About myself, and the Perishers, by Maurice Dodd
 
 

I was born in Hackney, London, but was too young to remember much about it. I spent most of my childhood in and around London's East End except for odd periods when a label was tied on me and I was sent off to annoy my Grannie in Ireland.

After school, and while waiting for World War Two to break out, I worked at a number of unfascinating jobs until I was old enough to volunteer for the RAF. I had wanted to be an Air Gunner but so impressed the induction board by my inability to find Gibraltar on the map they unanimously voted me the ideal type to become an engine fitter - a job for which I had a natural inability.

After training, and other mishaps, I managed to get myself into a newly-formed Combined Operations unit named the Servicing Commando; which I can best describe as being as far out of the RAF as was possible to be without being out altogether.

Doing time in the same unit was a certain Bill Herbert, later to become the Cartoon Editor of the Daily Mirror ( you can see the plot thickening to a soupy consistency before your very eyes).

In 1945 sporadic outbreaks of peace occurred and as the RAF seemed to be losing interest in me (maybe it was something I'd said) I reverted to civilianhood, got married ( to a splendid girl who played a devastating game of darts and kept me in free beer. I proposed in three days and was married in three weeks) and obtained a government grant to go to Art School.

Shortly after this I once again threw my harassed liver into service with the Special Air Service, TA in which my ferocious attacks upon bottle and glass became textbook classics of public house tactics ( the plot is thickening e'en more although it may not be apparent at this moment ).

At the end of the art course I spent a year doing what was known as keeping the wolf from the door but it didn't really and I was always having to step over the bad-tempered beast although he never managed to get right inside the house.

I then got my first full-time job as an artist, hindering the production of Britian's first full-length cartoon film, Animal Farm. When the film was finished the job folded- on the eve of my going on annual training with the aforesaid SAS.

Things were looking black - most especially my backside which was a tone-poem in plum-and-blackcurrant bruising, having been at the blunt end of a botched parachute jump, putting me on the sick list with full army pay for two glorious weeks.

I'd been saved in the end ( ho ho ). With two weeks money in hand I was able to tour the advertising agencies, acting as if I didn't desperately need their jobs or money, to which they naturally responded by offering me both and I've never looked back since. I've looked sick, mind you, and dazed, and demented - but never back.

I started my career in advertising as an artist but found it difficult to overcome the urge to write, which seemed to annoy some people who found it difficult to accept the possibility that an artist could write, or a writer could draw, or a one man band could play a number of instruments at one and the same time.

So much did my literary attempts annoy one man that he arrived at my desk one morning and threw down a form to enter a competition to write an ad for Time magazine. "You think you can write, well let's see how asterisk clever you are by having a go at this", was the gist of his cheery greeting. And now the plot thickens to the consistency of Polyfilla. I surprised myself and several bystanders by winning the competition.

One of the astonished onlookers was Bill Herbert, who I first met nine paragraphs ago. I had kept in touch with Bill, using the regulation mix of congeniality and creeping required for cementing a relationship with one who is not only a friend but also a cartoon editor.

Bill had sired a cartoon-strip, which was appearing in the northern edition of the Daily Mirror. He'd named it The Perishers. The Perishers was not thriving and Bill thought a second opinion was called for. My winning the competition caused him to think I had talents, which I'd somehow, kept cunningly hidden, and he asked me to carry out repairs and renovations on the ailing strip. Working in conjunction with the original artist, Dennis Collins, I was responsible for producing rough layouts containing ideas and script, which he then transmuted into finished drawings. I went berserk with the heady power of it all and had most of the old characters taken out and shot, filling the vacancies with sycophantic creatures on whose aid I knew I could count if ever the need arose.

Gradually The Perishers took over more and more of my life, but for many years I continued to work in advertising, ending my career with the Young and Rubicam agency with whom I enjoyed several long lunches and my most rewarding campaign, the Clunk-Click campaign featuring Jimmy Saville.

The Clunk-Click commercials were made by FilmFair, who were at the time working on the Wombles and Paddington Bear. It occurred to me that maybe this company could put The Perishers on the small screen and my infectious enthusiasm coupled with some intense grovelling won them over to my point of view, and I finally waved goodbye to full-time advertising in 1980 to concentrate on The Perishers, starting with producing an animated TV series for the BBC, and writing a series of Children's books. When Dennis Collins, a superb draughtsman, retired in 1983 I took over the complete production of the strip from roughs to finished work until 1992 when I once again went into partnership; this time with Bill Mevin, a colleague from the animated film days - who now executes the finished drawings.

Apart from The Perishers I also created some other published characters - namely Churchmouse, Cellmate and Merrymole. Merrymole featured in two children's books written and illustrated by myself, and there's a third unpublished Merrymole story seeking a publisher.

So here I am, four grown-up children later and somewhat older than I was in Hackney in 1922 but with about the same amount of hair. On my long struggle to the peak of penury as a writer and artist I've passed through the roles of Apprenticeship Fitter and Car Salesman, Grinder Operator, Spray Painter, Baker's Roundsman, School Caretaker, Locomotive Fireman, Postman, Aircraftsman, Paratrooper and Painter ( apart from other exhibitions my work was hung for the first and only time I submitted to the Royal Academy in 1953) but do not consider it all a required course for becoming a cartoonist.

Maurice Dodd

This was taken in 1980. By a miracle of nature I haven't changed since then - I still have two arms, two legs and a head.

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