know quite a number of artists’ agencies – for there were, I suppose, about ten or twelve in London who catered specifically for the likes of me and for the particular line of business I was in. And each agency usually had two or three representatives although the work was split so that generally, the same ‘rep’ had visited the same art buyer.
If you care to pick up a copy of the London Yellow Pages and rip out the relevant page – as I had done in June, 1966, one that had covered Artists’ Agents – you will discover that there is quite a list of them. But beware, my friends, beware, for they are not all what you might at first think.
Within days of my having joined Century 21 Publishing and wishing to have greater knowledge of source material at my fingertips, with the relevant ripped out Yellow Pages page, I began at the top and had worked my way down, ticking them off as I went.
It may have been the third or fourth entry on that list that, upon having banged upon the less-than-pristine-door and having barged in, the man sitting with his feet upon his desk had waved an arm in the direction of the one and only vacant chair and indicated that I should keep quiet while he ranted and raved on one of the three telephones placed upon his desk. However, I quickly became uncomfortable, for even though I was only hearing his side of the conversation, it was pretty clear that he was a theatrical artists’ agent and that the only art involved in his particular line of business had been his excuse for getting the girls to strip off and writhe about in front of a dozen dirty mackintoshes!
When he replaced the receiver, I quickly explained and apologised; he graciously accepted; but had said as I was exiting out of the door that I had good bone structure and had I been interested in going on the stage?
Now, you could ask the question: why does an artist need the services of an agent anyway? Well, there are a good number of answers to that one, the first being that the artists very often have a desire to live in the most inaccessible of places (anywhere from the Isle of Shetland to the Isle of Wight, and from the Isle of Mann to the Isle of Dogs). Secondly, many artists find the prospect of coming face-to-face with an Art Editor or Art Directors far too daunting a thought to even consider the idea, and so, with a portfolio of the artist’s work held at the agency, it is the agent – and not the artist – who wears out the shoe-leather and is prepared to meet the publishing house representative head on – not a daunting task as they are probably ‘mates’ anyway.
One has to remember that if the agent fails to find work for the artist, then neither of them will earn any money! Thirdly – and this is probably the most important of all three . . . particularly so for the Art Buyer – should there be a problem such as poorly-finished or substandard art-work, then to have the buffer of an independent ‘go-between’ rather than engaging in a direct show-down between publisher and artist isn’t such a bad idea.
Dennis Bosdet of Linden Artists
Due to becoming Larry Line – Eagle magazine’s Roving Reporter in the Autumn of 1961 – and due to Dennis Bosdet being artist Eric Kincaid’s representative, I got to know Dennis a good three or four years before ever becoming an Art Editor / Art Buyer in my own right in 1966.
In the run-up to Christmas 1961, although it had been a private party catering only for those artists who had been on Linden’s books, I’d had the honour of being the one and only outsider to have been invited. It was at this party that Eric Kincaid and I had come face-to-face for the very first time. As Dennis introduced us to each other, Eric’s jaw had dropped at least a foot while at the same time uttering “Good gracious! You are nothing like my drawings of you!”
Other than offering to have some plastic surgery carried out, I wasn’t entirely sure as to what else I could say about it – I’ve never been all that good in lying. I had never been all that excited about the photographs that Peter Stephens had captured (as already mentioned in an earlier posting) and at the time, I was too much of a new boy to have made any comment.
Oddly enough – and while I speak of Larry Line, for some reason I had had to visit the Science Museum in South Kensington and quite out of the blue, four or five young boys had actually recognised me. And while spinning some yarn about having just come back from the steamy jungles of Northern Borneo, had signed a few autographs for them
It was common knowledge throughout the comic industry that Dennis and his partner Bernard Daniels were more than just co-owners running an art agency business in Petty France. They also shared an apartment located between Victoria Mainline Railway Station and the Houses of Parliament – a well-appointed flat in which I had stayed one night and unfortunately had hardly slept a wink… not from any raucous antics of Dennis or Bernard I ought to add quickly, but more so from the ongoing chimes of Big Ben that was so loud that I could have sworn the tower was little more than a dozen yards away. In later years, the pair had also bought a quaint gate-house in Campsea Ash (near to Woodbridge in Suffolk)… of which I shall speak at another time.
