Leonard Matthews, General Managing Editor of Fleetway and the Eagle Group of Comics, was a Creative Visionary… but that, Roger Perry argues in his extensive biography of the man which continues here on downthetubes, is only due to him having utilised the ideas of others.
After Matthews’ dalliances with Men Only and other projects, Roger recalls how a phone-call out of the blue brings about a closer relationship with the one man he had once feared the most…
Out of the Blue, Elizabeth Flower Sends Out a Cry for Help
In 1985, I did the two things I’d always said I would never do – the first had been to go freelance, and the second was to go into the world of advertising. It was, I will have to admit, a whole new ball-game.
It wasn’t so much the designing side that had created the odd headache or two, but more so the act of getting paid for everything when the job had finally been completed. As an example of this, I had been asked to supply a certain car-sales outlet with letter-headed note-paper whereby the logo needed to be printed in three colours. The printer I employed to produce these letterheads had warned me that Mr X was notoriously slow in settling his bills. So having had a thousand of these sheets printed, I peeled one off from the top, leaving the 999 remaining in the boot of my locked car and went into his office.
“Fine!” said Mr X, “so when can I have them?”
“They are done, and you could have them straight away – they’re in my car,” I replied. “But I am given to understand that you are a tad slow in settling your bills…”
Mr X laughed warmly while at the same time telling his secretary to write me out a cheque. Mr X got his letter-headed paper some three minutes later and I settled my bill with the printer. But that one had been easy; there were others that had been rather more complicated.
In 1987, I was still designing the occasional in-house magazine and producing glossy up-market brochures for businesses local to my Somerset home. So it had come as quite a surprise one bright and sunny Monday morning in a decidedly chilly October that on answering the telephone, only to discover that the caller had been none other than Elizabeth Flower – Leonard Matthews’ personal assistant and part-time bed-mate.
It turned out that she, Leonard and a graphic designer by the name of Dennis Grey were in the throes of putting together a coffee-table book for WHSmith and it would appear that they were way, way behind. “Are you able and willing to give us a helping hand for a couple of days?” she had asked.
I had very much enjoyed my time working in London, but when I learnt that Martspress had now re-located to offices in Banstead, Surrey, I fairly jumped at the chance… particularly as work at that precise moment had been decidedly thin on the ground. Packing a bag and kissing Jenny goodbye, while at the same time saying that I would see her in a few days, it turned out that Elizabeth’s couple of days had been a bit of an understatement. My term of employment in Banstead spread out into a total of six weeks.
I discovered when I got there that the offices of Martspress were situated above the line of retail shops in Banstead’s High Street… although what they were in 1987 I cannot recall now, the store today is a branch of Boots, the Chemists. With access from a side door and stairs leading one up to the first floor level, it was there where much of the action took place. There was also a second floor which most likely was used as little more than a storage area… although I’m not sure that I ever went up there.
With all the rooms that were available, had I taken a camp bed or a sleeping bag with me, I could well have dost down nights in one of these spare rooms. However, from Mondays to Fridays – at Elizabeth’s kind invitation (and possibly having been egged on by Leonard) – I had all but moved into the spare bedroom of her lavish, well-appointed sixth floor Wrythe Green, Carshalton apartment – all paid for by Matthews, and one that had fine views overlooking the delights of Crystal Palace and the metropolis of Southern London.
Most evenings, Elizabeth and I treated ourselves to a slap-up meal at one or other of Sidcup’s range of fine restaurants (I don’t recall her ever having cooked a meal… so perhaps she had never mastered that particular art). On one occasion, Elizabeth had said: “Don’t look now but on a table behind you, Rita Tushingham (of A Taste of Honey fame) and Dandy Nichols (Till Death Us Do Part) are also having a meal here.”
Unfortunately, there is some doubt over the identity of this latter-mentioned lady (particularly as I would have to had turned a complete 180° to have a look). It would appear that Dandy Nichols passed away on 6th February during the previous year, and unless it was a case of mistaken identity or that Wikipedia have got the date wrong (something that is not entirely unknown…), then it would appear that my own powers of the paranormal are far more acute than ever I had thought they were.
Over one meal, I learnt that Leonard’s great-looking expanse of gnashers had not been his own (and nor were they dentures as I had mistakenly assumed either) but were, in fact, individual items of porcelain (or whatever these things are made of) and that on having removed the old, original home grown variety, one of these prosthetics (complete with barbs for extra grip) had been inserted into the newly created socket and hammered home – once in, they wouldn’t come out.
I also learnt that Elizabeth was in the midst of suffering from a prolapsed uterus, and by all accounts, with it all hanging out every which-way – according to her (and much to her utter revulsion) – she had now looked much like a man. I will have to admit that even with Elizabeth being the charming, warm and courteous woman she was, I was relieved that she never suggested that I have a private viewing.
