Books Monthly May 2020 - British Comic Art is celebrated in fine style, and I find Milly Molly Mandy again...
  Books Monthly Nostalgia
My book of the month is David Roach's Masters of British Comic Art...


Nostalgia Book of the Month - David Roach: Masters of British Comic Art

 Published by Rebellion 2nd April 2020

This wildly entertaining and educational tome is a journey through the history of British comics - from the birth of the 20th century to the 80s invasion of American comics by the likes of Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons and Kevin O’Neil (to name but a few), right up to today’s up-and-coming British art stars and the talents of tomorrow.

Revealing the extraordinary history of the UK’s prolific comic book industry from the 19th Century to the 21st, this ground breaking volume celebrates the incredible artists who made a huge impact on British comics and would go on to revolutionize the industry on a global scale. Featuring a Who’s Who of talent, including Brian Bolland, Yvonne Hutton, Dave Gibbons, celebrated greats such as Don Lawrence and lost masters like Reg Bunn and Shirley Bellwood. Author and 2000 AD artist David Roach takes us on a journey through time detailing the surprising and fascinating evolution of the art from its humble beginnings to its current world-conquering status.

Including artwork from a vast number highly-acclaimed artists, carefully scanned from original artwork, Masters of British Comic Art is the definitive study and celebration of a beloved industry.

This huge, magnificent book arrived yesterday (9th April) and I am immensely grateful to Oliver at Rebellion Publishing for arranging for it to be delivered - it is the most comprehensive and enjoyable book on comic book and strip art that I have ever read. I'll go further and say that it is genuinely one of the most enjoyable books of any genre that I've ever read.

Firstly, it has served as a reminder to me that I don't know nearly as much about British comics as I thought I did. Secondly, it showcases an enormous pool of talent from the earliest days of the 20th century right up to the present day. The section on 21st century British comic artists is my least favourite, but having got that out of the way, let's concentrate on what is good about this book, and that's just about everything! Secondly, the quality of the printing is out of this world. The pictures are clear, sharp, ultra high definition. Make no mistake - this is a fine art book, comparable to those that feature reproductions of the world's finest paintings. Thirdly, it's a revelation. I thought that fantasy and science fiction art changed with the advent of artists like Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo in the closing decades of the last century, but there were artists of the same calibre producing illustrations for comics as long ago as the 1940s. I am genuinely staggered by the huge amount of brilliant comic book artists gracing the pages of this book, and hugely delighted to be discovering many of them for the very first time.

There are full page illustrations from comics and comic annuals that I own, such as from Bunty and School Friend annuals, from Lion and Tiger annuals, and its delightful to see them reproduced in such a fine book. I learned yesterday that one of the comics I used to "inherit" from my Uncle Leslie, Film Fun, began in 1920. I remember reading the exploits of Frankie Howerd, Laurel and Hardy etc., in the 1950s. And I learned that the writer of the Terry Brent: Detective stories in my sister's School Friend weekly comic in the 1950s was none other than Enid Blyton! Reading this book is an absolute joy, and vindicates my belief that reading comics was never harmless, but educationally enhancing, as well as being something essential and enjoyable. All of those Battler Briton and Paddy Payne: Fighter Ace strips that I used to read in Thriller Comics and the Lion were hugely educational for me about the Second World War. Not only that, they were thrilling stories as well, and stood me in good stead when it came time for me to graduate to all of those brilliant war stories written by Paul Brickhill and others!

My thirst for decent stories wasn't confined to World War II, though. I was equally enthralled by Captain Condor's space adventures, again in the Lion; and boys' and girls' school stories in the Lion, the Tiger, and in School Friend and Girls' Crystal were always a firm favourite. Now to romance. When I was employed as a paper boy in my home village of Brockworth, it coincided with the birth of the "trad jazz" phase of popular music in 1960; I was obsessed with Mr Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band, and collected every weekly comic that featured a "pin-up" photograph of him, with or without his band. David includes such titles as Romeo, Valentine, Mirabelle etc., in his book, which is terrific, as they contained brilliant love story comic strips by superb artists worthy of our adoration. I certainly adored them and have long been happy to read decent love stories. David describes the Golden Age of British Comics as 1950-1969 which corresponds exactly with my experience of them, which I can only refer to as "joyous". To think that I was reading "golden age" comics at the time they were published means a heck of a lot to me!