On leaving 96 Long Acre in June, 1966, and taking up the post of Art Editor for the Books section of Century 21 Publishing, for two or three days – until the powers that be had got things rather more organised – a desk had been found; it was brought in and placed into a room alongside what had seemed like sixty or eighty others (but in truth, there might have been only about sixteen or twenty), and I was put to work on a Thunderbirds Are Go soft-cover booklet that reflected the first feature film that Gerry Anderson had produced starring marionette puppets, featuring models-to-scale and explosive effects in a filming technique that became widely known as Supermarionation..
While there (and placed well away from any light, artificial or otherwise, in the furthest corner of the room), Dennis had called in to see how I was getting on. In a way, I had been gratified as it had shown my new work-companions that there was at least one other person on this planet who had actually known me.
As Dennis was about to take his leave – before having had the chance to don his chic continental-style nylon peaked cap – I spotted what I had thought as being a round, white label – the type of sticker that sometimes is used and placed onto the covers of books to show that the price per unit has been reduced… so I had called out, thinking that he hadn’t known, particularly as this white roundel had been stuck right on the crown – in the very place where hair on people starts to become somewhat sparse.
With the whole art and editorial departments (for they had been combined) now having become fully aware of this price-sticker affixed to Dennis’s crown, he unashamedly took pleasure in presiding over the entire room by saying that he had just spent a week away upon the canals of Venice. That while there, he’d inadvertently scratched at a small pimple that had appeared upon his scalp. And that all would have been well had a passing bird not pooped right onto the very spot… thus setting the whole thing off into becoming septic. The ice was broken, and from that moment on, I had become moderately less of being considered as a new boy.
Giséle Kearley of B L Kearley Ltd
In the early days of Century 21 Books, I was pretty new at the commissioning game and some of the agents (who were not only new to me but had considered me as being pretty wet-behind-the-ears) had tried to make it abundantly clear that it was they who were holding all the cards and not me. One of these had been Giséle Kearley of B L Kearley Ltd.
In the years to come, B L Kearley Ltd would take office space in Chiltern Street – a road that ran parallel to Marylebone High Street. But In the days when I first knew Mrs Kearley (for I hadn’t yet known her well enough to have been allowed to call her Giséle), she and her husband Bernard Lesley – who had authored a number of books on horses such as Let’s Go Riding, You and Your Horse and Riding Made Easy – had had offices in George Street – a road that runs along the back of the famous London store of Selfridges. The books he wrote were more of a non-fiction type. There was a leaning toward hunting, which reflected the fact that perhaps B L was a keen hunting man. He was someone who I never met, for I had had no reason to visit George Street and it was while I was working for Hamlyn Books that he died in 1970. For years – probably since the war where he was a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force – he had been living in fear of a blood clot in his leg becoming dislodged and entering into his system, which inevitably it did.
Apart from the Gerry Anderson material consisting of Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and Joe 90, Century 21 Books were producing a number of other extraneous merchandised characters, two of which had been The Monkees (of which we had produced three Christmas annuals) and an Italian glove puppet that appeared fairly regularly on Sunday Night at the London Palladium that had been called Topo Gigio.
Mrs Kearley had already been very much involved with The Monkees annuals by having Tom Kerr produce almost all of the continuity strip stories. But with the first book almost done, the strip pages were now coming to an end and she was looking for something else for him to work on. When she added that Kerr was good at producing art for puzzle books, I offered her the 96 pages that were designated for the Topo Gigio Puzzle Book which she had gladly accepted… until, that was, she had discovered how much Century 21 Books were prepared to pay for the work. The budget was £200 and the fee I offered was £180.