Back in her apartment, I had been kept busy with a series of running repairs to items such as sliding cupboard doors that would no longer slide and bathroom fittings that had decided to give up doing the job they’d been designed to do etc., etc., etc. The days were long, but we began to get the book – called The Glamorous Years – The Stars and Films of the 1930s – sorted out, with completed sections signed, wrapped-up and sealed so that no more changes could be carried out upon them… something which I believed had been one of the chief problems – for Elizabeth was a yes-Leonard person and not strong enough to stop him changing things almost for the sake of wanting to change them.
During my six-week stay in Banstead, Leonard, Elizabeth and I had had the occasion to visit a certain lock-up garage. It was one of a series in a road that ran parallel to Banstead High Street and presumably had belonged to those owners who lived in the apartments above the High Street shops.
On opening the lift-up-and-shove-it-over-the-top door, lying there before me was this huge pile of artwork – literally hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands, of pieces… all piled up with nowhere to go. They just lay there on the floor – not neatly stacked or being given any form of Tender Loving Care.
The pile had almost reached the two side walls (I say almost, for there was just enough room to place one’s feet to get to those pieces at the back). The heap stretched from the back wall of the garage, was about 14-inches high in the middle and had spread forwards on the concrete floor to a little over halfway. I estimate that there could well have been somewhere between 1000 and 2000 pieces of artwork inside that lock-up garage (but then, had I been told that there had in fact been 5000 pieces there, then I probably would have been obliged to have accepted it).
In the exchange of mailings between Michael Moorcock (on his website) and Brian Woodford on the 9th and 10th of April 2013, you will have read in Part Two that through Alfred Wallace’s shenanigans, he had been able to buy three houses. What I saw in that lock-up could have bought a dozen of Alf’s illicitly come-by houses… admittedly not by today’s standards, but in the late 1950s and early 1960s?
As a guideline, the wages for a designer in 1961 was £15 a week – that’s £780 annually and my first three-bedroom, two reception house in 1962 had cost me £1,750.
For a year or so, I had intermittently driven over to Banstead so that I might be involved with various items being produced out of Martspress, but with Matthews already having completed The Glamorous Years – The Stars and Films of the 1930s, he now set his thoughts on searching for front-of-house-stills for WHSmith’s second coffee-table tome – The Entertainment Years – The Stars and Films of the 1940s. It was due to this new venture that I began a closer friendship with the one man who years ago I had feared the most.
I recall going to his house once – I cannot recall now why I had gone there – and he proudly showed me a line-up of several hundred VHS video tapes, almost all covering movies of the period that I have been speaking to you about. There is no doubt that horror movies, dramas and westerns of the 1930s and 40s were running through his veins.
During July that year and tipping over into August, at his invitation, I travelled alongside Leonard Matthews and Elizabeth Flower to the United States so that we might follow a certain trail. It had lasted a total of three weeks… but even the very onset of that tour had been somewhat bizarre.
Following a summonsing ‘phone call, when I turned up at the Martspress office a couple of weeks prior to our departure, I found Leonard already outside and standing on the Banstead High Street pavement – he was clearly waiting for my arrival. “Is your passport in order?” he had asked in a low voice (almost to a point of whispering). The plan was that he and Elizabeth would fly over to Orlando in Florida, and that unbeknown to her, I should fly over a couple of hours later. Upon my arrival at Orlando, I was to find my own way to the hotel. It was timed so that they would have already booked in and were in the process of having a meal. With Elizabeth positioned with her back to me, I was to then tippy-toe up; place my hands over her eyes while saying at the same time: Surprise! “She’ll like that,” he had said, with much laughter in his voice.
We’d remained in Orlando for two days – long enough for Matthews to hand over six completed books to a publisher of children’s books who lived in Vero Beach, a two-hour drive away from Orlando and heading south. I’m sure you will have guessed by now that the artwork for those six books had probably cost him precisely nothing, as it had all been unearthed from that pile in his lock-up garage. It had also, most likely, paid for our entire US trip.
In Orlando, I began to grow a beard – not because I wanted to I need you to understand, but more so because I was unable to find an electrical supplier who could sell me an adapter for my electric razor. It had been Elizabeth who had excitedly shaped my sprouting whiskers into something rather more trendy.
From there, we’d flown to Houston and then to El Paso. I believe that Matthews – in the company of Elizabeth – had already done this very same trip several times before, for upon arrival, there had been none of that turning up in a strange place and wondering where we should stay or go and have something to eat – everything had already been planned and efficiently mapped out.
