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 recalled in Part Ten of this 12-part series how a phone-call out of the blue brought about a closer relationship with the one man he had once feared the most. Now, he recounts a quest into the strangest reaches of the United States – and recalls some of the production process on Eagle, and how “camera ready artwork” became a printing requirement…
Aged 74, Matthew’s Mind Had Still Been Razor Sharp!
Leonard Matthews had the knack of “getting to know people” – people who were totally unconnected with the world of publishing and a world that Leonard, his assistant Elizabeth Flower and I had been thoroughly immersed in. Take the weird case of Val Holding of whom I spoke in Part Five as a good example… a Marks & Spencer in-store detective being giving the job of Eagle’s” Managing Editor… I mean to say, how bizarre can that be?
In our search for some desperately-needed “Front-of-House” 10×8 stills for The Entertainment Years book we working on – images that used to appear on cinema billboards to promote their latest screenings, before the days of YouTube trailers and the like – we had travelled over much of the United States. It appeared that we were getting nowhere pretty fast.
Then, while paying Toronto (in Canada!) a fleeting visit for what had seemed like just a couple of hours Leonard – or perhaps Elizabeth – placed a telephone call to some individual aged about 30-ish whose name I cannot recall (and perhaps it just gives you an indication of how impressed I had been with this fella when we finally got around to meeting up with him).
The three of us had spent two nights in Buffalo (this being about halfway between New York City and Toronto) and in all honesty, I’m not sure why we had gone to this latter spoken-of place, other than to say that we had physically set foot onto Canadian soil. Anyway, the drive there and back had allowed Elizabeth and me to take some time off so that we might bob about in a boat at Niagara Falls with an estimated six million cubic feet of water thundering down all around us every 60 seconds or so.
In her excitement, Elizabeth had been quite keen to emulate Bobby Leach’s stunning escapade whereby he had gone over the top in his purpose-built metal barrel way back in 1911… but it was her sudden vision of Leonard’s struggle in putting together The Entertainment Years on his own should she not be there that persuaded her to change her mind towards something more practical.
From there, we had driven down to Philadelphia State – not to Philadelphia City itself, but to some backwater spot where Leonard had “a friend” whose hobby it had been to collect original and unique pieces of Walt Disney artwork… and as you will have gathered by now, Leonard Matthews had been able to put his hands onto quite a lot of original and unique “Walt Disney” artwork (from Purnell Books for instance, which, as I said in Part Nine, had probably been the real reason why he had visited the place in 1978). If money had exchanged hands (which presumably it must have done), then I hadn’t seen it happen.
Hanging on the wall in this man’s office were a number of cels from Disney’s Fantasia. If I could tell you exactly where we went and who we had seen, then I would willingly do so, but in all honesty, the guy hadn’t impressed me… and I’ve long forgotten it anyway. But he was a lad in his late-twenties – perhaps early thirties – and by the way he spoke, he had more personal wealth at his fingertips than he knew what to do with.
During the morning, he’d gloatingly related the tale of how a year earlier, he’d had a Maserati Quattreporte 1986 Series 3 Tipo AN330 (of which only 40 had been made) shipped over from the UK… because “he had liked it”… Mind you, had he not “liked it”, then I dare say that he wouldn’t have bought it.
So who was this fella? I wish I could remember, despite being unimpressed. But I can tell you he was someone who had been in charge of a company that supplied fast-food outlets (the likes of MacDonald’s, Burger King, Jollibee and Wendy’s) with… beef-burgers – that’s all they produced – nothing else… billions and billions and billions of the things. Let’s just call him “Mr Beef-Burger”.
Following our arrival and having already handed over a dozen pieces of unique Walt Disney artwork to “Mr Beef-Burger” (and much like the situation with Charles Harvey a decade earlier, if money had exchanged hands, which presumably it must have done, then I hadn’t seen it happen), Leonard had outlined our predicament.
Much like the magician who snaps his fingers and produces a three-dimensional photograph of Neville Chamberlain wearing a Scout hat and riding a donkey (this quip had been Chief Sub-Editor Dan Lloyd’s most favourite utterances when being asked for something he hadn’t got), “Mr Beef-Burger” gave us specific directions on where we would find these elusive “front-of-house-stills”. They were, it would seem, no more than a dozen miles away from where we now were. He had gone on to say, that when we got there, we should ask for a Mr Jim Tanner.
