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Film Fun Facts 
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The more I look into it the more fascinated I become by Film Fun's complicated transition from the old-fashioned pre-WW2 model to its early 1960s incarnation. What's more it seems to me that even before Laurel and Hardy lost their long-standing role as cover stars one can already spot some significant changes to the style of the humour strips that made up the bulk of its interior contents. To illustrate this I'll show seven pages taken from the same issue dated November 9th 1957 (hence the preponderance of bonfire night references).

To begin with here are two strips by Charlie Pease, featuring Ronald Shiner and Tommy Cooper respectively:

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...At least I think they're both by Pease. To my eye the Tommy Cooper page looks exactly like his 1960s Billy Bunter strips that I grew up with, drawn with immense confidence and a wonderfully 'goonish' sense of humour that would be just as contemporary if it appeared in a 1970s IPC comic like Cor!!

By contrast the Ronald Shiner page seems to look backwards for its inspiration to a far greater extent. While the pompous General in his dress uniform is pure Pease I can't help feeling that the clownish body language of the hero is rather more of a throwback to the Wakefield days. If I didn't know better I might almost think there was more than one artist involved. Then again, it could just be my imagination - what does anyone else think? :?

(Next up, Frankie Howerd and Terry-Thomas...!)

- Phil Rushton


Thu Feb 13, 2014 10:56 am
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...Incidentally, one of the really distinctive things to watch out for in any strip drawn by Pease is his lettering: the way he emphasizes certain words almost gives his dialogue an imaginary 'sound' that can sometimes be more recognizable than the artwork itself!

To follow on, here are the promised strips featuring Frankie Howerd and Terry-Thomas:

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The first of those is clearly drawn by the great Reg Parlett, who already seems to be well on the way to developing the semi-realistic style he used to such great effect on strips such as Tony Hancock. Oddly enough Frankie himself appears to be very different from the comically vulgar 'Oo-er Missus' persona he perfected for shows like Up Pompeii: if anything he gives the impression of a kind of fey aesthete, similar to the caricatures of Oscar Wilde that had been popular in certain quarters during the 1890s!

If Reg was the shape of cartoonists to come, it seems to me that the second page epitomizes Fred Cordwell’s old formula. The artwork - presumably by Terry Wakefield - has all the hallmarks I associate with his father’s humorous work in which characters are kept in constant motion as if stricken with St. Vitus' Dance. Lacking any weight or solidity they almost seem to have been sculpted from balloons as they manically float and wobble through a world of blancmange! I have to admit it's a look that has never really appealed to me...nevertheless I can’t deny the fact that it was enormously popular in its day.

(To be concluded with Jerry Lewis, Abbott & Costello and Red Skelton...!)

-Phil Rushton


Thu Feb 13, 2014 6:41 pm
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At first sight this Jerry Lewis page seems to have a lot in common with Wakefield's 'old fashioned' version of Terry-Thomas. Drawn (I think) by Bertie Brown its style would've certainly been familiar to old-time readers who remembered Brown as the definitive illustrator of Charlie Chaplin ever since he made his debut in Funny Wonder way back in 1915. In spite of his undoubted talent, however, Brown was a relative newcomer to the pages of Film Fun, never having been called upon by that comic's original editor Fred Cordwell. In point of fact Brown's style was very different from the 'Wakefield look' that Cordwell instructed his artists to emulate: instead of the curious insubstantiality of Wakefield's characters Brown's subjects always had real weight and solidity - to the extent that Charlie Chaplin's stick constantly seemed to be on the verge of snapping as he leaned jauntily back on it.

The page shown above clearly demonstrates the effortless fluidity of Brown's line as well as his ability to draw beautiful women, yet I'd suggest that it also shows an ability to move with the times in that some of the scenes appear - to my eye at least - to have absorbed something of the style of Roy Wilson, another artist who'd been consistently blacklisted by Fred Cordwell.

(...Having said all that I'll now grit my teeth and wait for someone to tell me that it wasn't drawn by Brown at all. To be honest this is all new territory to me and somewhat outside my comfort zone - though I'm really enjoying the learning curve! :? )

- Phil Rushton


Last edited by philcom55 on Sat Feb 15, 2014 8:15 am, edited 3 times in total.



Fri Feb 14, 2014 10:01 am
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Top-notch quality stuff, my good Mr Rushton---thanks for delving into your exhaustive archives for us.

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Fri Feb 14, 2014 10:10 am
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Phil, I will be honest and say that Film Fun was well before my time, but I am finding it fascinating to watch the evolution. Keep bringing us more.