Any opportunity to collect a Lion, Tiger, School Friend or Girls' Crystal annual (or even copies of the comics, which do often appear at car boot sales, is seized upon by me. Comics formed such an important and enormous part of my life that any remembrance of them in the form of history books or magazine articles is always most welcome. I never ever need convincing that comics and comic strip stories constitute good, decent literature - I draw the line at anything that's vulgar and in poor taste, as any right-thinking person should. I know people who have collections of Viz comic annuals which I find distasteful and without value or merit. In my opinion, comic strip stories should be just that - stories, just good, wholesome stories. Anything "underground" such as Viz, is a step too far for me, a real turn-off, no matter how good the artwork is. I said in my opening paragraph of this review that this book has opened my eyes to the fact that I knew practically nothing about British Comic Art before I read David's book. That's the real pleasure of books - they open your eyes. Reading about something you know and love has always given me real pleasure - reading this book about British comics has given me more pleasure than I can properly articulate. This book is not just a social commentary, it's a celebration of an immense pool of talent the like of which the world had never seen. When I was at Grammar school in the 1950s I was alerted to Art Treasures of the Prado in the school library by one of my friends, who happened to be a prefect four years older than me. The book contained pictures of nude women painted by famous renaissance artists. I loved it - it gave me great pleasure to look at those beautiful pictures. I haven't been afforded quite that kind of pleasure since - until now. This book is simply superb! It's a revelation!

Finally, I have to say a word about the person to whom David has dedicated this magnificent book - Steve Holland, whose own dedication to comics and nostalgia is second to none, and a huge inspiration to me. Steve's own website, Bear Alley, is a huge mine of information - on more than one occasion during the last twenty years (probably more) he's been able to help me in my quest for knowledge about something literary, for which I am eternally grateful. He knows more about children's literature from the last century (and that includes comics, of course) than anyone I know, and is always ready and willing to help. If anyone deserves David's dedication, it's Steve. Steve's fascinating and informative blog can by searching for Bear Alley on Google.

Nostalgia find of the Month - The Big Milly Molly Mandy Storybook

 Published by Macmillan Children's Books July 2008

This gorgeous gift edition, slipcased, includes eight of Milly Molly Mandy's most popular adventures, beautifully illustrated by Clara Vulliamy, whose paintings reflect all the charm and spirit of the original line drawings. Now accompanied by two audio CDs containing all the featured stories, this classic collection will be treasured by the whole family.

My mint copy of this enchanting book came from a charity shop in my home town and unfortunately did not contain the two CDs, however, this in no way detracts from my enjoyment of this book, which was one of my favourites during my years at primary school in the 1950s. Clara Vulliamy's exquisite paintings are absolutely delightful, and capture Milly Molly Mandy to utmost perfection. This is indeed a storybook for the whole family, and I can't think of anyone who would not be entertained by the simple, heartfelt stories. I was lucky enough to review Macmillan's 2018 celebration book, Milly Molly Mandy Stories with the original Joyce Lankester Brisley illustrations - I still have that book and it is a treasured item, now to be joined by this one. This is nostalgia at its very finest!

Narinda Dhami: Malory Towers - Darrell & Friends

Published by Hodder Children's Books 16th April 2020

When Darrell joins Malory Towers, she's thrilled to be at the beautiful boarding school on the Cornish coast. There are new friends to make, lacrosse games to play, midnight feasts to eat and many stories to share. Should Darrell believe lively Alicia's tale of a school ghost? Are there some stories of her own that Darrell would rather keep to herself? As soon as she meets spiky, spoilt new girl Gwendoline, Darrell knows it's going to be a struggle to hide her secret and of her famously hot temper.

