Obituary: Leonard Matthews
Friday 05 December 1997
My one boast on joining Fleetway was that I was the first bearded employee ever to be taken on by Leonard, a notorious detester of beards - who, only weeks later, suddenly sprouted a facial growth of his own. This was not because in some bizarre and deeply psychological way he fancied me (Leonard's sexual arrangement, both domestic and extra- curricular, were creative, but not that creative), merely that, in his Napoleonic way, he wished to demonstrate he could do anything his underlings did.
That was Leonard all over. A cocky little bantam, he liked to have very tall men as minions, dashing around at his beck and call although, like all monumental egocentrics, he was convinced everyone was plotting against him. Thus life as a minion, however tall, could be nasty, brutish and short. Ruthlessness was an essential part of his psyche. Having, through chronic overwork and emotional pressure, turned one of his editorial apparatchiks into an alcoholic, he fired him - for being an alcoholic.
A man more at ease with legend than reality, Leonard was convinced that vicious thugs such as Dick Turpin, Claude Duval and Rob Roy were in fact paragons of high-minded virtue and benevolence. This was thanks to the swashbucklers he'd read as a boy: Stanley Weyman, Rafael Sabatini, Harrison Ainsworth, as well as all the cheap story-papers lauding the exploits of other arrant scoundrels. But he turned this obsession to good effect during the 1940s and 1950s in the comics and story-papers he edited and was associated with, dragooning some of the finest illustrators of the day, both British and European (C.L. Doughty, Steven Chapman, H.M. Brock, Eric Parker, Geoffrey Campion, Arturo del Castillo et al), into drawing superb historical picture- strips about Turpin, the Three Musketeers and a host of other characters in weekly serial form, or as beautiful one-off 64-page pictorial "novels".
Leonard was a packager par excellence, churning out anthologies and annuals and year-books, then changing around the contents and churning them out again. Like all despots he could shift into purblind mode. Great events - with which he had no possible connection - at times passed him by.
In the late 1970s, when George Lucas's Star Wars was vast and you had to be a New Guinea caveman not to know the names Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and all, he buttonholed me to write some stories for an "exciting new project" he was working up for W.H. Smith. It was science fiction. "I've got a very good title," he said. "I'm surprised no one's used it before - `Star Wars'."
I said I thought George Lucas might not be too impressed to have that galaxy-famous title pinched. There was a puzzled silence on the phone.
"Who's George Lucas?" said Leonard.
He had, nevertheless, a formidable editorial talent.
- 2 Rarest Beanie Baby of them all could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 3 Professional big game hunter Ian Gibson crushed to death by elephant during hunt
- 4 Farmer told to tear down mock-Tudor castle after hiding construction behind hay bales
Migrants crossing the Mediterranean: Pope Francis joins calls for EU action on boat refugees
Yemen crisis: Meet the child soldiers who have forsaken books for Kalashnikovs
Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Rarest Beanie Baby of them all could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
Isis in Afghanistan: Group claims responsibility for Jalalabad suicide bombing that killed 35
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...
£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...
£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...
£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...