We are pleased to publish the memories of Roger Perry – memories of now more than half-a-century ago – of his days at Fleetway Publications working on Girl and Eagle…
When an Eagle became ensnarled in a Mirror’s Net
“Halfway through 1962, a weekly news magazine in London appeared with its front page fully devoted to a cartoon. It showed the figure of a man in Napoleonic garb [and] flagged “Napoleon of the Comics”. This was Leonard Matthews, the newly created director of Fleetway Publications. A long- standing member of the staff, Matthews had become director in overall editorial command of such weeklies as Buster, Film Fun, Girls’ Crystal, Jack and Jill, Lion, Look and Learn, Playhour, Princess, Tiger and Valiant…”
From the obituary of Leonard Matthews who died in Esher, Surrey on 9th November 1997
The Independent, Friday, 5th December 1997, written by George Beale
The boys’ magazine Eagle had once been heralded as being the greatest-selling boys’ comic of all time – but from 3 o’clock on Tuesday, 5th September 1961, massive changes took place that altered the course of “comic history”.
For you to understand this long and complicated tale, certain facts covering a two-and-a-half year period prior to that date need to be laid down; events that not only affected the lives of the 40-odd staff who worked directly in creating the paper, but ultimately the thousands upon thousands of dedicated readers who were appalled over what one single man (with Napoleon Bonaparte inclinations) had decreed what must be done . . . or face the consequences . . . (as one person at that meeting had discovered to his cost)!
I start by chronologically listing those dates where I was personally involved (particularly the first three entries) due to being there as and when they had transpired:
Demobbed from the Royal Air Force – Tuesday, 23rd August 1961
Interview with Personnel Officer (Odhams) – Thursday, 25th August 1961
Started Work on Eagle comic et al – Monday, 29th August 1961
Roy Williams completes his notice period Friday, 1st September 1961
Leonard Matthews storms in and takes over – Tuesday, 5th September 1961
Clifford Makins quietly leaves at end of day resulting from his clash with Matthews – Tuesday, 5th September 1961
Charlie Pocklington “clears his desk” Friday, 8th September 1961
Val Holding takes over as managing editor – Monday, 11th September 1961
“Juvenile Publications” move to Annex – Monday, 27th November 1961
Alf Wallace takes over as managing editor – Monday, 10th September 1962
Photographing Mike Sarne at Waterloo – Saturday, 13th October 1962
“Juvenile Publications” move to 96 Longacre – Monday, 25th November 1963
During the 1950s, the Reverend Marcus Morris (together with several other genii that had included Frank Hampson – a truly great visionary who had created ‘space-aged’ characters such as “Dan Dare” and “Tommy Walls”) had not only launched Eagle but had founded a series of “sibling comics” that had more-than satisfied Britain’s young readership of both girls and boys. These ground-breaking “comics” had fired the imaginations of millions of children (and if the truth be known, a pretty fair number of teenagers and adults too) . . . and even today – sixty years on – the following of its memorabilia is like no other.
The three other ‘masterpieces’ were of course Girl, Swift and Robin – all of which (during the latter half of the 1950s and tipping over into the 60s) had emanated out of Sir Edward Hulton’s publishing empire on the 5th floor at No. 161-166 Fleet Street.
An interesting observation was made by Jacques Post – a Dutch-born printer from Rotterdam in Holland – who during the latter half of the 1960s had murmured to me that the “Morris, Hampson & Co Group” had been so pleasantly fortunate in their “immaculate-(but-perhaps-unrealised)” timing. Resulting from all those “last-minute-I-shall-never-see-you-again-couplings”, by the turn of the decade there had been thousands upon thousands of “war babies”, all of whom were at just the perfect age and were crying out for something really, really fresh and new and so terribly revolutionary and exciting to kick-start their muted imaginations.
The Downfall of Hulton Press
During the 1950s, all should have been running smoothly.. but behind-the-scenes, there had been the inevitable “ups-and-downs” (not that the avid and dedicated readers of Eagle et al had known much about it). Firstly, in 1957, despite Eagle having a circulation of almost one-million copies each and every week, losses elsewhere within the group – on magazines such as Lilliput and Picture Post – had been the cause of a great deal of gloom.