This book is a novelisation of the whole of the gripping new CBBC/Family Channel series, produced by King Bert Productions, founded by David Walliams and Jo Sargent.

It's Malory Towers - but not as we know it. Getting hold of a copy of this book is proving difficult in these uncertain times. I've asked for a copy which I will probably get around mid-April. This book is written by children's author Narinder Dhami, who I believe has been involved in previous reboots of Malory Towers, so I'm really looking forward to it. What I can tell you is that the new BBC CBBC series is now available to watch on iPlayer, and it's an absolute hoot! A lot of effort has gone into casting, and creating the look and feel of the 1950s. Ella Bright as Darrell and Danya Griver as Gwendoline are exceptionally good, but the entire cast is excellent and the series is absolutely terrific, capturing the spirit and genius of Enid Blyton to perfection.

Yours Retro Magazine - the April 2020 issue - out now!

The April 2020 edition of Yours Retro is out now! The first thing to say about this fabulous monthly magazine is that we live in a small seaside town, in which the small W H Smith shop has closed, and the other newsagents in the town are either shut permanently or don't carry it. Our nearest other town, just five minutes away by car, is Morrisons, and they don't stock it either, so I decided to subscribe. There are various payment options, and I chose the direct debit at £3.30 per month - my copy of the April issue arrived through the post two days before publication day, in pristine condition, so I am well chuffed! Cheaper and earlier than I could buy it in WHS! This month's issue kicks off with a timely article about the late Honor Blackman, who died earlier this week, followed by the main feature, about Doris Day. To the best of my knowledge this is the  third issue that has Doris on the front cover! There's a fascinating article about the Yardbirds, featuring Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, and how the group laid the foundations for Led Zeppelin, one of the greatest rock bands in the history of rock. Other articles include a terrific study of the influence of H G Wells on science fiction and his amazing predictions of the future, plus the latest info on movies based on his works. Farrah Dawcett-Majors and Lee Majors, Terry-Thomas, Alfred HItchcock and Psycho, plus features on Mae West and Robert Mitchum are included, and the team that create the magazine, all working from home, have turned in a brilliant first "lockdown" edition! It's eighty-odd pages of pure nostalgia and it's terrific!

Going Back in time - to the Fifties...Part 2

There are two books in this issue, both on the history/military history page, that bring back fond memories of my early childhood in rural, backwater Gloucestershire during the 1950s. I know I have a photograph somewhere of Brockworth New County Primary School, to which my sister Jean and I transferred on its opening day back in 1951. I can find no reference whatsoever on the web to the opening of the school that was to be my seat of learning for the next six years - I've reminisced about the headteacher, Mr Gillow, and how I was sent before him because I led the revolt which resulted in many of us refusing to eat the revolting custard they served. That and mashed swede - two horrific substances we had to endure in a school life that was otherwise idyllic, with superb teachers like Miss Paige (my favourite) and Mr Rossiter. Brockworth was the home of the Gloster Aircraft Company. According to Wikipedia (so it must be true), the Gloster Aircraft Company started off in the next village along the road, Hucclecote, but I only remember it as being in Brockworth.

