Obituary: Roland Fiddy

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The Independent Culture
"MEET PERCIVAL and Cedric, two lovable gentlemen of the road - you'll laugh with them, maybe sometimes shed a tear."

Thus the Sunday Express editor introduced a new weekly strip cartoon entitled "Tramps". The date was 29 May 1977 and the weekly strip was destined to run until 1985. But in fact the strip was already older than that: it had started off in the Daily Express on 6 September 1976 was already nine months old when it gave birth to its Sunday addition. This was something of a record in British comic strips, a run embracing every day of the seven-day week. Such was its swift rise in popularity, and although the series' byline went to its writer, Iain Reid, it was to the cartoon drawings of the man who scribbled a signature of sorts that the greater credit must go.

This was "Fiddy", a name which to me suggested a typical cartoonist's pen-name, and it was not until lately, when another Fiddy, name of Dick, emerged as a writer on the television of yesterday, that I realised that it was indeed a proper surname.

Roland Fiddy was born in Plymouth in 1931. His schooling was quality: first the Devonport High School, then four years at the Plymouth College of Art, and finally two years at the West of England College of Art in Bristol. This last stretch of study came after three years of National Service in the RAF from 1949 to 1951. He worked as an art teacher in Bristol for two years before turning full-time freelance cartoonist.

Fiddy's first cartoon sale was to the monthly pocket magazine Lilliput in July 1949. This, a best-seller of its day, combined bright articles, full-page cartoons and the occasional pin-up nude, a winning formula for a shilling (five pence). Fiddy next went further up-market to the weekly humorous magazine Punch, selling the first of many cartoon contributions to its editor, Malcolm Muggeridge, in 1952. Newspapers welcomed joke cartoons then, and soon Fiddy was contributing to the Daily Mail, the News Chronicle and the Daily Mirror.

Fiddy's first regular characters were drawn for boys' comics, a forgotten but interesting side to his career. After Eagle, the top weekly picture paper of its period, was bought from the publisher Edward Hulton by Odhams Press in 1960, its editor Clifford Makins was on the look-out for new characters that would add a touch of much-needed humour to the otherwise adventure hero strips. Fiddy came up with Sir Percy Vere, a noble if nutty knight. Three years later, still for Odhams Press (now known as Longacre), he created an up-to-date series for their new comic, Boys' World. This was the adventures of a clumsy conscript called Private Proon. His final series for a children's comic came in 1965, a page of mixed cartoons called "Fun With Fiddy". This ran in the short-lived weekly Ranger.

There were a couple of other adult comic strips drawn by Fiddy: "Paying Guest" for the Sunday Express (1985) and "Him Indoors" for the People (1986). Although both had fair runs, "Paying Guest" being the longer with 10 years, neither strip made the mark that his classic "Tramps" did with its daily appearance covering a decade.

There was a paperback book compiled of some 110 strips, Tramps in the Kingdom (1979). The author is credited as Iain Reid, while Fiddy is reduced to a signature on the cover and a small line on the credit page, "Drawn by Fiddy". Curiously for a man who cheerfully takes all the credit, Reid in his introduction reveals himself as a practising Christian. The book selects only the semi-religious jokes that appeared in the Sunday Express, not a single one of the workaday-week gags. And Reid quotes from the then Archbishop of Canterbury while sparing just one line about his artist's work. "Fiddy, who draws the strip so well, found out that Percival and Cedric began to change visually as he got to know them better." In some 750 words not even a mention of Fiddy's first name!

Fiddy was much appreciated for his humour and his style around the world. He won first prize at several international cartoon competitions including Knokke-Heist in Belgium (1990), Beringen Festival (1984), Netherlands Cartoon Festival (1985), Sofia (1986) and Yomiyuri Shimbun of Japan (1988).

He was married to the Danish artist Signe Kolding, and his books include The Best of Fiddy (1966) and a series of 11 Fanatic's Guides (1989-92).

Roland John Fiddy, cartoonist: born Plymouth, Devon 17 April 1931; married Signe Kolding (one son, one daughter); died Hastings, East Sussex 3 July 1999.

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