Further thoughts on script conferences

You may have seen that Terry Magee made a series of illuminating and interesting comments on the Len Wenn post: these described the processes and principles behind script conferences in more detail. To make them more visible and easier to find in the future, I repeat them here. Many thanks, therefore, to Terry for sending in these details!

Len had worked on Fleetway boys’ comics in the 1950’s – either The Sun or The Comet, knew artists like Geoff Campion and colleagues like the famous/infamous Sid Bicknell (Uncle Sid to some). Len was a very fair chap and encouraged me to write. He was a soldier in the North African desert in the Second World War, telling me some of his experiences such as having to dig trenches in the sand – with the danger of being buried alive, which he actually saw happen. He told me other things about the Fleetway crowd that I can’t repeat.

I lost track with Len after I went freelance, but I’m real glad he survived on Buster
and continued writing for Mavis on Jinty. They were a good team. As for their script conferences, they happened around every six weeks or so with just two writers on separate occasions – Frank Redpath (Lucky’s Livin Doll) and Jack Johnson (very talented writer and great bloke). I only ever was at one script conference, but didn’t contribute much as Mavis and Len were too good to keep up with!

Fleetway was a friendly company, the opposite to the dreadful DC Thomson. I never worked there, but heard tales from those who did, like John Wagner. DC Thomson was owned and run by two old brothers who were right control freaks – no staff allowed to use the phones unless with permission. The two brothers didn’t talk to each other for years, communicating notes slipped under doors and so on. They lived in a mansion outside Dundee, one in the east wing and the other in the west wing. A weird story itself! Shiver me timbers!, as Captain Hurricane would say!

(then a question from me)

Thanks for this, Terry! Can you tell any more details about the script conferences themselves – if writers weren’t normally present, then what was the aim of them – did Mavis and Len use them to write their own stories, or to decide general ideas that they would send on to freelance writers, or what?

My pleasure, shipmate (still talking as Captain Hurricane whose letter I used to write in Battle comic for some years)! I was only the one time in a script conference and that was In Mavis Miller’s office along with Len Wenn and the author Jack Johnson (might have been John Johnson). They discussed ideas and plots for Jack’s stories for June & School Friend. I think he wrote three of them every week. They were plans for something like next 6 weeks’ episodes. It was the same for Frank Redpath and Lucky’s Living Doll (the most popular number one in June & School Friend).

I used to hear them talking quite loudly and excitedly with lots of laughs through the wall of the office next-door. I was sub-editor sharing the office with Art Editor Colin Parker (we could see the Scales of Justice statue of the Old Bailey from our window). In the next office along was other sub-editor Jackie Davis, who was engaged to Colin (they eventually married) and art assistant Roger Prickett. Colin went on to become Art Editor on the Daily Express. His elder brother, Jack Parker, was Editor of Look & Learn. Very talented people.
Fleetway (basically still the former Amalgamated Press), was packed with gifted journalists, authors, artists, both staff and freelance. It was positive-thinking and forward-looking, which is why John Purdy was able to bring in new people like Gerry Finley-Day and Pat Mills with new ideas. Although it was done surreptitiously and that didn’t go down well at Fleetway. I was there and I saw it happen!

Other authors for June & School Friend were freelance and hardly ever came in to the editorial offices and sometimes never, as was the same for artists. Although Scott Goodall, freelance author, was often there, thumping away on a Bluebird typewriter at any spare desk going. They were referred to as authors in the Fleetway days, not writers, and the word ‘comic’ wasn’t used. They were girls’ papers or juvenile publications, sounding more adult and serious… Knockout and Buster were comics, due to their humorous strips.  Freelances were also paid in guineas, not plain pounds. We were paid salaries, not wages, with accounts in Coutts Bank of the Strand, the Queen’s bank and very posh… Fleetway could be snooty copared to D C Thomson, who seemed more down-to-earth although weird as I eventually discovered. Fleetway/IPC artists were better, more arty and often really fantastic.

Features on June & School Friend were written by Robin May, who also wrote a lot
for Look & Learn. There were no restrictions on freelancing for publications. I wrote Tarzan and The Saint for TV Tornado while subbing on June & School Friend. Fleetway and IPC were always trendy, being in the centre of London where it was all happening (or supposed to be happening!). There were lots of women’s magazines in the building like Woman, Woman’s Own, Options, Woman’s Weekly and others I can’t remember, plus cool mags like Rave and Fab 208, so we’d often see famous pop stars like Marianne Faithful, The Beatles, Adam Faith and so on. It was glamorous!

Mavis Miller didn’t write any stories or features, she concentrated on the editing. Len Wenn didn’t write anything for June & School Friend. Maybe he did for his new paper Sally. Just remembered: staff member Cecil Graveney used to write Bessie Bunter and Sindy (toy doll). Cecil was old Amalgamated Press, in his late 50s or early 60s then. Mavis in her 30s and Len in his 40s (I think – I’m terrible at telling ages). One artist who occasionally drew illustrations for features was in his 80s. A jolly chap with a big smile who reminded me of Father Christmas. I regret not remembering his name. When you think about it, he must have been drawing for Amalgamated Press in the 1920s and have known people who were at the very start of ‘comics’ in the 1890s. His artistic style was still very 1920s. A real link with the past and great to meet him.

Of course, there were dark sides to Fleetway/IPC. Not sure if I want to go into that!

Thanks again to Terry for sending in these memories and explanations.

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