Fred Baker: A Tribute

Writer and former Tiger and New Eagle editor Barrie Tomlinson pays tribute to Fred Baker, one of British comics unsung heroes, who died on 4 June 2008. He had been ill for some time with Alzheimer’s and died of pneumonia. “He was one of the most prolific writers we had on the comics,” Barrie recalls. “No matter how many scripts he was writing, the standard was always top class.”

Fred wrote some of the great classic stories that appeared in Tiger and Roy of the Rovers: “Billy’s Boots”, “Hot-Shot Hamish”, “Mighty Mouse”, “Skid Solo” and more.

“He really was one of the giants of boys’ scriptwriters, says Barrie.

I first met Fred Baker when he was editing on the girls’ comics. I wrote a script for that market and took it along for Fred to read. At the time, I was a sub editor on Lion.

Fred read the script and announced it was too much like a boys’ story!  I little realised that soon after that, Fred would be going freelance and would be writing scripts for the boys’ market!

A page from Skid Solo's second appearance in Hurricane Issue 2, published in 1964

A page from Skid Solo’s second appearance in Hurricane Issue 2, published in 1964

A page from Skid Solo's second appearance in Hurricane Issue 2, published in 1964

A page from Skid Solo’s second appearance in Hurricane Issue 2, published in 1964

One of the first scripts he wrote for Tiger was the highly successful, long-running “Skid Solo“, the story of a British racing driver in the world of grand prix racing. Drawn by John Vernon, it turned into a classic boys’ sports story.

Tiger inherited two other classic stories: “Billy’s Boots” and “Hot-Shot Hamish“. Fred wrote all the “Billy’s Boots”l stories and wrote them magnificently. It was a very simple storyline: schoolboy Billy Dane owned an old pair of football boots that used to belong to an old-time soccer star called Dead-Shot Keen. When he wore Dead-Shot’s old boots, Billy was world-class. But when the boots were damaged, stolen, lost or vanished, Billy was just terrible. His soccer skills disappeared!

A page of "Billy's Boots" by John Gillatt from Lion and Tiger, 28th September 1985.

A page of “Billy’s Boots” written by Fred Baker, drawn by John Gillatt from Lion and Tiger, 28th September 1985.

Yes – a simple storyline, but Fred kept it fresh for installment after installment. It was the only story ever to challenge “Roy of the Rovers” for Number One position in Tiger and when Roy went to his own comic, “Billy’s Boots” became the unchallenged top story.

In my time on Tiger, Billy was drawn by John Gillatt and the late Mike Western, two of the greats of children’s publishing. Their efforts added much to the success of the story.

Hot Shot Hamish in action

Hot Shot Hamish in action

“Hot-Shot Hamish”, the story of a lovable, giant Scottish footballer was full of humour and soccer action.  Hamish Balfour was a Scottish footballer who was so strong, his shots would inevitably break the back of the net, as they thudded home.

Fred teamed up with an artist from Argentina called Julio Schiaffino for this strip and they made one of the best ever teams in the comics. Here were two contributors, from different countries and backgrounds, who understood what the “Hot-Shot Hamish” story was all about.

For years, they didn’t met and I was delighted when I managed to get them both to London and introduce them to each other. It was a great moment!

When I first joined Fleetway as a sub-editor, writers such as Frank Pepper and Ted Cowan were dominating the boys’ comics.  By the time I became Group Editor, the domination was from Tom Tully and Fred Baker.

Like those other writers, Fred entertained millions of children in the pages of the comics.  His work should never be forgotten!

Barrie Tomlinson

Fred Baker: Career Highlights

Billy’s Boots
When Billy’s Boots was reprinted in Striker comic in the 00s, it proved an instant hit, despite being some 20 years old. Sadly, there are no plans as yet to reprint the strip.

Hot Shot Hamish
As Steve Holland notes on Bear Alley, “Hot-Shot Hamish” remains one of British comics’ hidden gems, written by Fred and drawn by Julio Schiaffino for Scorcher & Score, and subsequently for Tiger, back in the early 1970s.

Hot-Shot then teamed up with “Mighty Mouse” from Roy of the Rovers (wiki entry here), in which title the pair’s adventures continued until 1991.

Hot Shot Hamish was most recently reprinted in Scotland’s The Sunday Mail.

Skid Solo
Motor race series Skid Solo originally started out in Hurricane comic, which merged with the long-running Tiger in 1965 and Solo joined the new line up, surviving several other mergers into the 1980s. Tiger merged with New Eagle in 1984.

Some of Skid Solo’s opponents were Jean Corbonne (French); Al Ledstock (American, also World Champ);  Mike Mason (who left Solo’s team to drive for some rich Arabs); and Sparrow Smith (who was killed in a crash).

Categories: Classic British Comics, Comic Creator Spotlight, downthetubes Comics News, downthetubes News, Obituaries

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