Tag Archives: Oh Boy

Christine Ellingham – Interview

With many thanks to Christine Ellingham for sending through such detailed and interesting answers to the interview questions below – and of course also thanks to her for getting in contact in the first place!

Question 1 – Can you please give a bit of background context to your time in comics – when did you start doing work for picture strips / comics titles, and what got you into them in the first place? You say that your time as a strip artist was short – what led you to cut it short, if there was anything specific?

As with a lot of the jobs I have done over the years, I arrived at IPC, then Fleetway Publications, purely by accident and good luck.

I had been a staff layout artist plus fashion illustrator on a girls’ teenage magazine called, Go Girl! (This is where I first met Malcolm Shaw.) Go Girl! was part of City Magazines, the magazine division of The News of the World. This was in 1968.

Unfortunately, Go Girl! folded after a very short life and it was suggested that I approach Leonard Matthews, the then Director of Juvenile Publications, not sure of his correct title, at Fleetway. I did, and was offered a job there. In those days it was relatively easy to move around from one job to another.

Initially, I was placed in a department with several other people, not a specific title, where we did odd jobs for different papers, i.e. illustration, lettering, pasteup and, in the case of Alf Saporito, cartoons. I remember John Fernley being one of us, possibly Tony Hunt, though I’m not sure.

After a short period I was moved to the Nursery group, under the managing editor, Stuart Pride, and there I worked on a new publication called Bobo Bunny. This had come from Holland and needed adjusting size wise and certain content adaptation making it suitable for the UK market.

By now John Sanders was the overall editor of the juveniles. I have a feeling I wasn’t the first to be offered the position of art editor of a new girls’ paper called Tammy but I accepted it nevertheless and moved from juvenile to teenage. John Purdie was the editor and Gerry Finley-Day and Iain MacDonald made up the editorial team.

Under John, we gathered writers and artists and the aim was to compete with D.C. Thomson’s Bunty and maybe other titles of that type. I remember John and I made a trip to Rome to talk to the Giorgetti stable of artists and we were wined and dined by Giorgio Giorgetti and his American wife. We also attracted all the relevant artist’s agents, Danny Kelleher and his son Pat of Temple Arts, Linden Artists and Bardon Art for example, and collected together a group of strip artists, writers and balloon letterers.

Eventually, Tammy was launched and did very well. I was able to contribute a small amount of artwork, the back cover of the first edition is mine, but really my job was to get it all together, see the agents and in one case, the artists themselves (I remember Roy Newby used to deliver his own work) but usually the agents would deliver the artwork.

I have to admit, I was not entirely happy in the role of art editor. I had studied illustration at Hornsey College of Art and that was what I wanted to do. I left Fleetway 1971/72. Barry Coker and Keith Davis of Bardon Art represented mainly Spanish strip artists. I thought that maybe I could ‘have a go’ at doing this as a freelance and doing it from Spain. Barry and Keith took me on and my then partner and I moved to Spain. Just like that! This was 1972. Amazing really.

Christine Ellingham, 1973/74
Christine Ellingham, 1973/74

First of all my work was for D.C. Thomson; they waited for a whole series to be complete before publishing so as I was a novice and slow, this suited me. Fleetway needed an episode completed in a week, too much for me then. I am hazy about the titles, there may have been something called, “Warning Wind Bells” and another with an Egyptian theme with a character or a cat called Nofret, or these could have been later for IPC. I have a few old diaries of that time and one story I worked on I have only the initials of the title, S.O.S. I wonder what that stood for! 1972. There was “Topsy of the Pops”, “Vet on the Hill” and “Lindy Under the Lake”, all for Thomson’s circa 1973. (This is the date that I drew them, not necessarily of publication.)

As agents, Barry and Keith were superb. They made sure I was never without work, one story followed immediately after another, that I was paid promptly and they gave me such good advice regarding page layout, technique and story interpretation.

While I was still working on Tammy I started to have problems with my right hand (I am right handed), it not functioning properly. This continued to get worse when we were in Spain and instead of speeding up and refining my style the opposite was happening, my work deteriorated. Bardon Art kept me going but eventually we had to return to England in 1974, where I continued to struggle depressingly.

During the Spanish time I illustrated at least two Annual covers, Tammy 1972, including the front endpapers depicting National Costumes and Sandie Annual 1973, plus various spot illustrations. I still have these annuals. Or I could have done these before Spain.