Escalating costs in producing Picture Post were far outstripping orders, for it was now having to fight a losing battle with the almost instant news coverage (and with ‘moving pictures’ to boot) offered daily – first by the BBC and then in 1955 by the arrival of a second television station (albeit commercial). But it was the inexplicably exorbitant over-spending by Eagle staff for ridiculously expensive lunches (although pricy telephone calls and the high usage of electricity were also mentioned in passing) that caused Sir Edward to finally throw in the towel and in 1959 had finally sold the complete set of magazines to “Odhams Press”.
Adding to Marcus Morris’s own headaches (apart from anything that might have resulted from his exorbitant lunches and a mammoth drinks bill that seemed to increase daily), there had been the highly strung (and hyper-critical) Frank Hampson – the brilliant artist best known for his creation of “Dan Dare – Pilot of the Future”. Morris thought that by sending Hampson off first to Jerusalem and then to the Dead Sea for a three month sabbatical would solve matters. The plan was for Hampson to carry out research for a brand new continuity strip story about the life of Jesus – aptly named “The Road of Courage”. But even with Hampson “out of the way”, not only was a disastrous “six-week-long-printers-strike” in May and June of that year a nightmare, but the surprise sale of Hulton Press to Odhams had been the final straw.
With enough having been more than enough, the Reverend Morris resigned in 1959, taking up a new position with the National Magazine Company and had continued his inspirational magic by creating the innovative magazine: Cosmopolitan. At the same time, Ellen Vincent – the editor of Girl magazine – had also resigned . . . for she’d become married for the second time and maybe her excuse had been that she wanted to start a family. Or was there another reason, one rather more sinister?
At around that same time, it had been announced – certainly it was in Eagle and maybe it had been spoken of elsewhere too – that a certain Peter Stephens had been brought in to join the staff of the title as Assistant Editor. It has been suggested by some that Stephens had been introduced into what was now collectively being termed as “Juvenile Publications” by Leonard Matthews with the specific role of acting as a spy . . . for there had been little evidence of Stephens having done much else . . . not, that is, until he was discovered as having “flipped-his-lid” during 1965. (But that’s for later…). Either way, with both the “top-guns” now having gone, Clifford Makins (Deputy Managing Editor) and Rosemary Garland had slipped easily and quietly into their rapidly-cooling chairs.
By now, it was being collectively known as “Juvenile Publications”, and my own involvement with this set of four magazines came about two years later in 1961. After having done my Service for “Queen and Country” by acting as a Nursing Attendant (Class 2) within the Royal Air Force, I’d re-joined Odhams on Monday 29th August at a time when things were still not running all that smoothly.
Oh? Such as?
Well, on the second or third day at my new place of employ, when I’d spoken of my idol Frank Hampson to co-designer Ron Morley, he’d rapidly drawn in a breath through clenched teeth; had quickly scanned the room to see who else might have been within earshot; and had murmured out of the corner of his mouth:
“Shhh, that’s a dirty name round here . . . it’d be best if you didn’t mention it!”
I had worked at 161-166 Fleet Street before . . . not on the “Juvenile Publications” papers but on another paper three floors further up. Straight from Art College – on 9th March 1959 as it happens – I’d secured a job with another of Sir Edward Hulton’s papers – that of Farmers’ Weekly – but this had been rather short-lived as “Her Majesty” – well not actually the great lady herself but one of her minions – had calmly uttered: “It’s about time this Perry chappie put on a smart uniform and did a spot of marching about – what?” However, the point of telling you this was that Alfred Harwood – my boss on Farmers’ Weekly – knew of my interest in Eagle and to put me off going down to the fifth floor had said: “I should keep well away from that lot down there . . . the word is that they’re having a lot of problems.”
At the time, I will have to admit that I had thought Alf was just trying to scare me away.