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Fri Feb 14, 2014 11:51 am
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There was a hardback book on the history of Film Fun published back in 1985. Excellent book if you ever see it on eBay. Plenty of strips reproduced, info on the comic and the stars it featured etc.

I remember my dad telling me he used to read Film Fun every week. That would have been in the late 1920s, early 1930s.

I didn't realize Roy Wilson was deliberately excluded from contributing under Cordwell's editorship. How strange! It obviously didn't affect the fortunes of the comic though.

Wasn't Fred Cordwell also the editor known as 'Corny Chips' (on Illustrated Chips) or was that someone else?

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Fri Feb 14, 2014 12:06 pm
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Lew Stringer wrote:
There was a hardback book on the history of Film Fun published back in 1985. Excellent book if you ever see it on eBay. Plenty of strips reproduced, info on the comic and the stars it featured etc.
Some of us had to make do with the paperback version! Here are the four sides of the advertising flyer from 1985.


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Fri Feb 14, 2014 2:59 pm
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And here's the front cover. The flyer is slightly larger than A5 size when folded.


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Fri Feb 14, 2014 3:06 pm
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Yep, that's the one. I didn't even know there was a paperback version, so thanks for that info, Derek.

I thoroughly enjoyed that book, and remember reading it in one sitting on the day I bought it.

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Fri Feb 14, 2014 3:06 pm
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I can see where Reg Parlett got a lot of his inspiration/style from---this was his era after all.

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Fri Feb 14, 2014 10:42 pm
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I remember seeing a pile of those Film Fun books for sale at an early Memorabilia fair in Birmingham, but after a quick flick through I decided against buying one as almost none of the artists seemed to be identified. More recently I picked up a cheap paperback copy at a local Oxfam shop and realized my mistake: in fact the contents are very well written and designed, and while the artists are mostly unidentified (there is a short section at the end which name-checks a number of the more prominent contributors) a great deal of research has gone into the cinematic backgrounds of the stars and the way in which they were represented over the years.

As far as I'm aware Roy Wilson didn't appear in Film Fun until 1957, by which time Fred Cordwell had been dead for several years. To be fair I don't know what Cordwell thought about his art (though given his apparent 'octophobia' I doubt if he was a big fan of Occy the Octopus in Funny Wonder); but even if he had been willing to employ him I doubt if Wilson would have wanted to go along with the established policy of drawing in the style of Billy Wakefield. Fortunately this was no longer necessary by the mid-1950s when the mass extinction of comics such as Tip Top and Wonder forced Roy to look around for new titles that would employ him.

As a result the Abbott & Costello strip shown below seems like a real breath of fresh air with its endlessly inventive detail, its infectious humour and its joyous sense of movement.

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Looking at this one can't help wondering what Laurel & Hardy might have been like drawn in the Wilson style!

While the Jerry Lewis page merely hints at Wilson's influence this strip is positively alive with it. Yet in spite of that my first thought was that it might have actually been drawn by somebody else - George Parlett perhaps - in an attempt to water down the Wilson style so that it would fit in with Film Fun's more traditional look. In particular, something about the depiction of Bud and Lou struck me as being uncharacteristically inhibited compared to the freedom of expression that had been the hallmark of all Wilson's previous strips.

Then I noticed the dog in panel 2 and the cat in panel 5, and decided that this couldn't, after all, be the work of anyone else but the creator of Dodger & Diddle, Happy Andy's Pets and Moggie the Mouser! Whether or not he felt initially constrained by the need to adapt his style to the work of others Roy Wilson was at long last a Film Fun artist...and before long he would take over the cover spot as the Film Fun artist!

- Phil Rushton


Last edited by philcom55 on Sat Feb 15, 2014 8:05 am, edited 3 times in total.



Sat Feb 15, 2014 7:13 am
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In some ways the final page from this selection is the most startling of all - yet the fact that it looks so very different from what long-time readers had come to expect is the surest sign of all that experimentation was now the name of the game for a title that had once been the most conservative in AP's stable. Falling sales tend to have that effect...!

Image

One can only guess what Fred Cordwell would have thought of this radically different interpretation of American funnyman Red Skelton. With its uniform lines and lack of hatching this strip is totally unlike the work of any other established AP artist I can think of. In fact the closest contemporary style that springs to mind is the so-called 'ligne claire' technique developed by the Belgian artist Hergé on his 'Adventures of Tintin'. Presumably it wasn't a great success as I don't have any further Film Fun strips in the same style - however it is intriguingly similar to the work of Frank R. Finch who began to supply puzzle pages for a number of Fleetway titles (including Film Fun) a few years later. Also, it could be said to anticipate a more concertedly 'modernist' revamping of Frankie Howerd by James 'Sonny Boy' Malcolm, who subsequently went on to produce a similarly idiosyncratic interpretation of Ken Dodd.

