Sydney Jordan is widely recognised as the creator of the critically-acclaimed “Jeff Hawke” newspaper strip first published in the Daily Express. However, it’s also generally felt that the strips written by William (Willie) Patterson through the 1960s – including those collected in the past by Titan Books (such as “Overlord” and “Wondrous Lamp”) as well as The Jeff Hawke Club and several Italian publishers – show the long-running series its best.
Here, Willie’s daughter Chrys Muirhead pays tribute to her father, the man behind those acclaimed credits, revealing the family man behind those fondly-remembered stories.
We are grateful to her for letting us post this tribute to an author whose life has been little documented, but whose work played such a significant part in the development of a much-loved comic character worldwide…
My father, William Cunningham Patterson, born 22nd May 1929 in Perth, Scotland, was a larger than life character from my memories as the oldest of three daughters, an only child for nine years. I knew him the most of any of us girls, remembering his taking me to see CoCo the Clown when I was about five years old, shaking his hand from a ringside circus seat. And two wonderful birthday parties, when I was five and 12 years old, having started Caledonian Road Primary School and Perth Academy, respectively.
My Dad was a gentleman, who could be autocratic and over-protective but he wasn’t a disciplinarian and I had freedom as a child, to explore, have adventures and a safe house at home to return to.
I remember him organising a community fireworks display where we lived at Pomarium Flats, Perth, around 1963, on the waste ground where the bus station now stands. Auntie Margaret (Dad’s older sister) and Uncle, Jim Page lived on Cross Street, also overlooking the waste ground. My bedroom window looked out on this ground, and my favourite tree for climbing is still there.
Some of father’s “Jeff Hawke” scripts have been republished twice by Titan Books. Originally working on the Children’s Encyclopedia for Amalgamated Press, according to strip creator Sydney Jordan, my Dad started as script writer with the Daily Express in 1956. Alongside his work on “Jeff Hawke” for the Express, he also wrote “Caroline Baker – Barrister at Law“, drawn by Jose Moya Ortiz.
He also wrote other stories for Fleetway Publications, including war stories, strips for Tiger and is credited as the writer of one Dan Dare story, “Mission to the Stars”, drawn by Don Harley, published in the Sunday People in 1964, collected in The Dan Dare Dossier, published by Hawk Books.
Sydney Jordan sent me copies of Jeff Hawke Book One and Two after my father’s death on 9th October 1986. My middle sister and I had attended his funeral in Kensal Green, London, after being informed about it by Sydney, who says in this testimonial about my Dad in Jeff Hawke Book Two: “Of the two of us, his was the unique talent and what was to come cannot detract from what had been. … Willie was a man who saw beyond the skies to the stars”.
My Mother’s telling of the story about my Father’s contract with the Daily Express being terminated in 1969 is that they wanted him to put more women in the script but my Dad resisted. Mum (Anne Patterson) died on 19th March 1998, so I can’t ask her for more detail – however I do know that my Father never came back to Perth after 1969. He never worked in publishing again after parting from the Express, after illness in the 1970s, although he was productive in other ways.
I think he feared incarceration at Murray Royal Psychiatric Hospital as he’d formerly been an inpatient there, maybe around 1963/4, after walking naked down Tay Street when having a complete breakdown.
Again, this is a story remembered, not talked about because of the shame.
My Father was a family man and also a science fiction writer in London, and I think the latter put stress on the former, thinking back to the 1960’s and my Dad scriptwriting through the night on his electric typewriter in our fourth floor, two bedroom Council flat, sending them off by courier for the deadline.
My Mother tried living in London for a while in the late 1950’s, before my middle sister was born, I stayed with my Dad’s parents, Granny and Grandpa Patterson, in their 81 Dunsinane Drive flat along from ours at 57 (we’ll all moved out of Kingswell Terrace by then). But the big city didn’t suit my Mother. So we all lived in Perth while my Dad travelled up and down to London, my younger sisters born in 1961 and 1966.
It wasn’t ideal. By 1970, the family had fractured, following another one of my Mother’s nervous breakdowns and my Granny’s death that July. Social work intervened and my sisters were fostered.
I plan to self publish a book about my Father and our family, memories, stories, photos, as a legacy to my children and grandchildren, to keep a record of our achievements.
Recently I donated copies of the two Jeff Hawke books republished by Titan Books in 2008 to Fife Cultural Trust for the East Fife Mobile Library which we use in Springfield, Tarvit Terrace, on a fortnightly basis when it visits.
