‘Stay, The Night Is Young And You Are Enormous!’

Books

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(This column is an updated version of one that first ran 5 years ago – I’m away for the weekend)

As ‘The book of Forgotten Authors wends its way toward the general public, yesterday I looked back over my chaotic files, getting ready to bung a feather duster over them and put them in neat new folders, metaphorically speaking. I realised that we – the editor and I – had cut out over half of the proposed writers, certainly more than enough to build the foundation for a sequel if (big if) it should do well.

Not all of the writers are novelists, and I regretted cutting Bill Tidy because he illustrates an unusual form of public amnesia. Daily pages of cartoons in the national press are common in US papers, which may for all I know still run strips like ‘Blondie’ (born 1930) and ‘Andy Capp’ (born 1957) but the art of the British serial cartoon has died, and Bill Tidy represents a neglected peak of the form.

When Punch magazine was disgracefully allowed to collapse after 150 years in 1992, a raft of familiar names vanished with it, removing 90% of British cartoonists from view. In the UK a handful of artists, like the wonderful surrealist John Glashan, had evolved long-running stories. The most spectacular 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 many years. He also had a comic strip in New Scientist which ran for 24 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 cartoon format which has now disappeared.

In a demented epic parodying Galsworthy and JB Priestley, the books chronicled the trials of a poor Lancashire family rising to the heights of wealth and fame through the late Victorian period into the early 20th century. The Fosdykes made their money by finding profitable 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, the suffragette movement and zeppelin attacks to the deck of the Titanic, and a valiant Lancastrian attempt on Everest by the Accrington Stanley Expedition. Along the way, all the major characters who caught the public attention made guest appearances, from Elliot Ness to the Loch Ness monster.

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The caption to the drawing above is ‘Is there any news of the iceberg?’ 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 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. It’s time a publisher packaged these lovely, strange works into a single collection that could sit tidily on a shelf. At the time of writing, the author still surfaces with an occasional cartoon, and while his charmingly skewed humour is now probably a little outré for mass consumption, he happily continues to create his magical world, and will see the renaissance he deserves.

10 comments on “‘Stay, The Night Is Young And You Are Enormous!’”

  1. Jo W says:

    Entirely agree with you about the end of Punch,Chris. ‘Im indoors bought me a subscription to it as a birthday present in 1972,( because he occasionally forgot to pick one up at the railway station bookstall) and I enjoyed many a chuckle at the cartoons and articles.
    Of course,the piles of magazines grew and so did my sons,so a decision had to be made. Attic or dustbin? Compromise, all the best bits now reside in three large scrapbooks, so I can still flick through them. 😉
    Sad to say I also had some Fosdykes,but they went off to a charity shop some years ago 🙁

  2. Peter Dixon says:

    I remember that there was some fracas between Tidy and the TV comedy ‘Brass’ which he reckoned was a total rip off; good fun though.

  3. David Ronaldson says:

    I’m a proud owner of Tidy’s “The Great Eric Ackroyd Disaster” (about a northerner who lets the Smoke Factory grind to a halt) and am still a fan of his continuing campaigner for Real Ale, “Keg Buster”. Tidy tried to buy “Punch” after its closure, I think…

  4. Brian says:

    I see from your picture that you, like me, are missing volumes ten and eleven. One day perhaps.

    We once asked if our Morris side could use the Cloggies as our logo, and how much would it cost for him to draw us a mixed ( women and men) side. He said it would cost us two bottles of whisky. I thought this a bargain, and had a most enjoyable visit to his home to deliver the whisky and collect the drawing.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    Yes, Blondie still carries on, although she and Tootsie started a catering business to put them in a more modern framework. Nancy, one strip that could be read and understood by beginning readers has disappeared (“too simplistic”) as has Doonesbury (from our paper) as too political. Mr Trudeau (no relation to our political family) always represented the US president by a symbol rather than actually drawing the man. GW Bush was a Roman helmet with the crest in various states of disarray and Bill Clinton was a waffle dripping syrup. The other Bush (I think) was a feather. Have just returned from a voyage round the Doonesbury world, which still runs beautifully. Trudeau has some strips he did in 1987 when Trump introduced the Trump Princess, a yacht that was full of “quality” things (actual quote) but Trudeau includes “and that’s my wife over there, just look at the quality!” Look for his new collection “Yuge” just out.
    Gosh!

  6. admin says:

    Brian, I have 10 and 11 but I’m missing the odd-one-out (poss 13) printed in a strange A4-ish format.

  7. Trace Turner says:

    Blondie and Andy Capp are both still printed in our Florida paper. Andy Capp seems anachronistic and I wonder how long it can continue. You can read a lot of comics on GoComics.com, including Nancy and the “classic” Nancy by Ernie Bushmiller.

  8. admin says:

    Andy Capp ran as a musical in London. It flopped. I miss Gary Larson.

  9. davem says:

    The annual ‘Pick of Punch’ book used to be excellent. I have a dozen or so of them for the years before it folded.

    Great loss.

  10. Jim D says:

    Oh dear. I am old enough to remember seeing the Andy Capp musical on a visit to London (Tom Courtenay?)…

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