Michael Turner: Translator and publisher who brought Tintin to a British audience

Friday 02 October 2009 00:00 BST

The creation of the Belgian artist Hergé, the intrepid newspaper reporter Tintin is now a household name, with Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson hard at work on a film adaptation of The Secret Of The Unicorn, while Tintin In The Congo has been scrutinised for racist stereotypes and found wanting by politically correct librarians on both sides of the Atlantic, over seven decades after its original publication in Le Petit Vingtième. Yet the British were latecomers to Tintin, and the comic book hero owes much of its popularity in English-speaking countries to the hard work and dedication of the translator and publisher, Michael Turner, and the imaginative approach he favoured when adapting the 24 volumes for domestic consumption in partnership with Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper.

The Eagle comic had introduced Tintin to the UK via a serialisation of King Ottokar's Spectre – the eighth instalment in the original canon – with little success, and Turner and Lonsdale-Cooper worked on the translation of The Crab With The Golden Claws – the ninth volume – on spec in order to convince the management at their employers, Methuen, that the character could appeal to British readers, young and old. When the Times Literary Supplement trumpeted "The Epic Strip Tintin Crosses The Channel" on the front page of its 5 December 1958 edition and praised "a really first-rate comic strip", Lonsdale-Cooper and Turner's hunch was proved correct.

The following year, they adapted the compelling two-parters The Secret Of The Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure as well as Destination Moon and Explorers On The Moon, and eventually worked their way through most of the rest of the adventures in an order allowing the logical introduction of recurrent characters like the opera singer Bianca Castafiore, until Tintin And The Picaros, Hergé's final completed book in the mid-1970s. They only tackled the most problematic and "dated' first two instalments, Tintin In The Land Of The Soviets and Tintin In The Congo, several years after the author's death in 1983.

Even if Hergé and his assistant Bob de Moor occasionally redrew the strip, in particular in the case of The Black Island, which was set in the UK and featured such oddities as gun-toting bobbies in the original, the translation usually had to fit the speech bubbles. Lonsdale-Cooper would do a first draft, which was amended by Turner before they met up.

"We felt working together on this, the best thing was to read it aloud," he said. "We would go through the text and repeat it out loud, and it was then that quite a number of the names were coined, as well as things like Captain Haddock's foul language." Indeed, Turner particularly excelled at anglicising Haddock's colourful but never rude repertoire of insults and curses – "Bashi-bazouk", "Billions of blue blistering barnacles" – and renamed Milou, Tintin's white fox terrier, Snowy, while Professeur Tryphon Tournesol, the boffin to whom he bore a certain resemblance, became the equally alliterative Professor Cuthbert Calculus. The bowler-hatted, bumbling detectives Dupont and Dupond had already been renamed Thomson and Thompson in the Eagle translation, though Lonsdale-Cooper and Turner had Hergé's blessing to adapt the characters' chronic spoonerism into suitably nonsensical English.

So successful were Lonsdale-Cooper and Turner's translations that they were used by the Atlantic Monthly Press and The Little, Brown Company in the US from the mid-'70s onwards, establishing the character in a notoriously difficult market for European comics. Turner rose to become deputy chairman and chief executive of Associated Book Publishers, the trade group for such imprints as Methuen, Chapman & Hall, Eyre and Spottiswoode, Sweet & Maxwell and Tavistock Press, in the early 1980s, and serving as publishing director at the Open University.

Born in 1929, he attended Newport School in Essex and did his National Service in the RAF Transport Command brass band before reading English at Trinity College, Cambridge. After a spell at J.M. Dent & Sons, he joined Methuen in 1953 as junior editor and never looked back, overseeing advertising, marketing, promotion and publicity, as well as the acquisition of Routledge & Kegan Paul, on his way to various executive roles. Very much a one-company man, he stayed on at ABP after its acquisition for £215m by the Thomson Corporation in 1987, and retired in 1989. He later served as chairman of the Book Trust and of the Society of Bookmen and on the British Library advisory council.

An incorrigible gossip throughout his years in the book trade, and a keen amateur dramatist and singer, Turner directed opera, music hall and revue productions well into his retirement in Cornwall. He also wrote or co-wrote The Bluffer's Guide To The Theatre (1967), The Parlour Song Book (1972), Just A Song At Twilight (1975) and The Edwardian Song Book (1982), and also edited Victorian Parlour Poetry and compiled Gluttony, Pride And Lust And Other Sins From the World Of Books (1984).

Pierre Perrone

Michael Ralph Turner, publisher, translator and author: born Newport, Essex 26 January 1929; married Ruth Baylis (deceased; two adopted sons, two adopted daughters); died Boscastle, Cornwall 10 July 2009.

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