Departure of the “Old Guard”
Coinciding with my inauguration into the world of Juvenile Publications, had been the return from his two-week annual holiday of Assistant Editor of Girl (and possible spy) Peter Stephens. Perhaps at one time he had been enlisted into the Royal Air Force and had “known” certain people, since, for his vacation that year, he had “hitch-hiked” rides over to Hong Kong and back using the facilities of the RAF… but for this, there had been a price to pay. Certainly for the next three months, he’d had to make quite sure that he was never more than a few seconds away from a toilet and, as you’ll read below, this impacted on his work somewhat…
On 5th September, just eight days after my inauguration, top “brass” from Fleetway had descended upon Juvenile Publications (Odhams) from a great height. Looking not too unlike three heavily-concealed gentlemen from the mountainous regions of Sicily, flanked by editors George Allen and David Roberts, Leonard Joseph Matthews stood high (in his built-up shoes) and began to lay down the law. He created such mayhem that certainly one Art Editor was told to “clear his desk out by Friday” (although these days he tends to give an alternative reason for his rather rapid departure) and the resulting ripple of indignation throughout the meeting was such that, a large number of senior staff had also tendered their notices of resignation (although in their case, it had taken them rather a lot longer to “clear their desks” – like four weeks – which was the obligatory notice period in those days).
One person who hadn’t had to give (or work out) any ‘notice period’ had been the ‘perhaps un-co-operative puppet” Clifford Makins. By the time 5.30 came around and we were packing our belongings up in readiness for heading off home for the night, Makins had already gone, slipping out unobtrusively without saying a single, solitary “goodbye” to anyone – not that there was any reason for him to do so, but in the eight days I had been there, I never saw or met the man. On the following Monday – 11th September, 1961 – Val Holding (who would go on with Matthews to set up Martspress later in the 1960s) came to sit in Makins’ chair.
Matthews had given him a one-year contract to come in daily to sit in that room; and above all else, do nothing and touch nothing. In that one year, I saw him precisely just the once.
The doom and gloom hovering over Eagle, Girl, Swift and Robin during that latter half of 1961 had continued unabated, and for the next two years, I just kept my head down, spoke to virtually no-one (apart from those in my immediate vicinity) and had just got on with the job that I’d been employed to do.
The ‘Birth’ of “Larry Line”
One bright moment for me though had been the suggestion that my image be used in a series called “The Roving Reporter”. Peter Stephens had been allocated the job of capturing a dozen or more portraits which could not only be used occasionally within the illustrated frames upon the pages but also could be used as reference material for those artists who had been commissioned to do the work – Eric Kincaid and John M. Burns being two (but I dare say there were others – I just don’t know who they were). Not only were the shots taken on a particularly poor day, but the session had had to be cut rather short due to Stephens needing to rush off to find himself a toilet. And so all the while that Stephens had squatted, Eagle’s “Larry Line” – my alter ego – had been born!
Eagle on the Move… and more Staff Changes
Replacement staff oozing out from seepages at nearby Fleetway Magazines had quickly filled vacant chairs and “Juvenile Publications (Odhams) had done its best to struggle on, despite physically having had to move offices twice. First, when they had been transferred from the “Hulton House” fifth floor area in Fleet Street and down to the adjoining annex building at the rear and overlooking Red Lion Court; and then again exactly two years later (in November 1963), when the lease on the annex offices had run its full two-year course.
However, earlier in 1962, other avoidable disruptions had taken place causing the once-cosy nucleus of four designers and one in-house artist to be effectively split up to be scattered in every-which-way possible. The first to “leave the group” had been John Kingsford, for he had been chosen by the new Art Editor John Thomas Jackson to be his number two (probably because out of the four, he had been the least ‘aggressive’).
Ron Morley had gone off to join George Beale, who’d been picked upon to do the job of producing Fleetway’s (and Juvenile Publications) books and Christmas annuals in office space above Covent Garden Tube Station; and Bruce Smith – ever keen to find work elsewhere (even when I had first joined Juvenile Publications, he has already, but unsuccessfully, approached Radio Times) – had eventually left to become Art Editor for the innovative “do-it-yourself” magazine Home Maker.
Brian Blake – although not straight away, but a few months later – had married his girlfriend nurse whose father had owned “a-mill-up-somewhere-ooop-North” and had been encouraged to join “the family business”. And then maybe – just maybe – due to the “late-coming-onto-the-scene” Margaret Pride – with her having been finally released from her job of editing Reveille and Weekend Reveille – had probably ‘demanded’ a permanent designer to work on Girl.