“Poof”, she had said with a certain amount of scepticism. “You’ll never get it done for that!”
“Oh yes I will”, I had replied calmly, and so we had left it at that.
Illustration-work doesn’t come all that easy to me – I don’t have that natural flow – but then, having studied at the Regent Street Polytechnic for a good number of years while gaining my National Diploma for Design and Art, I opted to do the job myself. I quite enjoy puzzles; and the character had been simple enough – it hadn’t taken all that long – just a couple of hours most weekday evenings and the odd Saturday and Sunday thrown in – to finish off the job.
A month or so later, after the job had gone through the process of being printed out in Spain, the next time Giséle Kearley came in about some other matter, amongst others, I’d had copies of the book on my desk. On seeing it, she had picked one up.
“These are very good”, she had warmly and genuinely said as she’d scrutinised virtually every single page. “And did you pay only £180? “(I have to say that I was surprised that she’d actually remembered.)
“Yes”, I replied. “And the artist had seemed happy enough with what he had been given for doing the job particularly as there had been no discussion or argument over the price”.
Giséle never ever turned a job down from me again… mind you, she was also never told who had done the artwork for the Topo Gigio Puzzle Book either! Sometimes it’s best to keep one’s mouth shut.
Geoffrey Wake of A S Knight Ltd
Geoffrey Wake was a very jolly, over-weight individual – not too unlike James Grout, who played Inspector Morse’s superior officer in the said very popular television series. Geoffrey found his feet again after having been made redundant from the advertising group Saatchi & Saatchi and had found gainful employment as a representative with A S Knight Ltd, an agency that acted on behalf of both artists and writers.
One Tuesday morning, Geoffrey came into my office wearing a face I’d never seen before – there was no doubt that if ever there was a time when an alcoholic beverage had been needed, then this was it. We went along to the pub just a few doors away where over very large glasses of vodka and Russian, Geoffrey related – between large throat-loosening gulps – the following heart-wrenching tale.
It would appear that on the previous Friday evening, his employer – Mr A S Knight – had somehow tripped and tumbled down some stairs in the office… and subsequently had died shortly afterwards (which was not so terribly surprising, as the poor old boy was already well into his 80s). His wife – also part of this long-standing business partnership (and presumably hadn’t been any younger than her husband) – had been so bereaved over his sudden departure that about 36 hours later, she too had drawn her final breath. Geoffrey – not even a partner in the business – had been left holding the bag… and he really hadn’t known what he should do about it. Understandably, he hadn’t felt that it was his right to just take over the agency.
Over the second glass of vodka, I made the suggestion that perhaps he could telephone every single artist (and writer) on A S Knight’s books with the view to placing them into the picture and asking if they wished for him to continue representing them or not. As it turned out, almost every single one of them did. It was a disaster diverted, but apart from all that, Geoffrey used to make me smile.
He was a 60-ish bachelor whose house had backed onto the Hampton Court Palace in Richmond. His nearest railway station had been Esher and on the rare occasions when we had bumped into each other at Waterloo, we had caught the same train with me continuing on to Farnham. It would appear that he had a large unruly garden and for something to say, I would enquire as to how his weekend had been.
“Oh, not bad”, he would say, “but it’s a bit painful when cutting back blackberry bushes while in the nude”.
I thought it prudent not to enquire any further.
Greg Hall (was he all on his own?)
As far as I know, Greg Hall worked entirely on his own and had represented only the one artist . . . Ron Turner. I got to know of Ron Turner’s work when I first joined Century 21 Books, for at that time he was already illustrating “The Daleks” on the back page of TV Century 21. His style was rather heavy-handed, using a thick heavy outline when a thinner one would really have done just as well. But according to Greg Hall, Turner’s style had come about during the time when had been commissioned to produce several illustrations for a series of Painting-by-Numbers sets. When I had sat for my own GCE ‘O-levels’ in the early 1950s, the only two exams I had successfully passed were those of Maths and Art – this, of course, being absolutely perfect for compiling Painting-by-Numbers sets, and I had often wondered if Ron’s expertise academically hadn’t been very much in tune with mine!