Looking at it now from afar, it had all seemed just too pat… and dare I say it again, but the whole thing was so totally and utterly bizarre!
The place where we end up wasn’t a city; it wasn’t a town; and it wasn’t even a village as such – more a collection of wooden dwellings in a tiny, one-horse, unpaved dirt-road hideaway that consisted of a single street. It was perhaps 150 yards in length and bordered each side by a collection of ramshackle buildings where the sidewalks had been made from one by six hard-wood planking and there were side rails upon which one could tether one’s horse. The place we came across had looked more like something out of the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid movie… which only made this “jewel-in-the-crown” we had found even more bizarrely unbelievable.
Sitting outside, his rocking chair making grooves on the uneven wooden planking, was the owner of this ramshackle store, Jim Tanner. If you have ever seen the Will Hay series of movies in which Moore Marriott had also starred, then you will be on the right lines in getting a picture of what Mr Jim Tanner had looked like.
Jim obviously hadn’t been expecting a rash of customers, for he was wearing little more than a pair of unwashed baggy shorts, no vest or shirt, and well-worn army boots that hadn’t seen polish in twenty years; a week’s-worth of stubble; and topping it all off was a straw-coloured sun-hat. He chewed tobacco unceasingly which every so often – like at regular half-hourly intervals – he spat out onto the dusty, dirt carriageway. The well-masticated dark-brown globule joined a dozen others that had done little more than just to lie there drying out in the hot sun. It was not a pretty sight.
But for all that, incredibly, Mr Tanner had the “gems” we were looking for – housed in 36 four-drawer filing cabinets. These battle-ship grey storage units were arranged on three sides of his “termite-infested display-area” with a further two rows running back-to-back down the centre… Inside them were literally thousands upon thousands of 10×8 ‘front-of-house’ stills – mainly in black and white but with the odd few in glorious colour – all identified and packed away neatly in alphabetically-listed folders.
As far as I can recall, Mr Jim Tanner had stocked and sold nothing else – this was all he did.
In July 1988, Matthews would have been 73 years old and coming up to 74. As we searched around for 4000 prints that included portraits of film stars from the 1940s plus the movies in which they had acted and starred, he discussed, with great self-assurance and buoyancy, what actor had appeared in which film and who the supporting actors and actresses were. It was clear that his mind was still razor sharp. He was, in no doubt, a very remarkable man.
The experience of having been in very close proximity to Leonard and Elizabeth for nigh-on three weeks had, in fact, been extraordinarily pleasurable – for one just never knows with these things… as close friends who have gone on holiday together have quickly found out.
Interestingly, the only time that I had… well, let’s just call it as having “stood up to Matthews” was over our accommodation. Having found Jim Tanner and before knuckling under to go through his 36 filing cabinets, we’d booked ourselves into what Leonard had considered as being a very third-rate “One-Star” motel (mind you, there hadn’t been a great deal of choice). Towards the end of the first day, Matthews had this sudden urge that we should check out and go and find something better.
Personally, I couldn’t see any rhyme or reason for doing so and fairly forcefully said that by the time the three of us had had enough researching for one day, we’d all be going out for a nice evening meal somewhere; and that by the time we had gone to bed, we would all be so dog-tired-out that it really wouldn’t matter a jot what the rooms had looked like. Amazingly, given his past record, he just grunted and agreed saying “Yes” and that perhaps I was right.
Over the two days, as planned, something in the region of 4000 stills were chosen (for which Leonard had paid the princely sum of one single US dollar apiece). Elizabeth would then disappear for an hour or so, presumably going through the rigmarole of getting them packed up and mailed off to the UK (in much the same way that she had been doing when following on from earlier visitations to second-hand book-shops). Meanwhile, Jim Tanner had secretly attempted to remove the tide-marks from his bath and the dubious rings of encrustations from the other sanitary-ware in his bathroom. On the second day, Elizabeth had leaned over towards me and on whispering in my ear had said: “Did you see that he’s given the bath and the toilet a bit of a clean-up?”
It was during a quiet moment during these events – when the two of us had been alone – that I’d asked Elizabeth as to the reason why Leonard had done what he had way back in 1961, causing all the upset he had for the Eagle and Girl team. Her reply had been a very simple (but equally defiant) “But he had to do it! He’d had no other choice!”