The picture above shows the hamlet of Brockworth with just a few houses lining the Hucclcote Road (Ermin Street) and the factory, so this must have been taken in the early 1930s, because within ten years, Brockworth had grown to a substantial village of 4,000 residents, with private housing beyond the centre ground of the picture, and a huge council estate to the top right and another to the top left of this picture. They built the Gloster Meteor and the Gloster Javelin there. The Javelin was the only RAF Delta Wing fighter, and on weekdays at around 10am, they would test the engines, an earth-shattering noise that was both frightening and comforting at the same time, because it meant that the factory was in full swing, your relatives were at work, and life went on. It's Gloucester I really want to talk about this time. My earliest memory is one of screaming, standing up in my cot and screaming because there were monkeys climbing ropes, chattering and screeching and terrorising me, interrupting my sleep. I was told by my Mum that there was a frieze on the wall of my bedroom with monkeys on; monkeys and other exotic animals. It was a nightmare, pure and simple, but it could have coincided with the time when, at age 18 months, I contracted whooping cough and almost died. I don't remember the first time we went into Gloucester to do the weekly shop, but I do remember when I was about four years old, and I went through a period of travel sickness. My Mum frequently had to get off the bus with me about a mile from the city, and then walk with me to catch up with Dad and Jean. I soon grew out of it, of course.

We didn't have a car in those days. We walked to the main road, Ermin Street, one of the old Roman roads, and crossed the road to the Gloster Aircraft Factory bus stop, where we would wait for the big Bristol Omnibus Company double decker to come down the hill from upper Brockworth (either from Cheltenham or Painswick), and make the four mile journey to the city. Although he was never in the forces (except for a spell in the Home Guard) my Dad instilled in me the need always to walk upright, chest out, shoulders back. There was a pedestrian crossing where we crossed the road, and I do remember someone failing to stop while we were waiting to cross, at which point my Dad stopped on the crossing and shook his umbrella at the disappearing car. He was furious. Shopping in Gloucester was a huge experience - right up until the time we left for pastures new, when I was fifteen years old, it was a huge metropolis where you could buy anything you wanted. Pocket money was probably in the region of sixpence a week, sometimes supplemented by treasured florins or half crowns when relatives came to visit and we were on our best behaviour. Model citizens, well-behaved, always clean and tidy, always courteous and respectful. On birthdays one could expect, as well as the treasured books and whatever else you'd asked for, a ten shilling note, or on rare occasions, a one pound note! To the right of this picture was the Cadena Café, where my schoolfriends and I met to discuss our next scheme for raising money for charity.

There was a shop where you could spend your money in Brockworth, of course - the post office-cum-newsagent, run by Mr Lees. He had a revolving rack of paperback books. If we went to the flea pit cinema across the main road in the council estate which ran up towards the roundabout where you turned left for Cheltenham, and it was a film I particularly liked, I would race down to Mr Lees's shop the following day. I would spin the revolving rack and, inevitably, I would find the book I was looking for: Tarzan of the Apes (and when I'd finished that, I would run down and get The Return of Tarzan, for obvious reasons); The Wind Cannot Read; Above Us The Waves; Reach for the Sky; The Dam Busters; Carve Her Name With Pride; Love Is A Many Spendoured Thing - for some unfathomable reason, which didn't strike me as strange at the time, they were always there, on the rack. In fact, I can't remember a time when I didn't find the book I was looking for. I was the most voracious reader. A branch of the county library service opened in the primary school on two evenings a week - three bookcases crammed with books, but there came a time, when I was approaching my teens, when I'd read everything - romances, thrillers, westerns etc., etc., and there was nothing else for it - I needed to join the city library in Brunswick Square. That or take my money (by this time I had a paper round - I'm pretty certain I started that when I was eleven years old; and folding money every week) into the city to shop at one of the two branches of W H Smith. In those days, there was a branch in Eastgate and one in Southgate. Looking back, there seemed to be two branches of just about all of the big stores in Gloucester in the 1950s - two Marks and Spencers, two Woolworths, two Boots the Chemists, two Currys... My bicycle, a Raleigh with drop handlebars and a four-speed gear box (revolutionary! everyone else's were confined to three gears!) came from the branch of Currys in The Oxbode, right opposite the side facade of Bon Marché, the biggest store in town, a store like Harrods, with several floors and a basement, where the gramophone records were on sale, and the books, of course. It was in the basement that I bought my first Django Reinhardt LP, each new Acker Bilk album as it was released, and the ground-breaking EARTHY album by Bobby Darin. Magic! But it was in Northgate that you would find Hickey's Music Shop, and it was there, in 1962, that I met three of the Beatles. More about that in another issue!