It just so happened that Ron Turner’s heavy-handed black-line (painting-by-numbers) style was just perfect for what we wanted… but rather wished that Greg Hall had been a little more ‘perfect’ in his own self.
Greg was, in fact a very pleasant guy who over the years had taken me out to lunch well over half-a-dozen times – usually to Flanagans in St Martin’s Lane (the road leading north out of Trafalgar Square). Flanagans specialised in a turn-of-the-century (1900) atmosphere. The waitresses were attired in long-dresses with bustles as worn during that by-gone period; there was a half-inch-thick scattering of sawdust on the floor; and the tables had been fabricated from pedal-driven sewing machines of that period. The place was not only attractively strewn with uniforms, helmets and memorabilia of that era, but the paying of bills was done from an old 1900 motor-driven vehicle complete with a bulbous horn… so it was all rather fun.
The difficulty I’d had with Greg (if you can call it that) was that a number of years earlier – while playing his favourite game of golf – he had inadvertently been struck on the side of the head by a UFGB (Unidentified Flying Golf Ball). It had been the approach velocity of this UFGB – the one with the other – that had disturbed Greg’s sense of ‘timing’ somewhat. A prime example of this would take place over lunch.
Almost tearful, Greg would tell me that his wife was long, long dead and gone – although no explanation of how she went was offered – and then in the next breath, he would cover stories in which it would appear that she was still very much alive… such as removing the dust from the top of his television set. I really had to have my wits about me in order to place myself in the same time-frame in which Greg was currently existing in.
He was extraordinarily generous with his lunches, and would insist that we have a full bottle of wine with each meal. He would then pour himself about a quarter-of-an-inch – just enough to wet the bottom of his glass – and then inform me that due to the medication he was taking, that I was to finish the rest off. Many a time I caught the No. 9, 11 or 15 bus going first along the Strand past the Savoy and then the Law Courts, and had wondered just how on earth I had managed to get onto the thing.
Eva Morris of Associated Freelance Artists
In the January / February edition of The Journalist – a bi-monthly newsletter issued by The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and sent out freely to all its members – it was being announced that the union would be chartering a four-propeller-driven Britannia aircraft to fly over to New York during mid-May, with a pre-scheduled return being 18 days later on June 6th. Any NUJ member interested could reserve a seat for the princely sum of £49 10s 6d.
The following morning, I rang through to Ron Morley (an ex-Eagle designer who was now working at Fleetway) to find out if he too had seen the ad… and it would seem that he had. It didn’t take long – just two or three minutes – but by the time we’d rung off, the decision for the two of us to go over to the States that coming May had been made. On the rebound of that, I wrote twice to ex-Eagle and ex-Boys’ World sub-editor Brian Woodford.
Brian and his wife Shirley were now living in Montreal – they had emigrated a year or two earlier thinking that job opportunities and the chance of getting better paid for them were far more likely there than here. My first letter was really more of a warning shot to say that I was contemplating in coming to the US in May. The second letter had given clearer details of our trip and to say that Ron would be travelling with me – and would it be possible therefore for us to sleep in his bath for a couple of nights. Brian received my first letter… but not the second… such was the reliability of mail in those days, so our arrival at the Montreal bus depot at 1:35 a.m. on a tepid Saturday morning had come as a bit of a surprise!
Sleepy: Hello . . . hoozat?
Chirpy: Hi Brian – it’s me, Roger – sorry we are so late in getting here but we had no idea as to how long the journey from New York would take.
Suspicious: We? . . .who’s ‘we’?
Less chirpy: Why me – Roger Perry and Ron Morley, of course… didn’t you get my second letter?
Resigned: Noooo. Er, stay where you are… don’t move… I’ll put some clothes on and come down and pick you up… ten minutes!
