When Punch magazine folded after 150 years in 1992, a raft of familiar cartoonists vanished with it. A handful of artists, like the wonderful surrealist John Glashan, also evolved stories as well as one-off panels. The most epic and peculiarly English of these is Bill Tidy. His strip ‘The Cloggies’ gently ribbed Northern customs through the adventures of a championship clog-dancing team, and ran in Private Eye for years. However, his magnum opus was ‘The Fosdyke Saga’, which appeared in the Daily Mirror and was eventually published in fourteen volumes, in a once-popular oblong paperback format which has now disappeared.
I seem to have all but two of them stuffed down the back of my shelves – and I’m only missing the last two because they’re now so rare that they’re over a hundred quid each.
In a demented epic parodying Galsworthy and Wilkie Collins, the Fosdyke books chronicle the trials of a poor Lancashire tripe-making family rising to heights of wealth and fame through the late Victorian period into the early 20th century. The Fosdykes made their money by finding new uses for tripe, and their adventures took them through every major national event, from Mafeking and Flanders to dogfights with the Red Baron, through peace rallies and zeppelins to the deck of the Titanic, and a valiant Lancastrian attempt on Everest by the Accrington Stanley Expedition. Along the way, all the major historical characters who caught the public attention make guest appearances, from Elliot Ness to the Loch Ness monster. It’s one of the most sustained pieces of British comic humour ever produced.
Tidy wrote and drew all his marvellously energetic work, but what stands out is a strange mindset that avoids obvious jokes and goes for something which doesn’t quite make sense while still feeling entirely right. ‘Stay,’ begs an Arab sheik, clasping a portly harem girl, ‘the night is young and you are enormous!’ Comedy doesn’t always need explanation. About time, then, that a publisher packaged these lovely works into a single collection that sits tidily on a shelf.