This coloured photograph of Northgate Street, Gloucester, was probably taken at the turn of the twentieth century - at the end of the road on the right there are lanes and back streets leading to the Cathedral. Northgate Street was where the smaller of the two Woolworths stores was, and Marks & Spencer and, of course, Hickey's. I tended to visit the Woolworths in Southgate Street, because it was much bigger and had a far larger range of the kind of goods in which I was interested: Airfix kits and gramophone records. I've already said that there were two branches of Currys. As I said, there were two branches, one of which was in the Oxbode, opposite Bon Marché, and it was there I bought my first bike. It was also there, on the way home from school - the bus from Tuffley dropped us in Westgate, then those of us who lived in Brockworth or Hucclecote (there were three of us) would dash from Westgate to the Oxbode and into Kings Square, where the bus station was. Sometimes we were lucky enough to catch the early bus home, but more often than not we missed it and had to wait, and spent our time window shopping.

One afternoon I was on my own, the other two boys stayed late for detention or something, and I stopped to admire a radiogram in the front window of Currys. At home, all we had was a radio, which was constantly on; I always tried to get home in time to listen to Mrs Dale's Diary, because I was in love with Jenny Dale, played by Julia Braddock - her voice simply captivated me! Other than the radio, all we had was a very old wind-up gramophone which only played 78rpm records, of which we had an abundance! I knew about radiograms and record players and the new 45rpm and 33.3rpm records - when we visited Dad's Aunt and her husband in Hornchurch, Uncle George had a massive radiogram which not only played the new records, it played stacks of them! You could put six records on the autochanger and listen to them in sequence without having to leave the comfort of your armchair to change the record! I made my mind up there and then that we were going to have this radiogram, and as soon as I got home, I started to nag. It took a while, maybe a week or so, but I was very good at nagging as an eleven year old, and within a short space of time Mum had paid the deposit with contributions from Dad, me and Jean, and the radiogram took pride of place in the bay window of our front room.

Now all we needed was a record to play on it! True, we had all those old 78rpm records, but with my next paper round pay packet, I went into Gloucester and bought an Embassy Records recording of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony from Woolworths. This wasn't some random purchase for the sake of it - a couple of months previously Dad had taken me to a hall in Brunswick Square one evening, where we and what seemed like hundreds of other working men stood  and listened to a gramophone record performance of the Fifth Symphony, and I made my mind up that it would be the first record I bought. Embassy Records was Woolworths' own record label. Looking back, and knowing the Fifth far more intimately now, I realise that the performance was severely truncated - it was a ten inch LP, so there wasn't room for the full work, obviously - but it was the start of my record collection, which would grow like topsy in the coming months. Saturday mornings were dominated, radio-wise, by Brian Matthew's Saturday Skiffle Club, which started in 1957 with a budget of £55. The programme dropped the word "Skiffle" in October 1958, and this coincided with the stirrings of interest in traditional jazz. I was tasked with going into town and buying a copy of the latest single (maybe the first) by Acker Bilk, or Mr Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band, to give him his correct title, a version of a Sousa march, Blaze Away, that had caught everyone's attention. I couldn't find it, but came back with Chris Barber's Jazz Band's Petite Fleur. At the time, I didn't realise how immense Acker Bilk would become in my life, an obsession that parraleled the height of Beatlemania for me... Blaze Away came later, and that's another story - I've taken up far too much of your time with my ramblings. More next month! See you in May!

 (Note to self, May/June 2016 Archives)

The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its 22nd year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email at and I'll let you know where to send it.

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As this is the Nostalgia page, and it's all about what happened in the old days, I'm publishing my memories of the 1950s below the book and magazine reviews on this page, it's called GOING BACK IN TIME TO THE FIFTIES and you can start reading it here on this page...