Although this event is now 47 years into the far distant past, that return date can be clearly defined as on the night prior to Ron and me flying back to the UK, Robert Bobby Kennedy – during his presidential electoral campaigning – had been assassinated in the kitchens of some Californian hotel in Los Angeles.
You may be wondering why I have been telling you all this and what the devil did it have to do with a certain Lily Munster look-alike. Going abroad in 1968, travellers were being limited to just £50 spending money per person. The problem had partially been solved by Eva Morris – an artists’ agent who owned and ran the Association of Freelance Artists agency (AFA) whose office had been in the Bow Street / Aldwych area.
As I was spasmodically commissioning artwork through AFA, it must have been during one of Eva Morris’s visitations that I’d mentioned my up-and-coming visit to New York… and perhaps having expounded upon the possible monetary restrictions Ron and I would be facing. 😮 and behold, Eva had suddenly divulged that AFA had a branch office in New York city.
Two or three days later, Eva Morris – who could easily have doubled for Yvonne De Carlo (who played Herman Munster’s wife Lily in the TV comedy series) – had already given her New York counterpart (Catharine) firm instructions to keep-an-eye-on-us during our stay there.
Limited to US$5 a day, Ron and I strolled the streets by day and bunked down in New York City’s YMCA by night… at least we didn’t have to have the use of benches in Grand Central Park. I cannot say that I have ever used these facilities before (nor since) but it was clearly a house of debauchery and ill-repute at the best of times where the preference for being heterosexual was of little interest to the establishment’s more regular ‘clientele’. Catherine had been our saviour, as although we had been able to put enough on one side to travel up to Montreal by Greyhound Bus, for the remainder of our time there, in order to keep our spending to an absolute minimum – on waking each day (and being mildly relieved that we hadn’t had our throats cut or molested during the night), the question invariably asked had been:
Do we have breakfast today or do we have lunch?
If the answer turned out to be lunch rather than breakfast, then we would wander off to such stores as Macy’s where more often than not, there would be a counter temporarily set-up and placed in the midst of some walkway. A Cona Coffee Pot would be bubbling away and small plastic cups of the dark brown nectar given away free with samples of biscuity things, or a some brand of spreadable paste that helped one-inch squares of toast to taste more palatable. Ron and I would visit stands such as these several times in the hope that whoever was on duty would either not recognise us or that in between-times, there had been a change-over in staff. At least we had been able to keep our hunger pangs at bay.
One other advantage Ron and I had in those days was our plum English accents. New Yorkers just loved it… so much so that, even when travelling in the subway trains, we might quickly enter into a conversation and ultimately be invited to some party or other. But one question we were forever being asked was:
Have you seen the Queen recently?
Ron Ahrens of Syndication International
Although football is not Britain’s Number One Sport – fishing apparently has actually a greater following – Purnell Books had put together a number of Football Annuals each year with well-known personalities such as Jimmy Hill and Lawrence “Lawrie” McMenemy being the lead draw. One of the largest photo libraries who had supplied Purnell with all the necessary pictures was Syndication International.
Syndication International was part of the Daily Mirror group, and my contact there had been Ron Ahrens. Ron was a keen follower of football himself, who often released camera shutter mechanisms from the touchline on Saturday afternoons while twenty two grown men had kicked the hell out of a leather spherical object.
What I liked about Ron was that he respected my total lack of interest in the hobby and we often spoke of other things (although perhaps these should not be mentioned here!). The conversation in my office prior to heading off across the road for a slap-up lunch usually took no more than two or three minutes:
Me: Ron, that’s the manuscript for the book – could you do the honours by selecting suitable pictures to fill these pages for me?
Ron: What did you pay us last year?
Ron: Can you increase a bit on that?
Me: How about one-thousand-two-fifty?
… and so we had gone off for lunch with Ron drinking pints, and me with my poofy gin and tonics. It was as simple as that. Having handed all the text material over to Ron, within a week or two, it had come back – all neatly packaged with the relevant pictures in apple-pie order and as to what should go where.