I feel I need to offer this anecdote – for it highly amused both Leonard and Elizabeth and, hopefully, it will give you cause to have a smile also. On the fourth and fifth days of our trans-American tour, Leonard announced that he wanted to buy himself a pair of cowboy boots – his lack of height had always been an encumbrance and ever since I first set eyes on him in 1961, he’d worn built-up shoes. So while in El Paso – deep in “Cowboy Country” – the shop we’d gone into had been run by what had looked like an old Indian Squaw.
After Matthews found what he’d wanted and was in the process of settling the bill, the Old Squaw asked in a broad southern drawl:
“Where you folks from?”
Leonard proudly replied: “We’re from England.”
There was a short pause while she thought about it, and then had asked:
Again, Leonard went on to explain that England was part of the United Kingdom, and in turn had been part of Europe. Again there was a pregnant pause while this new wealth of information was being given the chance to sink in. Then, she had asked:
“What language do you speak there?”
Leonard, slightly exasperated, had said: “Why, we speak English of course!”
“Oh,” she replied in some surprise, “Don’t you have a language of your own?”
Most times, when the pair went off to visit certain second-hand book shops that they knew of, I’d sloped off to do a little exploring of my own, such as crossing the Rio Grande into Mexico for an hour or two, for example. I’d also done the sights of the Grand Canyon with a pilot so old that he probably remembered Hoover Dam being built (between 1931 to 1935). Did you know that engineers calculated that had the dam wall been built in a single continuous pour, that in curing, the concrete would have taken 125 years to cool, resulting in stresses and strains that would cause the dam to crack and crumble unmercifully? Instead, concrete blocks – some as large as 50-feet square and 5-feet high – were poured, inside each were a series of one-inch steel pipes through which cool river-water was run, followed by ice-cold water from a refrigeration plant. The pipes were later filled with grout…
Sometimes on these ventures, I’d had Elizabeth with me such as when we took the tour at NASA or went bobbing about in the turbulent waters beneath Niagara Falls.
Our search had included Las Vegas (where I celebrated my 50th birthday – and very generous was Matthews in his twilight years), Atlanta, Washington, Toronto and Buffalo but I am sad to report that at none of these places had we found the treasure-chest of pictures we had been looking for – the pile of front-of-house 10 by 8 stills… at least, not until the seventeenth day that is. For it was on that day that we finally came across the pot of gold we had been seeking all over for… and I really do mean all over.
In Part Eleven – we finally find what we were looking for – in the most unlikely of places…
Acknowledgments to David Slinn and to Darren Evens of Eagle Times for producing certain scans as used in this article.
More Eagle Daze
Roger explores the beginnings of the destruction of the Eagle…
The comic magazine Top Spot, published in 1958, was Matthews’ brainchild – but it was the male counterpart of an already existing magazine and it was a title that faced plenty of problems as it ran its course before merging with Film Fun after just 58 issues…
Roger outlines how Matthews jealousy almost destroyed the Eagle…
Roger reveals a possible mole working on the Eagle and trouble behind the scenes on Girl…
How a Marks & Spencer Floor Detective Became Managing Editor of Eagle…
Roger reveals how Dan Dare co-creator Frank Hampson was thorn in Leonard Matthews side…
Trouble at the top for ‘The Management”, the troubled debut of Boys’ World – and the demise of Ranger
On the creation of Martspress, the company that would publish TV21 in its later, cheaper incarnation…
Moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, Roger recalls how Men Only was given a new lease of life – and Leonard Matthews’ ignorance of Star Wars…
A phone-call out of the blue brings about a closer relationship with the one man Roger had once feared the most…
A search for elusive promotional film stills end in the middle of nowhere in a one horse town without a horse – and Eagle‘s production methods are recalled
This article, which is being published in a total of 12 parts, has been put together using material from Leonard Matthews’ obituary as written by George Beal for the Independent newspaper dated Friday, 5th December 1997; also taken from the Independent newspaper dated Sunday, 23rd October 2011 is a piece authored by Jack Adrian (a.k.a. Christopher Lowder); Living with Eagles compiled and written by Sally Morris and Jan Hallwood (particularly pages 219 to 222); David Slinn’s research notes during 2005 in connection with the authoring of Alastair Crompton’s Tomorrow Revisited and from Brian Woodford’s association with Matthews at the Amalgamated Press between 1955 and 1962. Entries also come from both Wikipedia and from the internet under the heading Fleetway Publications.
Further pieces have been taken from Eagle Times as and where identified; the blog-spots of Michael Moorcock’s Miscellany (particularly 9th and 10th April 2013) and Lew Stringer’s Blimey! where he refers to the Top Spot magazine. The remainder is from my own personal association with Leonard Matthews between the years of 1978 and 1991.