Somehow, it had seemed prudent not to delve deeper.
I’d met Leonard’s wife Barbara Hayes (her maiden name and the one she had used when authoring books) briefly while visiting their Esher home and apart from a few grunts, they were like two ships passing in the night. Interestingly, it had been Jack Adrian who, in Part Five I have written that he had said: “Leonard’s sexual arrangements, both domestic and extra-curricular, were creative, but not that creative.”
I just wondered how all their lives would have turned out had Leonard married Elizabeth rather than Barbara, for there was no doubt about it, their thirty-to-forty-year association appears to have been just about perfect. I don’t think that Leonard was particularly a romantic individual, but it was abundantly clear that he very much cared for Elizabeth… as she did for him.
Production work on The Entertainment Years was a far simpler exercise than the previous book Matthews had produced for WHSmith, The Glamorous Years – and in the end, I should imagine had been a good deal cheaper in the long run too (as it will soon become clear to you).
Since leaving Purnell Books some four years earlier, I’d had to change my own method for presenting the printer with a far more professional end result… that of providing him with what is called in the trade as “camera-ready artwork”. But before I speak of that, please allow me first to tell you what we used to do when working on Eagle (and after all, this was where I’d had done my training as a designer… from the likes of Ron Morley, Bruce Smith and, until he became John Jackson’s Number 2, John Kingsford).
Designers – the likes of me – produced their creations onto sheets of layout paper – this having been a paper of a good quality that had been thin enough to just about see through when something such as a photograph or a piece of artwork, a heading or whatever, was laid beneath the sheet and could be traced off. Layout sheets came in pads of 100 leaves and were supplied in A3 size… although the smaller A4 size was also available.
If the designer had any sense, he would carefully measure and rule up a page for Eagle as accurately as possible onto the topmost sheet of a new pad, not only to its trimmed size as specified by printers Eric Bemrose but also detailing the positioning of the four columns – each one being 13½ ems wide – and with each column being separated by the division of a single em. For those who are not sure what an em is, there are six of these things to make up one inch. (With people using computers these days, they are far more aware of point sizes. It just so happens that there are 72 points to one inch, and with there also being six ems to one inch, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that there are twelve points to one em).
With the top sheet of the layout pad carefully ruled up, using a cheap compass, the sturdy point was driven through as many sheets as possible thus avoiding having to measure up the pages each and every time a new design was being created. It was from our pencilled designs that the printers’ own studio had produced “the camera-ready artwork”.
But imagine this – the printer charged for any extra item that was required of them. To draw one single line (regardless of how long it was) cost £1. Therefore, a box consisting of four sides (and consequently four separate lines where the pen had been stopped in readiness for drawing the next line), cost £4. With The Entertainment Years containing 4,000 pictures – all of which had a black line running round all four sides – you can perhaps see that the printers’ extra charges could have been astronomic.
For The Entertainment Years, to save on these potential costs, I began by drawing up a basic “grid-sheet” consisting of a pair of pages (one left and one right) that showed the trimmed page size (plus the extra needed for the ‘untrimmed’ size); the text area (which had been in three columns) and all other information such as the name of the book. St Andrews Press – my local printer – produced 300 copies onto a specially-thin, stable card that had an art finish on just the one side of the sheet only. They were printed in two colours – pale blue (that would not be picked up by the repro cameras) and black.
To make quite sure that the printer knew which picture went where, I did a deal with St Andrews Press whereby they allowed me to use their Rank Xerox machine (that produced reductions of anything from 99 per cent down to 33 per cent) and to use blue toner for the resulting prints instead of the normal black. Light (or sky) blue will not be picked up by the reproduction cameras, so by trimming the Xeroxed blue picture a tad smaller than its accompanying box prior to pasting it in place, the printer (who happened to be Czechoslovakian) had all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed for him.
In Part Twelve, this being my final summing up of a legend, Leonard Matthews had been a man who I can proudly say that good or bad, he had stood out from the crowd and that I can truly say that I have had that great honour of having known him.
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
Roger clarifies points made in past chapters, looks back on Leonard Matthews career – and sums up his contribution to British comics – and publishing in general…
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.