A Career Based on Trust and Friendship
My father-in-law – Arthur Edscer, who had headed a large subsidiary of the Kleenezey and Betterware conglomerates – couldn’t understand the business I had worked in at all. It was the fact that in all the years I had commissioned artwork for the various publishing houses – Century 21 Books, Hamlyn Books, Polystyle Publications and then Purnell Books – not once did I ever write out a single purchase order… in fact, a great deal of commissioning had been done over the telephone with no proof on either part.
I have no idea as to how much money I was spending annually, but if you take the last company (Purnell Books), we were producing around 250 or 260 new titles each and every year. And if you average out my art budget as being about £1000 per title, then a quarter-of-a-million wouldn’t be too far out… and don’t forget, we are speaking of the 1970s and 80s – and not something akin to the present day.
Barry Coker of Bardon Art
Bardon Art had offices in Farringdon Road, not all that far away from Fleetway Publications. The two representatives had been Barry Coker – a tall, handsome, well-turned-out individual whose appearance was not too unlike David Morse, the American film actor – and Keith Davis, an older man who I knew well enough to say “Hello” but not much more. The artists Barry and Keith had represented had almost all originated from Spain’ – Jose Ortiz and Jesus Blasco to name but two – for Bardon Art had some sort of tie-up with an art agency in Barcelona. I was never nosy enough to enquire further as to what that was.
It had been Barry Coker who told me during my time as Art Editor at Century 21 Books of a scam that had been on-going for a good number of years at Fleetway. He had passed on this information to me ‘now’ due to Leonard Matthews – the perpetrator of the scam and one time Director of Fleetway Publications – having left the publishing company in order to start up his own editorial packaging service called Martspress.
The ploy had been orchestrated by Leonard Matthews himself, who for the previous eight to ten years had been in overall charge of all Children’s periodicals at Fleetway. Barry Coker had been given clear instructions that every piece of commissioned artwork passing through the Bardon Art agency should be illustrated twice – the one piece being exactly the same in all respects to the other. For this, the artists would be paid 50% above the nominal going rate for a single page (i.e. £30 a page instead of £20). The instructions were that when Barry delivered the work, he was to take the two identical boards directly into Matthews’ office whereupon Matthews would keep one of the illustrated boards for himself and hand the second piece over to the editor of the intended magazine. This was no pie-in-the-sky tale, for in 1988, I saw all this illicitly-acquired artwork for myself in a Banstead, Surrey lock-up garage.
Pat Kelleher of Temple Art Agency
I cannot in all honesty offer any juicy gossip about Pat Kelleher. He and his father – and then later on Pat’s son Danny too – had operated out of an office in Chancery Lane (a road that ran north to south between Fleet Street and High Holborn).
The structure in which their office had been situated was a rabbit-warren called “Breams Building” and due to the high cost of renting office space, a second artists’ agency called Rogers & Co – run by brothers, Jack and Dick Wall – had shared the running costs. I believe that in later years, the two agencies had become amalgamated. By way of interest, Dick Wall (of Rogers & Co) was the father of Sheila Wall who had worked alongside Dennis Bosdet and Bernard Daniels at Linden Artists – wheels within wheels within wheels, huh?
One useful thing about art agency representatives is that they are able to move freely between one publishing house and another without fear of them being labelled as a spy, and it was Pat Kelleher who in May 1966 had called into my office that ultimately had altered my career in publishing. His appearance hadn’t been too unusual as at that time, Pat actually had eyes for my co-working colleague Shirley Dean. However, for two minutes (while dragging his eyes away from her), Pat had handed me a slip of paper upon which had been written a name and a telephone number. This had been accompanied with the words: “Give him a ring; it will do you some good”.
The outcome of that had been that four weeks later (the time it had taken to work out my notice of resignation), I had become Art Editor for Century 21 Publishing (Books).
