Ian Gammidge

'Mirror' scriptwriter/cartoonist


Ian Berwick Gammidge, cartoonist: born Ashtead, Surrey 15 April 1916; married 1959 Mrs Grace Duffus (one adopted son); died Frimley Green, Surrey 9 October 2005.

Though himself a gifted joke and strip cartoonist, Ian Gammidge was probably best known as a staff scriptwriter for cartoon strips on the Daily and Sunday Mirror for more than 30 years, notably producing storylines for "The Flutters", "The Larks", "Ruggles", "Mr Digwell" and a revival of Norman Pett's celebrated creation "Jane".

Gammidge was born in Ashtead, Surrey, in 1916, the younger son of Francis Gammidge, an accountant. (His elder brother, Henry, was also a cartoonist and scriptwriter for the Daily Express, notably of the "James Bond" strip.) He went to Malvern College in Worcestershire and worked as an insurance salesman and then on a dairy farm before the Second World War. A member of the Territorial Army, he was one of the first to be called up and served in the Buffs (the Royal East Kent Regiment) in France before it fell to the Germans in 1940. He escaped via Cherbourg and later served in North Africa, Italy and Malta (during the siege), attaining the rank of captain.

Demobilised in 1946, he was offered a job working on a sugar-beet farm but instead spent a term at St Martin's School of Art in London. While still a student he sent some cartoons to an agent, who sold his first drawing to the monthly pocket magazine Lilliput in May 1946. The cartoon - about a baby lost in a church during its christening ceremony - was captioned "Flora was holding the little beast a second ago". Encouraged by this success, he turned freelance, contributing to Lilliput, John Bull, Everybody's, London Opinion, Tatler and other publications - including trade journals such as Draper's Record - while continuing to look for a staff job in Fleet Street.

In early 1947, Gammidge approached Philip Zec, political cartoonist and art editor of the Daily Mirror, who invited him to submit a script for an episode of "The Flutters" - a new sports-page strip about a couple who liked to gamble (hence the title) drawn by Len Gamblin. Zec offered Gammidge a job as a scriptwriter and he joined the Mirror in May 1947, remaining with the company for 34 years. He eventually took over from Jack Hargreaves as the sole writer of "The Flutters" - until it ceased on 27 February 1971.

Gammidge also succeeded Frank Dowling and Bill Connor ("Cassandra") as the writer of "Ruggles" (drawn by Stephen Dowling). Begun in 1935, and featuring the first working-class family to appear in a British newspaper strip, it eventually ceased after 22 years on 3 August 1957. In the late 1970s he succeeded Brian Cooke as the writer of "The Larks" (drawn by Jack Dunkley) - a family strip featuring Sam and Sal Lark, their children Stevie and Susie and their cat So-So - until it ceased in February 1985. Gammidge edited a book of the series, Life with the Larks (1978).

Another collaboration with the illustrator Jack Dunkley - with whom Gammidge worked for some 25 years "and never had a difference of opinion" - was the "Mr Digwell" gardening series in which practical gardening tips were given in strip-cartoon form by a cloth-capped gardening expert with a large moustache. Mr Digwell's Everyday Gardening Book (1977) was reproduced as a large-format Daily Mirror magazine special, Gardener's Mirror: a complete month-by-month guide to the gardening year (1981).

Gammidge also created the children's strip "Little Joe" (illustrated by Fel) which featured "a lonely little dog with patches on his trousers" who lived in a barrel. In 1985 he became the scriptwriter for a new version of Norman Pett's "Jane" (the original series, which had ended in 1959, had been a particular favourite of the paper's new proprietor, Robert Maxwell). Drawn by John Burns, the series was discontinued when Roy Greenslade became editor in 1990. Additionally, Gammidge drew weekly joke cartoons for the Sunday Pictorial (later the Sunday Mirror) - notably the "Gammidge's Bargain Basement" series - from 1947 until he retired in 1981.

As a cartoonist Gammidge was self-taught and drew in pen and ink on board, using a Perry Iridinoid nib. Tall, bespectacled and with dark hair and a moustache, he was a jovial and well-liked man who was a familiar sight in such Fleet Street haunts as El Vino wine bar. He was popular with his Daily Mirror colleagues; Reg Smythe, creator of "Andy Capp", was best man at his wedding.

Fond of dogs (he owned a dachshund) and cats, and a keen gardener, he also acted in amateur dramatic productions and sang bass in his local village church choir in Pirbright, Surrey.

Mark Bryant

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