After inconclusive tests that found nothing terribly wrong with my hand or me generally, the GP at the time suggested I learn to use my left hand. After thinking initially, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, I realised this was my only option. I remember one ten-part story for Thomson’s started with me using my right hand and gradually with training, ended using my left hand. I can’t remember which story that was.

From then on things got better. I speeded up and developed my style. Bardon got me the first IPC job.  I’m not one hundred percent sure but it could have been, Cove of Secrets or Secret Cove, something like that, for the Jinty Annual possibly 1974. Also The Whittington’s Cat Princess, DCT, around the same time. To this day, I draw, paint and write using my left hand.

“Concrete Surfer” came later. That particular story stands out for me because it was such fun to do. It was all action with hardly any background, it was very modern and I love doing figure work. I remember we bought a skate board so that I could see what it looked like from all angles, a helmet too, still got them!

I cannot remember how many strip stories I worked on after “Concrete Surfer” but at some point I felt the need to move on, that I wasn’t being stretched any more. Bardon Art were no longer able to represent me, as strip was their speciality, and sadly, we parted company. I started contributing illustrations to Oh Boy, Loving and other IPC papers for older teens.

After a few years I moved on again and, as an illustrator, contributed to national newspapers, women’s magazines, house magazines, mail order publications, coin design, greetings cards and so on.

The work was still there after my retirement but the need to move on again got the better of me and now I paint, back in Spain.


Question 2 – On the blog we are always very keen to try to establish any creator credits for artists and writers, as these are otherwise very likely to get lost in the mists of time. As far as we can tell from the art style, it looks like you drew three stories for Jinty (“Race for a Fortune” (1977-78), “Concrete Surfer” (1978), and “Dance Into Darkness” (1978) plus some covers and spot illustrations, as well as a story in the Lindy Summer Special (1975) and in the Jinty Annual 1978. It may be asking too much at this distance in time, but what other work do you recall doing and in which publications?

I would have to look at these stories that you mention to verify that I actually drew them! As I have said, Concrete Surfer stands out because for me it was a joy to do. The others, some I have managed to see on line and they do look vaguely familiar. At the time I used my partner as a model. I found men more difficult to draw than women and girls and I have noticed him in certain frames even though I tried hard to make them not look like him! When I see him I know that I did that one!

Cover 19780708
Jinty 8 July 1978: cover shows “Dance Into Darkness”

Question 3 – At the time it was very usual for artists and writers to work quite separately from each other, particularly freelance creators. Was this the case with you, or did you know others working in the same area? I ask partly in case there are any interesting stories or anecdotes that you can relate at this distance in time, but also in case you remember any names of people on the creative or publishing side that can feed in to our information of who did what.

Yes, this was the case for me. Artists do lead a solitary life and being freelance meant I would be at my desk not wanting to be interrupted. The deadlines, especially for IPC, were pretty tight. In my case the work would be delivered to Bardon Art and they would take it to the publication in the case of Fleetway, a few minutes walk away. Though in Spain I posted it directly to DCT. Nevertheless, Barry and Keith were very much involved and would add their comments sometimes.

While we were in Spain the work was rolled into a tube and posted. The tubes had to be open at both ends, some string threaded through and tied and a description of the contents had to be stuck to the outside, or left with an official at the post office.

I did meet one artist in Spain, Miguel Quesada. It was he who told me how to send artwork to England. He and some of his very large family, (a lot of mouths to feed), visited us unexpectedly. He was one of Bardon’s and a contributor to Tammy. I never met any of the other artists apart from Roy Newby, but that was before I was a contributor myself.

I did meet John Jackson when he was the art editor of Jinty and of course, Mavis Miller.

Question 4 – I am keen to understand more about the creative and publishing processes of the time. Presumably the writer supplied a script, and the editor chose the artist, but I don’t know how everything interacted. Did you get any guidance (say as part of the written script) or conversely any interference from the editor or art editor, or was the published page pretty much under your design control including the composition of the page?

Yes, the editor would choose the artist, art editors didn’t have much say in the matter, (Though this is just from my experience of working on Tammy.) And I think the editorial team would have suggested an idea for a story to the writer, again, this is how it happened on Tammy.