Artist Brian Lewis
This article in the main is about Artists’ Agents and not about the artists themselves. But I am going to break that rule here by speaking about one particular artist . . . and you will see just why in a moment or two.
Before joining Polystyle Publications in the December of 1970, I had spent an uncomfortable two months in a seedy office above an exceedingly smelly vegetarian restaurant that was placed between the ever-bustling tourist attraction of Oxford Street and the rather more sedate Wigmore Street which together with Welbeck Street and Harley Street are famous for their private medical practices..
One of the artists working there had been Brian Lewis, who, eight or nine years earlier, I had seen from afar while working on Eagle but had never met or spoken to. As it was for me – for I was at a very low-point in my working life – Brian too had taken on this work and had found himself in a room not much larger than an average house-hold toilet. Crammed into that same room were two others, and they were all producing what one can only describe as soft-porn… pencilled scenes of Quo Vadis times with females – not even scantily clad – carrying out manoeuvres that even professional contortionists would have been pretty proud of.
Brian was an extraordinarily cheerful individual who I feel could have blended so easily into the environment of the Billingsgate Fish Market. He was short and fat, and in those days always had worn a Denham cloth cap so close-fitting to his head that I often wondered as to whether it was real or little more than a very realistic tattoo. Brian didn’t wear clothes as such… he sort of slid into them and filled up all the spare spaces.
His mode of transport had also seen better days, for it had once been a General Post Office van that now was hand-re-painted in a dull flat mid-grey. But for all that, Brian was a dedicated man; always took his work seriously; always supplied value for money; and above all else, always delivered his work on the day that he said he would… which I discovered to my delight a good number of months later when I began to commission him to supply work for the magazine Countdown.
I mentioned Quo Vadis just now, and that time in Brian’s life (and mine too) had been exactly that, for the translation of Quo Vardis is Wither goest thou? . . . and I think we had both been temporarily lost… until, that is, Dennis Bosdet had come knocking upon my door.
In much the same way that Pat Kelleher in May 1966 had told me of a job going at Century 21, Dennis Bosdet was now passing on the news that Dennis Hooper (ex-Art Editor of TV21 and now Editor of Countdown) was hoping that I might join him as the magazines’ new Art Editor.
Countdown ran for about a year before changing its content to match something called TV Action. Due to the change of content, certain artists had been obliged to seek work elsewhere. One of the great sadnesses about a magazine closing (or when it is being amalgamated with another paper) is having to lose certain long-standing contributing writers and artists.
Just before lunch on the day I have in mind, Brian had arrived at our offices – still driving his old, beaten-up, hand-painted ex-Post-Office grey van – and it had given me no pleasure at all to tell him that I could no longer give him work – the magazine was dying on its feet.
So that we might drown our sorrows, the two of us had gone along to the pub just fifty yards down the road, and it was there when he had asked for my advice.
“Brian,” I uttered confidently, “You really need to get yourself an agent.”
“What!” he blurted out, all but spraying me with a mouthful of Light Ale. “Those so-and-so’s rob you of twenty-per-cent of everything you earn! Hmph! No thanks!”
“Yes, that’s quite true,” I’d answered slowly and casually, “But Brian, just think about this for a moment… isn’t it better to have eighty-per-cent of a lot of money, rather than holding on to one-hundred-per-cent of bugger-all which is precisely what you’ll be earning pretty soon now?”
Despite him being onto his second pint, he saw the logic in my words and had gone on to ask as to who I could recommend. I gave him the names and addresses of three, but had suggested that he try Dennis Bosdet at Linden Artists first.
Well, the bottom line was that it wasn’t all that long before Dennis was informing me that Brian had already done key jobs for The Daily Telegraph colour supplement, and that he was not only doing enormously well but that he was bringing in loads of money. The funny thing was, it hadn’t been too long after that, that Brian Lewis’s wife Betty – a qualified accountant – was also being employed full time at Linden Artists, so it had all worked out really rather well… even if I do have to say so myself!