I am very proud of my parents, both of them heroes in my eyes, flawed as all of us are, but outstanding in their own ways. I am glad to say that we have inherited their broad range of creative skills – writing, craftswomenship, music, sporting achievements, homemaking, imaginative pursuits and an ability to resist “lifelong mental illness” and its narrow corridors, being productive in spite of disabling drug treatment and coercive space invasion. Thank God.
• Chrys would welcome memories of her father. Visit her blog for more about her own work and writing, most recently as a mental health writer, activist and human rights campaigner, whistleblowing about locked seclusion room abuses in Stratheden Hospital, NHS Fife, winning an Ombudsman complaint in September 2014 and a written apology from Fife Health Board
• The original post for this tribute, featuring many more photographs, is here
Article reproduced with the kind permission of Chrys Muirhead
Willie Patterson – Selected Credits
Compiled by John Freeman
Because many strips went uncredited in British comics until he 1970s, many of Willie Patterson’s credits outside of “Jeff Hawke” are unknown. Many we do know are the result of careful research by Steve Holland of Bear Alley Books. Further credits are very welcome.
Widely considered one of the most important science fiction comic strips ever published, Jeff Hawke is a benchmark in intelligent, adult-oriented storytelling and he is not your average space-hero. Focused on reasoning, diplomacy and moral virtues instead of brute force, he is frequently forced to be the ambassador – rather than the saviour – of mankind!
His universe is populated with alien species that meet humankind by accident or for commerce, but hardly ever for invasion. Willie Patterson’s subtle wit makes the strip’s plots and characters as fascinating as they are amusing, and Jordan’s highly expressive style fully captures the strangeness of the weird and wonderful aliens of Jeff’s universe!
The Jeff Hawke stories were published in the Daily Express, launching on 15th February 1955 and ending on 18th April 1974. There were a total of 69 stories, with an average of 94 daily strips in each story.
Willie Patterson began to contribute ideas for stories and co-wrote on an ad hoc basis from 1956 onwards but by 1960, he was a full-time scriptwriter for the feature, until 1969. Chrys outlines her understanding of his departure above.
Syd and Willie’s partnership developed an in-joke by creating two characters to introduce each story, taking on the shapes of Mephisto (Willie) and the Troll (Sydney).
“Jeff Hawke was a science-fiction strip designed to emphasise if not pacifism, then the most principled of restraint matched with the most rigorous of thought,” notes Colin Smith in article for Sequart in 2012. “And for all that Hawke might seem to the casual glance to be an entirely familiar fighting lead, he was actually the exact opposite to the breed. In that, he was the rarest of science-fiction types; the diplomat as hero, the peace-maker as protagonist, the man of ideals and science who really would rather rely upon his conscience and his mind before reaching for a conveniently big gun.”
The British Jeff Hawke Club began reprinting Jeff Hawke in its journal, Jeff Hawke’s Cosmos, in 2003. Each issue includes story notes on the science featured in the story, and commentary on the origins of the tales from creator Sydney Jordan. In addition to the regular magazine, several special editions have also been published.
Jeff Hawke Stories by Willie Patterson
• Sanctuary (co-writer)
Published – 1956-06-26 – 1956-10-27 Reprinted in Jeff Hawke’s Cosmos, Volume 2 Number 2
• Unquiet Island
Published – 1956-10-29 – 1957-03-16 Reprinted in Jeff Hawke’s Cosmos,Volume 6 Number 1
• The Castaway
Published – 1957-03-18 – 1957-10-03 Reprinted in Jeff Hawke’s Cosmos,Volume 6 Number 2
• Poles Apart (co-writer)
Published – 1958-09-24 – 1959-03-13 Reprinted in Jeff Hawke’s Cosmos,Volume 3 Number 2
Published – 1960-02-10 – 1960-06-20 Reprinted in Titan Book 1, Jeff Hawke’s Cosmos,Volume 7 Number 3
Published – 1960-06-21 – 1960-09-12 Reprinted in Titan Book 1, Jeff Hawke’s Cosmos,Volume 7 Number 1
• Wondrous Lamp
Published – 1960-09-13 – 1961-03-11 Reprinted in Titan Book 1, Jeff Hawke’s Cosmos,Volume 6 Number 2
• Counsel For The Defense
Published – 1961-03-13 – 1961-08-02 Reprinted in Titan Book 1, Jeff Hawke’s Cosmos,Volume 7 Number 2
Published – 1961-08-03 – 1961-10-18 Reprinted in Titan Book 2, Jeff Hawke’s Cosmos: Lunar 10
• Immortal Toys
Published – 1961-10-19 – 1962-04-05 Reprinted in Titan Book 2, Jeff Hawke’s Cosmos,Volume 7 Number 3
• The Ambassadors
Published – 1962-04-06 – 1962-07-13 Reprinted in Titan Book 2, Jeff Hawke’s Cosmos,Volume 7 Number 3
• The Gamesman
Published – 1962-07-14 – 1962-09-23 Reprinted in Titan Book 2, Jeff Hawke’s Cosmos,Volume 3 Number 3
• A Test Case
Published – 1962-09-24 – 1963-01-02 Reprinted in Titan Book 2, Jeff Hawke’s Cosmos,Volume 4 Number 1
• Find out more at www.jeffhawkeclub.com
Titan Books published two collections, firstly in 1985, plans for a third dropped due to disappointing sales. The collections were republished in 2008.