The artists were given a lot of guidance. Before even starting, we would be briefed on the content and theme of the story, to get to know the main characters. In the case of IPC the scripts would come one at a time, having only just been written, probably. The artist would receive a document containing the dialogue for each balloon and the positioning of the balloons had to be in that same order in the frame, also, there would be instructions on the action and mood in the frame, i.e. the heroine to look sad, the bad girl to look vindictive; a closeup and so on. The composition of each frame would be influenced by the order and size of the balloons and the overall design of the page would have had input from the editor. Quite a lot to work out, now I come to think of it! [An example of a script has been previously sent in by Pat Davidson, wife of Jinty story writer Alan Davidson: see link here.]

I always had to submit pencil roughs that would be shown to the editor for his/her comments. In Spain there were many visits to the post office, pencils going off to Stan Stamper in Dundee, coming back with comments, a finished, inked episode flying off, the two passing each other on the way. Also, we artists had to work ‘half up’ so there was a lot of ground to cover. [‘Half up’ means using a larger piece of art paper – half as much again as the finished size, so that for instance if the finished publication is 10 inches by 12 inches, half up would be 15 inches by 18 inches – with the artwork being photographically reduced in size during the production process.]


Question 5 – A slightly self-indulgent question but with a point to it – how did you come across the Jinty blog? Was it a case of happening to suddenly remember something you worked on years ago and searching for it, or being sent to it? (I ask because I would love to hear from other creators from the time, and if there is anything I can do to increase the chances of someone posting a comment saying that they wrote or drew a story from the time, I will certainly consider it.)

I’m trying to think. How did I find it? I get carried away on the internet sometimes. I think  I was looking up an old friend of my now husband’s, the two of them used to work together on Eagle, Swift, Robin and Girl papers, as balloon letterers and layout artists. I started looking at Girl artwork as I do have a couple of Girl Annuals, No.3 and No.5. I noticed that the writers and artists all got a credit; one name I recognised was the artist Dudley Pout, I wonder if he contributed to any of the Jinty stories? Though he was probably of another generation.

The friend of my husband had died but in reading his obituary I found links to other sites and by then I was interested to see if any of my work was featured anywhere, the only title I could think of was, “Concrete Surfer”!

First episode of the 1978 story “Concrete Surfer”

IPC/Fleetway and the NUJ: interview with Pete Wrobel

In previous posts on this blog, I have managed to interview some of the original creators and editors working on Jinty and other comics titles of the time. Having heard from these and other sources various stories about the strikes and other industrial action that took place in IPC/Fleetway, I decided to write to the National Union of Journalists to see what, if anything, they might have that was of relevance in their archives. My original query was as follows:

I am an independent researcher interested in some data that might perhaps be available in the NUJ archives, and I’d like to know how I can best proceed with finding out more. My interest is in weekly girls’ comics published by IPC Fleetway in the 1970s. There were a number of strikes and other forms of industrial activities that caused some disruption to publication schedules during that time, so I am pretty sure that the editorial staff at any rate will have been union members, and I assume they would have been members of the NUJ. Can you advise me who I should talk to, or how I should proceed, in order to start to find out more?

I am particularly interested to know if there are any relevant records pertaining to the IPC / Fleetway staff or office in any way (perhaps from the time of the strikes in the 1970s – I can supply more precise dates as necessary), or other information about the publishing of these comics at the time which might have been recorded for Union purposes.

I received a very helpful reply from Pete Wrobel, contacted by the NUJ following my query. Below are quotes from the email exchanges on my original and follow-up points. Many thanks indeed to Pete for all his information! For clarity, as some of the quotes are rather long, Pete’s text is marked PW and mine is marked JS/comixminx.

Your email has been passed to me, though I’m not sure how I can help. I should say first of all that the NUJ has no records from this period, other than individual membership records.
I worked for IPC from 1977 to 1992, and was part of the Fleetway Chapel (office branch) of the NUJ… so called because its members worked on titles brought over from Fleetway House when they were relocated to King’s Reach Tower. I later (around 1978) became the union rep of what was then known as the Juveniles Chapel. I worked at the time on Look and Learn, and didn’t have too much to do with the weekly girls’ comics (which I remember as including Tammy, Pink, Mates, and Oh Boy) though I knew all the staff (at the time… memory fades!). PW


Sadly Pete had no information on what happened to Mavis Miller, which was one of my questions (a perennial one I will keep asking in every interview). He did suggest contacting Gaythorne Silvester, the editor of Oh Boy, who ‘might have set up My Guy before moving to Woman magazine in the 80s’ and who, ‘originally worked at DC Thomson in Dundee, and will have had a lot of relevant experience.’ One for a future interview request, but I mention his name here for reference in case anyone is reading who has a particular interest in those areas.