The Family Atmosphere of Linden Artists
I began this article by speaking about Linden Artists and it seems only fitting that my final story on Artists’ Agents should also be about them
School summer holidays were here, and Eric Kincaid’s daughter Belinda – now at the ripe old age of 16 years – was growing up. Who had asked whom what, I really cannot say, but it had been readily agreed by all that Belinda could gain some useful work experience by being a gopher for six or seven weeks at the Linden Artists’ offices – making tea, wrapping up parcels, and generally doing anything and everything that needed to be done. She was after all a Gopher.
Linden Artists had offices in Petty France. It consisted of two floors – the upper one being at ground level where part of the area had acted as a sort of retail shop selling off arty items such as pottery hedgehogs and owls that I had personally made during my manic moments of creativity. There was also a large basement area downstairs where artists could finish off work; where packaging materials could be stored before being brought into use when sending off work to places far and yonder, and possibly a retreat for when a break or a snack was needed and where one wasn’t being observed by the general public as they walked past the massive picture windows. Although Petty France was slightly off the beaten track, with the British Passport Office being situated right next door, there was plenty of opportunity to have a good number of passers by.
Sadly, I can no longer remember the name of the Scottish artist around whom this story revolves, but for arguments’ sake, I will resort to calling him Angus. .
During a lull when all had seemed quiet, the three girls – Belinda, Sheila Wall (well, no longer a girl as such but someone who was probably about 35 or 40) and Betty Lewis (who was quietly getting the accounts register up to date) – were all quietly passing the time of day when Belinda had suddenly uttered:
“I suppose it’s because he lives in Scotland that Angus enjoys the smell of cow dung so much – after all, they do have rather a lot of cows up there, don’t they!”
Sheila (now stunned) had remained speechless, and Betty – who much like her husband was short and fairly ample in the size department – was also asthmatic. In the fifteen seconds following Belinda’s uttered observation, there had been dead silence while the words had sunk in… and then Betty began to wheeze and bubble away in a bout of unrestrained mirth.
With Dennis and Bernard having been alerted to this raucous moment, they’d come up from below stairs so that they might too discover what it was all about…. following on from which a great discussion had ensued.
I’m not going to say that the Petty France office had been inundated with artists calling in at all times each and every day, but instead of sending artwork in by British Rail’s Red Star Parcels service, upon occasion, some did call in. The artist Belinda had spoken of had opted to come down to London for two or three days in order that he might have a change of air. But even so, what had induced the man to divulge his fetish for cow dung to a young and innocent sixteen-year-old was something that needed to be clarified. The only answer was for Dennis to place a trunk call to Scotland and try to settle the matter once and for all.
But it hadn’t been as simple as it might have been, for Angus had been just as mystified as everyone else. So everyone had gone back to doing whatever they had been involved in prior to Belinda’s odd observation.
About half-an-hour later, the phone rang and it was the Scottish artist once again. It would appear that he had given the matter a great deal of thought and believed that he might have come up with the right answer.
During Angus’s visit, he, Belinda and Bernard Daniels had all been down in the basement area and Bernard had been using a tin of rubber solution adhesive which is kept in a pliable and useable condition with a high concentration of petrol. The adhesive was once used extensively in the art world as it didn’t damage or mark artwork even in a case of spillage, for when dry, it could easily be cleaned up with no ill-effects. The adhesive was made by the Lilo company in Slough, Berkshire… and was called Cow Gum!
Roger outlines the downfall of Hulton Press, publishers of Eagle and Girl, office moves for the editorial staff involved and his first forays into the world of British pop music photography…
Roger traces the emergence of Maxwell Frank Clifford…
Roger’s brushes with 1960s music stars, the perils of hand lettering and the inexplicable appeal of Pussy Cat Willum
Roger examines the intriguing history of a special collection of the Frank Bellamy / Clifford Makins’ showpiece The Happy Warrior – The Life Story of Winston Churchill
Our thanks to David Slinn for providing imagery and information in the creation of this feature