Drawing of ‘The Cloggies’ from Bill’s long running Private Eye strip.
Rupert Besley writes:
It’s funny what sticks in the memory. First kiss, first day at new school, first pint, first dive into a pool… To which I’d add, first sight of a Bill Tidy cartoon.
1965. We’d just moved house and my brother came home with a small book of cartoons (‘Sporting Chance’ I think it was, pubd 1961) by a Bill Tidy. Inside, the author explained that in his search for work he had had to abandon his original name: approaching newspapers with a card that read Will Tidy had got him only as far as the Office Cleaning Dept.
The book fell open on a cartoon of a prison football match. As the home team rammed the ball into the back of the net, a roar went up from the crowd behind. ‘GAOL!’ Then as now, that seemed brilliantly funny, as with so many others that followed in all the years since.
Cartoon from ‘Private Eye – A Cartoon History‘
Bill Tidy cartoons were so very different from the bland, lame gags, tired and predictable, that were to be found in abundance around. His stood out for their freshness and originality. And, for the time, they were pretty outrageous too (see his contributions to Private Eyewash, pubd 1968, and what he did with Wash & Brush Up in the Gents for 2/-). His busy mind clearly revelled in the bizarre and absurd, from dim mafiosi to minor royalty from Middle Europe competing for precedence at state funerals. Then there was the Chinese Emperor berating the workforce at the foot of a huge stone sphere: ‘Great Wall, I said, not Ball’ (or words to that effect). And the humour wasn’t just in the ideas, so gloriously daft and distinctive, but in the execution too. His gifts for rapid drawing, expressive faces, captions, dialect, dialogue and animated scenes in which unlikely bodies hurtled through air, brought smiles to any viewer, long before the joke was got.
Fosdyke Saga book cover c.1971
Quickfire, zany, Liverpudlian, off the wall – call it what you will, Bill Tidy’s humour took cartooning to new heights, and kept this up in his long-running strips like Cloggies and the Fosdyke Saga. And there were so many others he immortalised: tripe magnates, real ale buffs, Scottish World Cup football fans, the scientists of Grimbledon Down… Small wonder that he was so much in demand on tv and radio – for decades he must have been the only cartoonist that the general public could ever put a voice or face to.
Bill sporting a PCO badge with former PCO ‘Chairleg’ Bill Stott, Photo by Rob Doyle kindly supplied by Chris Williams.
Bill Tidy didn’t just raise the bar in cartooning; he did much for the profession besides. He was a founder member of the Cartoonists’ Club of Great Britain and of the British Cartoonists’ Association, as well as patron from the start of the Professional Cartoonists’ Organisation. It was just a sadness that the work he put into trying to rescue Punch in its hour of need all came to nothing. What stayed on, though, was an apparently inexhaustible fount of good humour, still reaching for pen and paper in hospital as he came round from his first stroke.
Cartoon from ‘Private Eyewash book’, 1968
Self-taught, supremely gifted and an inspiration to so many, Bill Tidy remains a cartooning legend. I’ll end with a quote or two from colleagues who have been sharing such thoughts.
It was a collection of Tidy’s that I stumbled on in the late 90s which first inspired me to try gag cartooning, an area of cartooning I’d not been overly interested in before. Perhaps Tidy’s stuff showed me just how good gag cartooning could be, and/or his breadth of subject matter made me realise with the gag cartoon you can go anywhere in time and space – Wilbur Dawbarn.
Superb draughtsman, wit and quick with it too. I look back with a warm glow to my late school and early art student days when I used to look forward every week for the next cartoon-packed edition of Punch to come out.
Along with others, they would regularly feature a Tidy double page spread (about a dozen gags) on a particular, quirky news topic (unheard of exposure in today’s market) and Bill’s imagination would run riot. This was the early 70’s and along with Hector Breeze, Honeysett, Mike Williams, Albert, Larry, Pyne, ffolkes, Lowry, Heath, David Myers and others, Bill Tidy’s brilliant and prolific creations led the way in that golden age of gag cartooning – Pete Dredge.
Brilliant cartoonist, great character, and lovely man – Steve Bright.