The Agreeable World Of Wallace Arnold: The Tintin affair: how I almost made a gingery legend

Share
Related Topics
OFFHAND, I can think of many a fellow Fleet Street scrivener who has been immortalised twixt the pages of the novel. One need only point to the estimable Bill Deedes, the original not only for the hilarious figure of Boot in Lyn Waugh's Black Mischief but also for the genial and well-connected if essentially uninteresting Postman Pat in the long-running television series of the same name.

But many others of my colleagues have also been converted into fictitious figures to entertain and enthral a generation of readers. I have often heard it said of Miss (Msssss!) Lynda Lee-Potter with her forceful opinions, pithily expressed, that she was the original inspiration for Violet Elizabeth Bott in the Just William series, and it is certainly true that my old friend and quaffing partner Mr Simon Heffer was the basis for Bilbo Baggins in Tolkein's classic The Hobbit. So it is not without pride that I can reveal that I, too, almost had a hand in the creation of one of the most popular young heroes of the century. At one point, there was even a touch of me in him. But let me expand.

It was way back in the late 1940s, while working out my apprenticeship on the Home News pages of the old Daily Herald (as was!) that I first found myself rubbing shoulders with a Monsieur Herge from Belgium. He was in quite a state, and I sought to enquire the reason. He had, he informed me, invented a colourful character who was, he continued, a young journalist by the name of "Tintin", but for one reason or another this "Tintin" hadn't really caught on with our old friends, the "general public" (dread collective noun!). He then asked me whether I might care to read the works in question and offer him any advice.

Without giving the matter a moment's thought, I agreed. Leafing through the pages of those early Tintins, I felt my heart sink. Both the character and the situations in which he found himself seemed hopelessly far-fetched. First of all, the name of the young journalist in question. Keith Waterhouse, yes; Godfrey Smith, yes; Beverley Nichols, yes. But "Tintin": oh, my deary me, NO! "Tintin: The Voice of Common Sense". "Tintin: The Columnist The Politicians Fear". Such by-lines did not somehow ring true. And though I had no argument with the overall colour of his hair - both Heffer and Johnson are estimable all-round thinkers whose carrot-tops have been emulated the world over by young journalists - I had never set eyes on any journalist of repute with such an obviously pomaded quiff (this was some time, remember, before the arrival of Mr Quentin Crisp in the world of letters).

And all that activity! The young scrivener "Tintin" was a busy little bee, leaping down mountains, elbowing his way through waterfalls and shinning up drainpipes - all in pursuit of a story. This is where poor old Herge had got it wrong - and I had no hesitation in telling him so.

"My dear Herge," I said, over a stiff Scotch at the Coach and Horses, "you've got it all wrong! No journalist worth his salt wastes so much of his spare time and energy in the pursuit of a story! This Tintin of yours must ease up a bit if he aims to remain half-way credible!"

I then produced a five-point plan for the character development of Tintin, and handed it to Herge with a flourish: 1) Cut the quiff. 2) Far too lean. Needs to put on weight, particularly around the stomach. 3) At present, he appears teetotal. Re-draw, placing bottle of Bells in each outstretched hand. 4) Smiles too much. Too full of enthusiasm. A more cynical outlook would be more in keeping (eg "Destination Moon? What's the petrol expenses per mile?"). 5) Move Tintin away from dreary investigative pieces. Believe me, Informed Comment is infinitely more prestigious. Rather than going to all that bother to solve The Calculus Affair, he could be earning twice as much by writing articles ("A Time for Answers") calling for it to be solved.

Herge looked at my 5-point plan and drew in his breath. I had brought the man face to face with his mistakes. But he took what I said to heart, and for the next six months he went away and created "Tintin And The Contrived Opinion", "Tintin In The Public Bar" and "Tintin Goes Steadily Downhill". Alas, his publishers complained they lacked zip, so he went back to his old ways. But what a legend he might have created if only he had remained true to reality!

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal  

What is 4Chan? And why does it threaten women like Emma Watson?

Memphis Barker
Chuka Umunna was elected MP for Streatham in 2010  

Could flirty Chuka Umunna be worth a punt for Labour’s top job?

Matthew Norman
Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album