Forgotten authors No. 21: Bill Tidy

Sunday 25 January 2009 01:00

It seems rather rude to include a living author here, but the case of Bill Tidy, pictured right, illustrates an unusual form of public amnesia. Daily pages of cartoons are common in US national press, which still run dated strips such as Blondie (born 1930) and Andy Capp (born 1957). But the art of the British serial cartoon has died – when Punch magazine folded after 150 years in 1992, many familiar names vanished with it – and Bill Tidy represents a neglected peak of the form.

Tidy's epic and peculiarly English strip The Cloggies gently ribbed northern customs through the adventures of a championship clog-dancing team, and ran in Private Eye for years. However, his magnum opus was The Fosdyke Saga, which appeared in the Daily Mirror and was eventually published in 13 volumes, in a once-popular oblong paperback format which has now disappeared.

A demented epic parodying John Galsworthy and Wilkie Collins, The Fosdyke Saga chronicled the trials of a Lancashire family which rose from rags to the heights of wealth and fame, through the late-Victorian period and into the early 20th century. The Fosdykes made their money by finding new uses for tripe, and their adventures saw them involved at every major national event, from Mafeking and Flanders to dogfights with the Red Baron, through peace rallies and zeppelins to the deck of the Titanic, and a valiant Lancastrian attempt on Everest by the Accrington Stanley Expedition. Major characters who'd caught the public attention, from Elliot Ness to the Loch Ness monster, also made guest appearances.

Tidy still writes and draws and his work is all still marvellously energetic. But what stands out is a strange mindset that avoids obvious jokes and aims for something which doesn't quite make sense while feeling entirely right. "Stay," begs an Arab sheik, clasping a portly harem girl, "the night is young and you are enormous!" Comedy doesn't always need explanation.

About time, then, that a publisher packaged these lovely works into a single collection that sits tidily on a shelf. Tidy keeps Forsdyke fans happy with daily updates on his website, and while his charmingly skewed humour is now probably a little outré for mass consumption, he continues to create his strange world, and will hopefully see the renaissance in print which he deserves.

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