Regular Courier and Weekly News readers will recognise the name Ken Wilkins - he has been our regular cartoonist for many years. But while drawing is his passion, the 89-year-old (who turns 90 next month) has done many more things in between. So we asked Ken to reflect back on his many years of drawing - and how his passion for cartoons has never left him.
A remark by the Courier editor as to how long I'd been drawing for the paper set me wondering and it turns out that my very first efforts at humour appeared on Friday May 4 1984, a single column cartoon. However my cartoonist ambitions started long before then. My father was a "firewatcher" (similar to an air-raid warden) during the war and received a government publication every so often to do with the service in the form of a newspaper which carried a strip cartoon by David Langdon - and I was hooked. In fact I have a collection of his cartoons culled from the pages of Lilliput, London Opinion and Punch and published in 1945.
I left school at Christmas 1945 and had two jobs in 1946, one of them ironically at the "Morning News" and the other at Hammonds Sign & Poster Writers and had the poke from both of 'em! Useless! Deciding the Post Office could do with my services I became a telegram boy and stayed with the GPO for 42 years which included National Service in the Royal Engineers. It was while serving in BAOR that I managed to get into print with some cartoons for the BFN Bulletin issued by the British Forces Network in Hamburg and it resulted in a trip to the Hamburg Studios.
After demob in February 1952 and back at the GPO I used to do a regular round in the town centre and for some reason began buying the Beano from a newsagent I delivered to. I think it was because I'd been submitting cartoons to the Post Office staff magazine the "Post Office Courier" and wondered what the Beano strips were like not having read it for years.
During my post rounds I'd met a very nice gentleman, an author of boys stories for The Hotspur, Adventure and Rover, all published by D.C.Thomson who also published the Beano, Dandy, Topper and Beezer and others. He knew of my strip cartoon interest and sent some of my efforts to DCT's managing editor. However the verdict was "a talented amateur" and that was that - but looking at the Beano again my attention turned to Dennis the Menace which had first appeared in 1951. By now it was about 1954/55 and I thought, big-headed like, I could do as well but not knowing his name I wrote to the DENNIS ARTIST at the Beano address in Dundee and lo and behold I had an encouraging reply back from the editor.
After some ideas and tips I began doing some cartoon work and oddly my first strip was Dennis as a kid in a pram driving his pa potty, most of them appeared in the second Dennis annual. Then I realised why Davy Law, the original Dennis artist's strip, appeared a bit rough - he was overworked. The strip was so popular he was required to do another Dennis strip in The Weekly News, another D.C.Thomson paper published in Manchester, a female Dennis type character Beryl the Peril for the recently published Topper and Cap'n Hand for The Beezer.
You can't rush full page strips, although another Thomson star artist did - Dudley D Watkins who drew, Desperate Dan, Lord Snooty, Biffo the Bear and others including Oor Wullie and The Broons in the Sunday Post. He collapsed and died at his drawing board.
After the the DCT work dried up (trying to do a full-time job didn't help) I did some cartoons for Shire and Spire, the Coventry Cathedral newspaper in the 1960s then later on I turned my attention to The Fleetway Press and their comics, Knockout, Film Fun, Whizzer and Chips and Buster. There I struck lucky and did strips for Whizzer and Chips and a number of Christmas annuals. But I was still at work and looking after an elderly parent so the drawing dried up once again.
Life and work went on and my mother passed away in 1981 but the drawing urge was still there. So I looked around the local publications and, although useless at maths at school, I was good at composition as it was called then, and being able to string a few words and sentences together, I started newspaper letter writing with an accompanying cartoon, and it worked.
The Courier appeared reluctant at first but the Morning News seemed to like them right up to it's demise, although I don't think I had anything to do with that!
Next I targeted the Coventry Evening Telegraph as it was then called and one of the first subjects was the residents of Baginton who'd got their collective knives into Air Atlantique who flew vintage cargo planes from the aerodrome.
Although it had been a flying field since the early thirties and had been home to a squadron of Spitfires and also flew Whitley bombers during the war, the Bagintonians objected to the noise from the vintage planes piston engines, despite moving to live there. So I wrote a letter in favour of Air Atlantique with a cartoon, both of which were published and it resulted in a letter of thanks from AA and a night freight flight in a four engine DC6 to Southern Ireland, Cardiff and back to Baginton. That was 1999 and I shall never forget it.
Anyway the occasional cartoon for the CET turned in to a weekly full time job until the parent company, Mirror Newspapers I think, decided cartoons weren't needed and called it a day.
But in the meantime the Courier appeared to be more amenable so I continued with letters, where appropriate and accompanying cartoons.
Since then, there has been a change of editorship - twice - but I'm still here trying to squeeze a snigger or two and filling a few inches of newsprint.