Jeff Hawke: Overlord
Author: Willie Patterson
Artist: Sydney Jordan
Cover: Brian Bolland
Publisher: Titan Books, 2008
Collects “Overlord”, “Survival”, “Wondrous Lamp” and “Counsel for the Defence”
“Willie Patterson [joins] artist Sydney Jordan for some remarkably inventive and clever tales of alien law and morality. The art’s a downright treat.” – Hipster Dad
Jeff Hawke: The Ambassadors
Author: Willie Patterson
Artist: Sydney Jordan
Cover: Brian Bolland
Publisher: Titan Books, 2008
Collects “The Ambassadors”, “Pastmaster”, “The Immortal Toys”, “The Gamesman” and “A Test Case”
“Patterson and Jordan’s solutions to the very unusual challenges are reasoned and rational, with very little violence or wild action, leading to very entertaining stories with unexpected resolutions. Jordan’s artwork is gorgeously detailed, with a believable and consistent design for the far-flung future of the 1990s.” – Hipster Dad
The 1986 Jeff Hawke Book One 1986 featured “Overlord”, “Survival” and Wondrous Lamp and the 1987 Jeff Hawke Book Two featured “Counsel For The Defence”, “Pastmaster” and “Immortal Toys”)
• There’s a complete list of “Jef Hawke” strips including writer credits on Wikipedia
“Phantom Patrol” was first published in Swift, companion paper to Eagle, between the issues cover dated 3rd February – 14th July 1963. Written by Willie Patterson and drawn by Gerry Embleton, it was reprinted several times, including in WHAM! (as “Ghost Patrol”) and 2000AD and Starlord annuals.
The story told the adventures of Sergeant Joe Trimm and his platoon who discover a crashed UFO on the island of Crete in 1941. Pinned down by the Nazis, they escape by means of a time-travel device purloined from the flying saucer. With a tank, a landing craft, a handful of guns and a captured Nazi, the British infantry unit find themselves in the midst of the Trojan Wars – and a series of further bizarre adventures, joined by robot dog Fergus and future cop Cornelius Kerrigan along the way.
Sadly, this strip has never been collected, although Steve Holland did nearly manage it back in 2009, commissioning a stunning cover by Chris Weston.
Launched by Odhams Press in January 1963, Willie Patterson was one of the writers for this title, alongside Harry Harrison, Michael Moorcock and Tom Tully. Artists included Frank Bellamy, Luis Bermejo, Harry Bishop, John M. Burns, Ron and his brother Gerry Embleton, Gerald Haylock, Frank Langford and Brian Lewis.
Willie’s known credits are as follows…
“What Would You Do” cover feature issues V1N1 – V1N6 + V1N10 (Jan to Mar 1963) with art by Brian Lewis, Gerry Embleton & Harry Winslade
“Mini Mystery” feature issue V1N7 (Mar 1963) with art by Harry Lindfield
“What’s In A Name / Do You Know Your Name” feature issues V1N1 – V1N6 (Jan to Mar 1963) with art by James McConnell
“John Brody” (strip) issues V1N1-V1N23 “What Is Exhibit X?” full 1st story (Jan – June 1963) with art by Colin Andrew
“Wrath Of The Gods” (strip) all issues V1N1 to V2N40 Jan 1963 to Oct 1964) with art by Ron Embleton and John M Burns
“What Is My Name?” (strip) issues V2N22 to V2N40 (May – Oct 1964) with art by Colin Andrew
• Steve Holland has told the story of Boy’s World in the thoroughly recommended book Boy’s World – Ticket to Adventure!
Caroline Baker, Barrister at Law
Published in the Daily Express from 1962, Steve Holland has featured a number of “Caroline Baker, Barrister at Law”, written by Willie Patterson and drawn by Jose Ortiz on Bear Alley.
Willie wrote one Dan Dare story, “Mission to the Stars”, drawn by Don Harley, published in the Sunday People in 1964, collected in The Dan Dare Dossier, published by Hawk Books.
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All images © respective publishers and owners. With thanks to Jeremy Briggs for additional information