Sunday, 4 July 2010

Born On The 4th Of July...

July 4th - a very good day for North Americans. The day they parted company from the British some 234 years ago.

July 4th - a very good day for the British. The day North America parted company from... well, we all did okay out of it in the end, didn't we?

On that same day, exactly 201 years later, a nervous 18-year-old boy climbed the outer steps of the headquarters of UK publishing giants, D.C. Thomson & Co. Ltd., in Dundee, Scotland, to begin his career in journalism. Little did he know at that precise moment, that the editorial future he had secured himself during a rather bizarre interview ordeal just a couple of weeks earlier, was not to be (as he had thought) kick-started as a cub reporter on one of the company's prestigious newspapers, but rather as the office junior on the UK's biggest-selling and most famous children's comic, 'The Beano'. It would appear that somewhere along the interview line, they decided I was more cut out for kids' humour than adult reporting. I can't for the life of me think why, but "THRRRRRRRRRPPPPP!" to the lot of them, I say!

Within a week, I had written my first ever comic script. I was given a free choice by the editor to have a stab at writing, and I chose to go with a 'Pup Parade' story, drawn by Gordon Bell. I loved the pups (Bash Street dogs) as a kid, and it was a real kick to be sitting at a desk in the Beano office trying to dream up adventures for them.

Eventually I came up with something I thought might have a chance. I wrote it out about three times in the morning, left the copy I was most pleased with in the Editor's tray before lunch, and canvassed opinion from my office colleagues in the pub after a lunchtime curry. I was told that it wasn't a bad first attempt, but to be prepared for it to be dumped on a technicality. I had one of the pups impersonating a 'charity' dog statue to con people out of money, by getting them to drop coins in the slot he'd cut into an old hat he was wearing - it was thought that such dishonesty might not be acceptable. However, when I got back into the office, my handwritten script was back on top of my desk with a red tick beside the title. I actually had to ask my colleagues what it meant, not daring to believe my own interpretation. I was pointed in the direction of the typing pool, and told to deliver it there for typing up and sending out to Gordon Bell for drawing. A few short weeks later, it was being read by an estimated half a million people throughout the UK and 'colonies' (in terms of comic sales, they still existed), and I was on Cloud Nine!

I managed to pen over a dozen more before I had my first 'rejection', where I had '2-Gun Tony' threatening to brand his pet dog with an electric iron (the fact he was joking wasn't enough to prevent the axe), and only a further half dozen out of several hundred I wrote in my 18 months as a Beano sub editor failed to make publication. For an 18-year-old lad, whose only previously published work was for the school mag, it was a dream start to what was soon to become my cartooning career.

Happy July 4th!

Unfortunately, I no longer have copies of the early Beano comics that contained the stories I scripted, but one rather apt page was reprinted in a book collection that DC Thomson issued a few years back, written to commemorate Scotland's infamous folly at the World Cup in Argentina, 1978, and drawn by the prolific Gordon Bell. By this time, I had secured the 'Pup Parade' story as my own weekly task, and this would have been written around eight weeks before publication, with no knowledge of the travesty that was about to befall Scottish football during the time of publication...


  1. nice stuff Steve..interesting reading....keep em coming !!!!

  2. Thanks, John.

    Yes, Scotty, you and me both. Best thing Gordon Bell ever did in my opinion, and he did a heck of a lot.