Maurice Dodd

Scriptwriter of 'The Perishers'


Maurice Stanley Bean Dodd, cartoonist: born London 25 October 1922; married 1945 Daphne Osborn (one son, three daughters); died Ashford, Middlesex 31 December 2005.

Though an accomplished cartoonist and illustrator who also worked in advertising for many years - creating the "Clunk, Click" road safety campaign amongst many others - Maurice Dodd was perhaps best known as the scriptwriter of the highly popular Daily Mirror comic strip "The Perishers" for more than 40 years.

He was born in Hackney, London, in 1922, one of three children of Arthur Dodd, a motor mechanic. Leaving school aged 15 he worked in a variety of jobs, including car salesman, school caretaker, baker's roundsman, postman and locomotive fireman, before volunteering for the Royal Air Force in October 1940. He was mobilised in December that year, but having failed to be accepted for aircrew as an air-gunner he trained as an engine-fitter and joined the newly formed Servicing Commando of Combined Operations, serving in North Africa, the Mediterranean, France, the Netherlands and Germany. While still in the RAF he sold his first cartoon (under the pseudonym "Mog") to Seven magazine in 1945 and the same year he met and married a Waaf, Daphne Osborn.

On demobilisation in May 1946 he attended Hammersmith School of Arts & Crafts (1946-50) and then worked as a freelance cartoonist for magazines such as John Bull and Young Elizabethan (for which he also wrote stories). He also drew political cartoons for Union Jack, Catholic Worker and Direct Action, and illustrated books such as Jim Phelan's Wagon Wheels (1951). In 1952 he joined Halas & Batchelor's film animation studios and for 18 months worked on the first British full-length animated feature film, Animal Farm (1955). He then worked for a number of advertising agencies as writer and artist - including creating Young & Rubicam's "Clunk, Click" seatbelt campaign, fronted by Jimmy Savile, and a number of other road-safety campaigns which won 13 international awards.

In 1959 Bill Herbert, Cartoon Editor of the Daily Mirror (who had served with Dodd during the Second World War), asked him to help out as scriptwriter on "The Perishers", a cartoon strip about a group of "perishing" kids led by a freckle-faced boy called Wellington, who wore Wellington boots and a deerstalker hat. Launched in February 1958 as a British answer to the American Charles Schultz's popular "Peanuts" strip, it first appeared in the Manchester edition of the Daily Mirror with a storyline by Ben Witham (who went on to write jokes for the "Useless Eustace" cartoon feature) and drawings by Dennis Collins. Dodd soon set up a partnership with Collins - creating scripts and rough layouts while Collins produced the finished drawings - and created a host of new characters, including Wellington's pet Old English Sheepdog, Boot, who first appeared in 1959.

In October 1959 the strip also began to appear in the London edition of the paper and became a huge success. It also led to more than 50 tie-in books including The Perishers (Nos 1-27, 1963-81), The Perishers' Dotty Dictionary (1977), The Perishers' Very Big for Its Size Story Book (1979), The Perishers' Rather Big Little Book (1979) and The Tale of a Tail: or The Life and Times of Boot the Dog (1981). There was also a stage musical based on the strip and a record, The Perishers Sing - Well Sort Of, narrated by Bernard Cribbins and with lyrics by Dodd. When the strip was launched as an animated feature on television in 1980 Dodd finally gave up his advertising work and turned full-time freelance, scripting and storyboarding 20 five-minute animated versions of "The Perishers" for BBC TV.

When Dennis Collins retired in 1983 Dodd took over the drawing as well and five years later (in November 1992) Dodd himself went into partnership, enlisting the aid of Bill Mevin (whom he had met while working on Animal Farm) to produce the finished drawings for the strip while he continued to deal with the ideas, scripting and layout. Dodd was still working on storylines for "The Perishers" when he died aged 83.

The "Perishers" characters had a wide appeal. Wellington became the mascot of the 3rd Field Squadron of the Royal Engineers and Boot the sheepdog was adopted as the mascot of the warship HMS Sirius (Sirius being the Latin name for the Dog Star).

In addition to "The Perishers" Dodd created a number of other popular cartoon characters including Gernommy (a gnome who worked in advertising), Churchmouse (for the Universe), Cellmate (for the charity Prisoners Abroad), and a mole called Merrymole who appeared in two children's books, Merrymole the Magnificent (1982) and Merrymole the Intrepid (1984). Other work by Dodd included cartoons and drawings for Motorsport, Morning Advertiser, Sunday Mirror, Daily Record, MG Enthusiast and Dogs Today (including stories), and illustrations for books such as Jim Button and Luke the Engine-Driver (1963) by Michael Ende.

Dodd cited his influences as being "Just Jake" by the Daily Mirror's Bernard Graddon and the American comic strips "Li'l Abner", "Popeye" and "Pogo". Selections from "The Perishers" appeared in a major retrospective exhibition of British cartoons ("Drawn and Quartered: the world of the British newspaper cartoon, 1720-1970") held at the National Portrait Gallery in 1970 and some examples of his work are also held in the Centre for the Study of Cartoons & Caricature at the University of Kent.

Of medium height, clean-shaven and with a full head of formerly black hair, Maurice Dodd was very fit (he had served in the Territorial Army as a member of the SAS from 1949 to 1956), and was fond of dogs (the family owned an Old English Sheepdog for 14 years). He was also a keen painter in oils, and later acrylics, and even had one of his pictures hung in the Royal Academy in 1953.

Mark Bryant

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