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