Regarding the industrial action itself, I would be very interested in your memories for a piece on my blog, as I would your memories about the union activities generally. As the union rep, is it correct to assume you had a wide-ranging contact with many members of the Juvenile Chapel? I would be interested for instance in knowing whether union membership was pretty wide-spread and normal, or limited to certain areas within the group (and if so, why); and generally your views on why it was that strikes seem to have been quite a feature of IPC in the 70s, whereas rival publisher DC Thomson had few or none. (I have plenty of assumptions about this but won’t mention them for fear of leading you!) I know the story is that at least one girls’ comics title was cancelled due to the negative impact of the earlier strikes – I believe this is supposed to be why June merged with Tammy in 1974 – so presumably strikes carried risk too in terms of the decisions that might have been made by management in their wake?

Finally, from your own memories of working on Look and Learn and any memories you might have of conversations with colleagues who worked on Tammy/Misty/Jinty, I’d be very interested in any recollections you have of editorial directions and principles that might have been in play, again for a blog post. Look and Learn was obviously a title that was seen as educational so it had a certain remit. Was it important to people working on that title to be ‘respectable’ or were there times when it was seen as useful or viable to push the envelope and rebel in some ways – for instance by covering topics that were seen as a little risqué or daring? In Tammy/Misty/Jinty there is that sense, and I wonder how much or how far that might be accepted within the company, and/or how far that might be down to individuals who wanted to push the boundaries (John Wagner and Pat Mills are the names that come up in this sort of story). (JS/comixminx)

Pete’s reply:

Union membership was indeed widespread. When it was a separate chapel, Fleetway had what we in the NUJ would think of as a very good agreement. It included a post-entry closed shop – ie, you didn’t need to belong to the union before you got a job there, but you had to join if you got a job (and join the pension scheme too, and very good it was/is). When Fleetway moved to King’s Reach everyone came under one agreement, and by then the closed shop was illegal (following the Heath government’s Industrial Relations Act); however, almost everyone was a member. I recall that when I was Father of the (Fleetway) Chapel there were 146 members out an “eligible” 147 – and that included the editorial management up to and including John Purdie and John Sanders (though he was by no means enthusiastic). The one non-member worked on one of the comics, I think. Hours of work were impressive (to my eyes!): 10 to 5.30, with 1.25 hours for lunch! And indeed, most people left at 5.30 most of the time, because that was when the printer’s messengers came and collected the day’s work, and there was no point in staying late, so people went home or to the pub. Holidays were good for the time: 5 weeks plus bank holidays etc.
I know nothing about industrial action prior to 1977.
During my time as a union rep at IPC (in various guises, from 1978 to 1992) there was no industrial action specific to the Juveniles chapel. There were issues, of course, but mainly relating to staffing and the employment of freelancers, and they were dealt with without any industrial action. There was a major dispute in 1977/1978 affecting the whole of IPC Magazines, over what we called the “house agreement”. Basically, the union agreement at IPC was part of a huge one covering IPC Magazines, IPC Business Press, Hamlyns and Butterworths. In the late 1970s, there was a lot of frustration over the level of pay (it was a time of high inflation), but restrictions via the Social Contract with the TUC/Labour government about what unions could negotiate. So as part of the 1976 IPC agreement, it was agreed that there could be “local” agreements at each of the four constituent parts which “might not exclude money-related matters”. The IPC Magazines Group Chapel (like the others) duly put in a claim, but management dragged their feet, and by the middle of 1977 things came to a head and the group chapel registered a formal dispute (I remember this well: my first day at work involved a huge chapel meeting – so large we had to walk across the river to Conway Hall – which rejected the company’s position). We then began a campaign of guerrilla-type action, stopping all work outside contractual hours, taking our full lunch breaks, taking accumulated time-off-in-lieu, and taking any new time off in lieu (for example, after attending a lunch-hour press conference) immediately. Work dragged, deadlines slipped, and then we said we would not alter the set deadlines, so that most publications – just about all in Juveniles – simply stopped publishing as we would only press an issue on the scheduled press day. Eventually the company caved in, and we got our agreement, including an allowance for a late meal if working more than 1.5 hours after 5.30, and a “reading allowance” that allowed us to claim (explicitly without receipt!) for one daily paper, two weeklies and one monthly. Naturally, everyone looked up the most expensive they could claim – many claimed for the Frankfurter Allgemeine, or National Geographic, or – and hundreds claimed this – a photographic magazine called Zoom (which was actually a bimonthly, but no one noticed that), so that the allowance could reach £10 to £20 a month… a lot of money then.
Lest anyone criticise the members then for “greed”, note this: at the time, there was a huge strike affecting provincial newspapers, with thousands of NUJ members out; the Magazines Group Chapel voted to donate the first two months’ reading allowance to the provincial journalist members. At the time, all expenses were reimbursed in cash from the petty cash office (oh, those days!), and I remember going round from desk to desk in the Juveniles chapel – in the comics and elsewhere – collecting the first reading allowance from members. I then went round to the old HQ of the NUJ, Acorn House, with £1800 in cash – more than £9000 in today’s money.
DC Thomson had no strikes because it was actively anti-union. In 1952 it had sacked 74 printers for their union membership, and was boycotted by the TUC from 1953 on. As to how it managed to maintain that stance, I am not the person to answer. But the fear of getting sacked was quite a disincentive to joining a union. Certainly many of those who came from Dundee to IPC to work on our titles were enthusiastic union members!
As to magazine closures, IPC would close titles if they ceased to be profitable, and industrial action really didn’t play a huge part in that.
I’m afraid I can’t be of much (or, indeed, any) help on editorial policies. I have no memories at all of discussing them with people on the comics. I think that on Look and Learn we were not trying to push the envelope. We were only risqué or daring by accident. Or sometimes not. I remember a wonderful piece of artwork imagining the Colossus of Rhodes by Roger Payne (a brilliant illustrator), where we had to airbrush out the highlight on his penis. And there was the odd double-entendre in a headline (“Bionic man is coming” was one of them). I do remember though that 2000AD consistently pushed any envelopes it could lay its hands on. PW
I wanted to follow up this detail by seeking an answer to a point that I saw raised on the Comics UK Forum. Apparently in David Bishop’s Thrillpower Overload history of 2000AD, he quoted John Sanders thus regarding strike action at IPC in May 1980: “These strikes were very common and they were almost always about money. I would say the most militant union officials at IPC were in the Youth Group. I decided to make a point. We would have to concentrate our resources on fewer titles once the strike was over. The one I wanted to close was 2000AD.” – Bishop goes on to say “Sanders instead shut a girls’ comic with very high circulation, whose editor was one of the NUJ militants within the Youth Group. ‘The staff lost their jobs, the whole thing was tragic’.” My question to Pete was therefore whether he could shed any further light on this story, to confirm it and in particular to confirm the girls’ comic in question. He replied by re-sending the text he wrote previously on the Thrillpower Overload blog:
I came across this while looking for something else about IPC, but just for the record (I was a union official at IPC at that time): there was no five-week strike in 1980. The union voted to start an overtime ban in protest against a below-inflation pay offer, and the company said that unless union pledged not to implement the ban it would sack everyone. Indeed, that’s what it did, before any action had even started, saying we had “dismissed ourselves”. Naturally, we were disinclined to believe that we had sacked ourselves, and turned up for work the next day. We carried on trying to work for six weeks, during which the company refused to let anything be published (lest that prove that we were working). Six weeks later it saw sense, reinstated us and paid us lost salary (and expenses). If anyone was “obliging” staff to stop work, it was the company. Strange times. I remember Steve, and he’s a great guy, but memories fade into legend, etc: in fact there was no strike over free coffee; there was a work to rule over a number of issues wrapped up in IPC Magazine’s refusal to honour a pledge to negotiate a “local” (i.e., IPC Magazines-wide rather than also IPC Business Press etc) agreement that included late working allowances, reading allowances and also, yes, free tea and coffee. No one in their right mind would have a strike about free tea and coffee on their own! As for what John Sanders said, well, virtually none of it is credible. He never liked 2000AD because its staff were not under his thumb. The magazine closed during the 1980 dispute was not high selling nor recently launched. It was Pink, I think, which was old (by girls’ magazines standards) and ailing, and would have been closed anyway. Sanders’ comments about NUJ militants there and at 200AD are ridiculous. I don’t remember any particular hotbeds of militancy. Most of us were pretty much sickened by IPC’s attitudes towards its journalists. PW
PW adds: IPC never closed down magazines with “very high circulation”.
Once again, many thanks to Pete Wrobel for his kind replies and input!