The result was that I had been placed into a room alongside Shirley Dean and Anne Littlefield… and then about a month later, a short-skirted, back-combed “Dolly-bird” who walked about sexily under the name of Linda Wheway had joined us . . . hhhmmmm, things were definitely (very definitely) looking up!
George Beale’s enlightening obituary for Leonard Matthews in The Independent in 1997, which I referred to at the start of this article, explains much of the overall ambience at Juvenile Publications:
He expected you to agree with him, and indeed, to do his bidding. As one of his editors, I was given a large, airy office right next to his. Once he called me into his office, and told me of a project he was planning. He asked me to take part in a particular mission for its furtherance. I could not, in all conscience, oblige him, and gave him a definite, and, I hope, polite, ‘no’.
“His reaction was, I suppose, to be expected. He nodded gently, said he understood my point of view, and I departed. Next day, Colin Thomas, Matthews’ ‘adjutant’, dropped in see me. ‘Oh, a small thing. Leonard wants to make a few changes in the office locations, so we’ll have to move you, old man.’ I then went down to inspect my ‘new’ office. It was a quarter of the size of the old one, overlooked the fire-escape at the back of the building, and had one tiny window. I had been punished.”
Doing the Locomotion…
Adding to this, Girl had also acquired a new in-house writer. Her name was Sally Brompton and her boss, editor Margaret Pride, expected Sally to produce a weekly article under the pen-name “Mandy Brown’s Page”. During the summer that year, Sally and I (as photographer) had met with celebrities such as Adam Faith, whose own popularity had been gaining momentum. Between 1959 and 1964, Terence Nelhams-Wright (a.k.a Adam Faith) had made seven albums, 35 singles, and amongst other things had provided the backing music for the Sid James / Spike Milligan movie What a Whopper. He also appeared in television dramas as a musician in Never Let Go and in No Hiding Place.
On Friday, 7th September 1962, Val Holding eased himself out of his chair for the very last time (and perhaps had wondered at the time whether he might just actually dare touch something – but then had decided against it), and three days later on the Monday, Alf Wallace had taken his place. The chief difference between Val Holding and the suave, well-groomed, handsome Alf had been that with the latter man, one just couldn’t see where the strings were being attached.
Then, a little over one month later – on Saturday, 13th October 1962 – once again, Sally Brompton had come up trumps by arranging for me as photographer to meet with pop singer Mike Sarne (who, as Michael Sarne, has gone on to enjoy a more memorable career as a writer, actor and director) . The shoot was to take place in none other than at one of London’s train terminals – Waterloo.
These were the days of “the Swinging Sixties” when hardly a week would go by without some new dance craze being introduced and talked about. There had been Chubby Chekker’s “The Twist”, followed by “The Mashed Potato”; and another was called “Popeye the Sailorman”. Following on from his smash-hit novelty song alongside his then girlfriend Wendy Richards, “Come Outside”, followed by “Will I What” with Billie Davis, released in August 1962, and he was promoting a new project that involved a “Do the Loco-Motion” dance routine.
[Editor’s note: Mike Sarne features in a Radio Luxembourg book, The Girl Star Dance Book, which includes a routine for “Do the Loco-Motion”, a song popularised by Little Eva on both sides of the Atlantic. Mike tells us he never did ‘covers’ of others work (the best listing of his music releases found here,) drawing me to conclude from the book’s publication date that this was the project Sarne was promoting).
Having pre-arranged with the Press Office at Waterloo that we should meet Mike in their office, when Sally and I got there, we were greeted with the news that “our star” had indeed already arrived but was currently having breakfast in the station’s cafeteria.
Guided by the Press Officer, we were taken to this said buffet where we found Mike nicely settled behind an artistically-chipped cream-coloured Formica-topped table. Wedged securely between his hands was an eight-inch length of French bread… but rather less under control were the onions, sausages and grease filling that appeared to be escaping in all directions.
