Comic artist Frank Bellamy died suddenly on 5th July 1976, at the height of his powers. He left behind a body of work that included strips such as “Heros the Spartan” and “Dan Dare” for Eagle, “Thunderbirds” for TV Century 21, memorable “Doctor Who” illustrations for the Radio Times , “Garth” for the Daily Mirror and much, much more.
His influence on British comics and many comic artists is incalculable, and he’s widely considered one of the greats of the British comics industry, by both creators and fans alike.
In addition to continuing his commission on “Garth” for the Daily Mirror (his last strip, “Manhunt”, completed by Martin Asbury), he had plans for many projects. These included a Western strip he was to write himself, apparently inspired by the spaghetti westerns of director Sergio Leone.
Three silent pages of “Swade” appeared in September 1976 in the first issue of the short-lived Ally Sloper comics magazine, published by Alan Class, edited by Denis Gifford.
The first issue of Ally Sloper, sold nationally but lasting just four issues, also included one of Bellamy’s black and white illustrations accompanying an article on Garth’s creator, Steve Dowling.
(In addition to “Swade”, the magazine, an eclectic mix of features and comics perhaps ahead of its time, encompassed a wide range of genres, and included the first episode of “Dawn O’Dare”, a new strip by Frank Hampson over its short run, plus work by Harry Bishop, Hunt Emerson, Kevin O’Neill, Leo Baxendale, and Raymond Briggs).
Bellamy was, we’re told, invited to the launch of Ally Sloper aboard the Tattershall Castle, on the Thames near Blackfriars Bridge, which took place, on Wednesday 1st September 1976, but passed away before the event. (His last communication with publisher Alan Class took place in June, when he was sent a cheque for £75 for the publication of “Swade”).
Many other British creators were there, however, including Frank Hampson.
The launch was hosted by British comedian Ted Ray, and was by all accounts, a night to remember, one that included hand outs of t-shirts and badges as mementoes to guests.
“On arrival most [of] the artists were asked to sign-in by drawing their own special character or doodle on a very large hanging sheet of paper,” Alan Class recalled back in 2016 during a wide-ranging and fascinating interview with Terry Hooper about his entire publishing career. “It made a focal point for the occasion, and it is still in my possession.“
(The boards were sold at auction by 30th Century Comics in 2015 at a signing event by Alan Class).
Issue One briefly notes Bellamy’s passing at the end of the interview the Steve Dowling interview. The second issue of Ally Sloper published tributes to Bellamy, written by Clifford Makins, editor of Eagle and Swift and Dennis Hooper, editor of TV21 and TV Comic, and included a poignant illustration by Keith Luck in Bellamy style of Garth leading a horse and boy to Bellamy’s grave.
No other pages of “Swade” were completed before Bellamy died so those published in Ally Sloper are all we have, offering a tantalising glimpse of what might have been.
You also have to wonder, had Bellamy survived and made it to that star-studded launch for Ally Sloper, would he have had a chance to talk to Frank Hampson? What might have two greats of British comics discussed if they had?
With Bellamy still optimistic for the form, and Hampson fresh from receiving his deserved Yellow Kid award just one year before, what wonders might have been imagined between them?
Or would they have preferred to simply acknowledge each other in passing, given Bellamy’s role in taking over from Hampson on Hampson’s creation “Dan Dare” in late 1959?
Sadly, such imaginings remain just that, but let’s celebrate the work of a great with this presentation of “Swade”, some of the last art Frank Bellamy is known to have drawn – and raise a glass to a legend on the anniversary of his passing.
• The Bronze Age of Blogs has a smashing overview of Ally Sloper here
• Read Terry Hooper’s interview with Alan Class, publisher of Ally Sloper
Norman Boyd has documented the life and work of Frank Bellamy in numerous locations
• Paul Holder hosts another Frank Bellamy site: www.frankbellamy.com
• Comic artist Alan Davis has an archive of materials rescued from Frank Bellamy’s studio on his passing here
With thanks to Keith Page for sending me down this particular rabbit hole
Thanks to research by Norman Boyd and Richard Sheaf, which included scouring back issues of Eagle Times, it’s possible Bellamy and Hampson did meet – although we’re unable at present to confirm this. In Eagle Times (Winter 2000), in an article by Pat Williams on his father, artist Norman Williams, it’s noted Bellamy would be seen at the Studio Club, Piccadilly in the 1950s, a venue also frequented by Norman Williams, Robert (Bob) Ayton, and Frank Hampson. Whether Bellamy and Hampson were there at the same time remains unknown
[amazon_link asins=’0955159644,1907081003,0955159636,0948248327,0948487038,1907081194′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’downthetubes’ marketplace=’UK’ link_id=’f188e9a7-632d-11e8-9432-290ba848ea86′]
Categories: Comic Creator Spotlight, Creating Comics, downthetubes News
Journalist Tony Smith has been in touch with downthetubes about this strip and sent us the following information:
I recently stumbled across your downthetubes site through my interest in Frank Bellamy. In answer to your question about “Swade” being his last new work, I can confirm it was. I happen to be the last journalist to interview Frank before he died in 1976 and also the proud owner of the original artwork to all three pages of “Swade”!
Like Bellamy, I was born in Kettering and worked as a journalist on the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph in Kettering for almost 40 years. Frank’s career began in the 1940s producing cartoons for the ET and its weekly football paper The Pink Un. He moved to Morden in Surrey when he started on the Eagle in the 1950s, but returned to the area in 1975, living in Geddington, a village a few miles from Kettering.
I interviewed him in February, 1976 and although I knew he drew Garth at that time, I wasn’t aware of his previous pedigree in the comic world (as a boy I read TV21 every week, not knowing he was responsible for the “Thunderbirds” strip).
The plan was to do a personality profile piece featuring some of his work, which would usually taken half-hour to an hour at most, but I was so engrossed, I ended up staying for four hours looking at his original art in his studio and chatting about his life. Frank was such a modest, unassuming man, showing me his work like a child would show an adult drawings hoping you liked them.
Frank was looking forward to seeing my article in the ET, but unfortunately, the paper had just moved to new premises and because it was switching from hot metal production to computers, feature pages had been temporarily suspended. Several times over the next few months he would phone to ask when it would appear and I even arranged to give him a guided tour of the ET’s new high-tech headquarters.
The article had still not been used by July, when Frank died suddenly of a heart attack and sadly, I was required to re-write and edit down my original interview to be used as Frank’s obituary the following day.
From that day onwards I began collecting old comics and magazines featuring Frank’s work and became friends with his widow Nancy, from whom I purchased various pieces of original artwork, including “Swade”, “Thunderbirds”, “Dan Dare”, “Garth”, various illustrations from Radio Times, and three unpublished nude life drawings (including one of his widow).
Down the decades I also wrote various news stories and features about Frank, which are mentioned on Norman Boyd’s website, The Frank Bellamy Checklist.