Comic artist Peter Ford may not be a name many fans of British comics may recognise today, but for those of us who grew up in the 1960s and early 1970s, his work remains memorable.
His credits included humour strips such as “The Munsters” and “Bewitched” strips for the TV Century 21 and Lady Penelope annuals respectively, later episodes of “Perils of Parker” for Lady Penelope comic (initially drawn by Gerry Embleton), the wonderful “Super Mousse” advertising strip for Countdown, and “Dad’s Army” and “Autocat and Motormouse” for TV Action.
He also drew episodes of “Cathy Thompson” for Penelope, the later incarnation of Lady Penelope comic, but I don’t have copies of the relevant issues to know the style he used on those.
However, earlier in his career he drew in a more realistic style, with credits spanning work for DC Thomson’s Commando, as well as illustrating at least some of Hornet‘s “Spotlight On…” features.
“He was a great bloke, really friendly,” recalls designer and editor John Egglesfield, who worked with Peter on Zambia’s Orbit comic magazine, drawing numerous items in the early 1970s, which was produced in London.
Those who remember him recall Peter was a powerful, stocky man, of Maori heritage, who grew up in Poplar, London. In addition to his comics career, he was both a judo and school teacher, the latter work including a placing at Daneford Secondary Modern, based in Gosset Street, East London. He later moved from London to live in Leigh-on-Sea with his family.
Sadly, along with his strips for Countdown, his work on Orbit was among his last, as he died suddenly, of a heart attack, on 8th October 1974.
Fellow artist Gerry Embleton, who shared a studio with Peter, recalled him as “a very dear friend of mine when I was in my very early twenties,” memories posted by Matt Emery, editor of the excellent Pikitia Press blog, on a thread about Peter on the RootsChat forum.
“He was a wonderful character, he sang in amateur opera, played the guitar, was a talented cartoonist and comic strip artist, a paratroop instructor, a judo third Dan and ran a school, and was a school teacher. These separate worlds rarely had contact with each other and when he died representatives of his different interests gathered at his funeral and were amazed to discover how wide his interests were.
“He was quite a formidable character having a Polynesian anatomy, very big and powerful, a fierce warrior look when angry and a huge white toothed smile.”
“I was a fellow judoka and coach around the Poplar and Stepney area when Peter was teaching judo at the St. Paul’s Way School,” Roy Burgess recalls of ahis fellow British Judo Council member. “We went to several judo tournaments abroad together and it was a great shock when he died suddenly… I am not positive, but I believe that he was 42 at the time.”
His passing was marked on 15th February 1975 with a Martial Arts Tournament in his memory organised by Roy, the proceeds of which were donated to Peter’s wife, Lily and her family.
downthetubes reader Mark Bushell holds Peter in high regard to this day. “I used to go to Peter’s home in West Road, Leigh-on-Sea, for drawing lessons every Thursday night when I was a young teenager, circa 68-69,” he recalls.
“I will never forget arriving for my lesson one evening and being told that he’d just had a massive heart attack and died. I spent many long hours in his studio in the front room of his house in total awe at his drawing skills. He was a wonderful man who gave me so much of his time.
“I recall he used to love seeing if he could sneak images into the backgrounds of his work,” he continues. ”He would use his initials on the roundel markings on warplanes in Commando comics.
“Once, he even included a Triceratops dinosaur charging a small shed with a guy running out of the other side of the shed with his pants around his ankles!” Mark reveals. “The frame was looking down on a Spitfire coming backing from a mission, as if it was a view from a plane above, and the dinosaur was in the field below the plane. As the work was drawn twice up from print size the dinosaur was very small, he used a mapping pen and a desk mounted magnifying glass to draw it.
“I never saw the finished print, but I’m sure it wouldn’t have been visible to the comic readers.
“I’ve had many art teachers over the years, but no one else came close in being able to transfer knowledge like Peter did. Even now, I’m 66 years old and often remember him.”
“Though he was before my time, the ‘extras’ Peter sneaked in to the art were a thing of legend,” former Commando editor Calum Laird tells us. “Various tales were told but I put most of them down as myths. Like the US Civil War soldier standing guard at an RAF base. Most of these were spotted and removed apparently.
“Then, many years later, we started to reprint them and all sorts of details showed up in his art. Graffiti comments on walls or roof beams, shopping lists on secret documents. If you have a reprint (which has better quality printing) of any Peter Ford story, get out your magnifying glass. Maybe you’ll find the dinosaur mentioned in the tribute, maybe not.”
For anyone who remembers “Supermousse” and Peter’s other works, I hope this tribute is a worthy, if small attempt to honour his memory and collate what is known about him for today’s comics community.
• Peter Ford, died 8th October 1974, survived by his wife Lily and daughters Kim, Jane and Jo
If you recall more of Peter’s work as an artist, please do let us know.
With thanks to Norman Boyd, Mark Bushell, John Egglesfield, Matt Emery, Peter Gray, Steve Holland, Phil Rushton, Lew Stringer, Shaqui le Vesconte and others who have documented Peter’s comics career
This article was updated on Wednesday 8th June 2022, to add Mark Bushell’s memories of Peter