- Phil Rushton


Sat Feb 15, 2014 7:56 am
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Lew Stringer wrote:
There was a hardback book on the history of Film Fun published back in 1985. Excellent book if you ever see it on eBay. Plenty of strips reproduced, info on the comic and the stars it featured etc.

I remember my dad telling me he used to read Film Fun every week. That would have been in the late 1920s, early 1930s.

I didn't realize Roy Wilson was deliberately excluded from contributing under Cordwell's editorship. How strange! It obviously didn't affect the fortunes of the comic though.

Wasn't Fred Cordwell also the editor known as 'Corny Chips' (on Illustrated Chips) or was that someone else?


No Lew the editor of Chips for the last half of its life was Richard Newton Chance (1887-1957). As I've said before I do love this transitionary period in the life of the AP comics stable, Film Fun in particular. So much experimentation was going on.
By the way the reason that Roy Wilson never drew for Cordwell, setting aside the stylistic restraints it would have put on Wilson's style at the time was that Wilson came from the other AP comics' stable, that of Stan Gooch (1893-1958). Gooch, who was a much more inventive editor, in my mind, than Cordwell, had basically discovered Wilson when he had been Don Newhouse's assistant in the 1920's and he jealously guarded his discovery in later years. All of Gooch's comic titles Larks, Joker, Funny Wonder, Tip-Top, Jingles, Radio Fun and evntually TV Fun making liberal use of Wilson's talent. Of course by the late 1950's less comics meant that under Phil Davis and Jack Le Grande Film Fun was more than happy to use Roy Wilson and Roy Wilson, with work in ever shorter supply was reluctantly drawn into drawing more and more personality sets. He never enjoyed drawing for Film Fun though, except for the jokes page Film Fun Quips which he felt still allowed him some artistic freedom.


Sat Feb 15, 2014 11:23 am
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The artwork in these sets are highly-accomplished by any standards, but I get the distinct impression there is a directive for all artists [excepting that Red Skelton page, which looks more 'american' in style for obvious reasons] to conform to a specific 'house style' where everything appears as if drawn by the same artist: comforting and reliable to many readers, no doubt, but not neccessarily the best outlet for artists with a strong distinctive style all of their own, which likely would have been scorned upon by the Editor.

I'm not trying to take anything away from these works: I'm not really famiilar with this genre---- like some other comic-heads on here,---- but I am very impressed by the artistic standards within these pages.

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Sat Feb 15, 2014 1:47 pm
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Kashgar wrote:
Lew Stringer wrote:
There was a hardback book on the history of Film Fun published back in 1985. Excellent book if you ever see it on eBay. Plenty of strips reproduced, info on the comic and the stars it featured etc.

I remember my dad telling me he used to read Film Fun every week. That would have been in the late 1920s, early 1930s.

I didn't realize Roy Wilson was deliberately excluded from contributing under Cordwell's editorship. How strange! It obviously didn't affect the fortunes of the comic though.

Wasn't Fred Cordwell also the editor known as 'Corny Chips' (on Illustrated Chips) or was that someone else?


No Lew the editor of Chips for the last half of its life was Richard Newton Chance (1887-1957). As I've said before I do love this transitionary period in the life of the AP comics stable, Film Fun in particular. So much experimentation was going on.
By the way the reason that Roy Wilson never drew for Cordwell, setting aside the stylistic restraints it would have put on Wilson's style at the time was that Wilson came from the other AP comics' stable, that of Stan Gooch (1893-1958). Gooch, who was a much more inventive editor, in my mind, than Cordwell, had basically discovered Wilson when he had been Don Newhouse's assistant in the 1920's and he jealously guarded his discovery in later years. All of Gooch's comic titles Larks, Joker, Funny Wonder, Tip-Top, Jingles, Radio Fun and evntually TV Fun making liberal use of Wilson's talent. Of course by the late 1950's less comics meant that under Phil Davis and Jack Le Grande Film Fun was more than happy to use Roy Wilson and Roy Wilson, with work in ever shorter supply was reluctantly drawn into drawing more and more personality sets. He never enjoyed drawing for Film Fun though, except for the jokes page Film Fun Quips which he felt still allowed him some artistic freedom.


Thanks Ray. Your return to this forum is invaluable for such information. There really isn't anyone else with the same depth of knowledge about the 'golden age' of UK comics.

Phil, I've seen other Red Skekton pages drawn in a more traditional style. Could that one you've shown be just a fill in by a new artist trying out for the comic? There's something raw about it, rather than an accomplished attempt to mimic a European style.

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Sat Feb 15, 2014 2:03 pm
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