The Press Officer gave the impression of being much needed elsewhere had excused himself, and while Sally and I ordered and supped “OK-I-Suppose” coffees, became totally mesmerised at the sight of hot grease and onion-slices oozing out first from between Mike’s fingers and then slithering down into some dark spot within his jacket sleeves. It was not a pretty sight.
The overall plan was to give Girl readers a step-by-step guide to Mike’s “Locomotion” dance routine and even though he promised to be with us, by the time Mike was licking the final remnants of breakfast from his fingers, the Press Officer still hadn’t re-materialised. I was keen to have the job done and be on my way home again as it was on this day that my daughter chose to be born. So we’d strolled about looking for a suitable backdrop and to the far end of Platform 4, where I’d spotted exactly what we were looking for – a massively powerful engine, full of hisses and clanking steelwork.
With still no sign of the Press Officer, Sally worked her charm with the ticket collector and seconds later we were alongside the huffing, puffing “4-6-2” beast.
I started taking shots of Sarne in varying poses but I could not say I was too happy with the results – the composition was lousy, and with the sun directly behind me, even the steam engine had looked flat and uninteresting. What I had in mind (and without telling Sally) was to get down off the platform, and as he stood astride the railway tracks, have Mike position himself fair and square in front of the hissing monster. It was now or never. “Come on, Mike” I fairly shouted at him, “get down onto the track and let’s get some decent shots!”
I knew he’d be game, after all, I had seen the way he’d handled that sausage and onion monstrosity!
By the time I’d fired off about eight or ten shots in as many seconds’ the Tannoy loudspeaker system suddenly exploded into ear-splitting life: “IF YOU DO NOT GET OFF THE TRACK IMMEDIATELY, WE WILL CALL THE POLICE!” Perhaps the Press Office on the first floor and overlooking the station’s concourse had been keeping a beady eye on us after all. Still, I was pleased. I’d got the shots I’d wanted and the ticking off we’d received from the Press Officer (when he finally resigned himself to putting in an appearance) wasn’t really so bad.
Hey Ho! So much for my “just keeping my head down and speaking to virtually no-one”! Oh, and how do I know the date? Well, that same evening after I got home, my wife gave birth to our first – a baby girl who had clocked in at 9.10 p.m.
On the Move Again…
One year and six weeks later, over the weekend that had comprised of Saturday, 23rd and Sunday 24th of November 1963, removal staff had had to move forty-plus desks, an equal number of chairs, twenty or thirty four-drawer filing cabinets, hundreds of files, thousands of items of artwork and forty-odd 14”x14” metal waste-bins. They’d moved grant projectors, fluorescent transparency viewers, bundles upon bundles of “advanced” copies going back to the year dot, and they taken each individual staff-member’s belongings to a building about a mile to the west of Fleet Street. And so when those personnel who had been producing Eagle, Girl, Swift and Robin for the past umpteen weeks, months and years had condescended to turn up at 96 Longacre on that bright and sunny Monday morning – 25th November 1963 – everything was already in place – not quite in apple-pie order… but not all that far away from it.
For the next five-and-a-half years, this old and once-vacant ‘ghost-town’ of a mausoleum that formally had housed the bustling newsroom staff of the long-defunct Daily Herald newspaper… well, not only was it now to be our new home, looking out over to the offices of the Sun newspaper. It was also the place where I began a two-year-long friendship with the then “ever-boisterous-and-egotistical-20-years-and-seven-month-old” . . . Maxwell Frank Clifford.
• In Part Two, Roger traces the Emergence of Maxwell Frank Clifford…
• If you’re intrigued by Roger’s memories of his time on “Juvenile Publications”, you may be interested to know that Eagle Times is publishing a series of articles by Roger called “They Helped to Bring You Eagle” of which the first of nine appears in the current issue of the magazine, homing in on the work of Lettering-Artist-cum-Art-Bodger Bert Fielder
• There are numerous profiles of some of the names mentioned above on the marvellous Bear Alley blog compiled by Steve Holland, an indispensable treasure trove of British comics and art illustration history
• You can read an interview with former pop singer Mike Sarne (now Michael Sarne) about how he began his musical career here and his official web site is here; and details of his musical career are here
• Special thanks to Steve Holland and David Slinn for their help compiling imagery for this feature