Monthly Archives: September 2014

ONCE UPON A WORLD

A bedtime book of Bible stories wot I wrote…

Back in 1976 when celebrity chef Lotte Duncan was ten (and so coincidentally was my wife Cathy) I put on my marketing hat to consider what has been the most successful book of all time. I settled on the Bible. It had the lot – exciting plots, goodies and baddies, adventures on land and sea, lots of magic, a wonderful garden, an ark full of animals, a coat of many colours, cities tumbling down at the toot of a trumpet, walking on water, changing water into wine ( a trick I’m working on) and, well… Almost everything. And yet I couldn’t find a book on the subject that had been given the silly cartoon treatment. This was it. I’d be rich and famous.

CD cover for Once Upon a WorldWork started immediately and I wrote what I still consider to be the best storytelling I’ve ever done. My childhood and education meant I could re-tell almost all the stories without any reference, but I had a good book to refer to if I got stuck. And it was way out of copyright. I finished the written bit (as us writers say) in short order, and I was soon able to present my mum with the typescript. I left her with it, praying she would not find my jocular style offensive. When she phoned up in floods of tears I was concerned for a minute, until I realised this un-British show of emotion was because I had touched her deeply. Aaah…

Anyway, I took far longer doing the thirty or so cartoon illustrations which, if you are an expert on my current stuff, are quite quaint. But never mind. John Adams Toys, who had just started a rather good publishing arm, paid me a handy royalty, and were accessible enough to let me produce the resulting book exactly as I wanted it.

To cut a long story short (if it’s not too late) Once Upon A World was a great success. It sold 70,000 copies, and then a further 25,000 on the back of an extraordinary order from Kuala Lumpur. What they did with them I’ll never know, but whenever I get the opportunity I say ‘I’m big in Kuala Lumpur.’

OUAW as I lovingly call it got fantastic reviews from all the religious press, bar none, and some great ones from the Evening Standard, Telegraph and Times Educational Supplement to name but a few. A good bloke called Clive Jacobs, who presented a religious programme on Radio 4 called Sunday heard extracts on various radio programmes and got in touch. He wanted to produce it as a double cassette for CTVC and started on the business of finding a suitable voice. Bernard Cribbins turned it down, so sod him, and so did Tom Baker. So sod him too. The favourite choice, who Clive hardly dared approach, was movie and Dad’s Army star John Le Mesurier. He loved it and everything was arranged. I went along to the studio and I still have a recording of me talking to him from the control room somewhere. He was a sweet kind man – and gave his all to produce a beautiful recorded work. We added sound effects from movie epic The Greatest Story Ever Told and the job was done.

Twenty years later I bought the rights to the recorded work, and the 1″ tapes gathered dust on my shelf for about as long as Methuselah was around. I finally got round to it, had the tapes remastered and converted to CD and set about re-releasing it. Well, Robbie Williams and One Direction haven’t got much to worry about, but it did ok. If this has given you an irresistible desire to have your own copy, it is available from Amazon (what isn’t?) Simply follow this link: http://amzn.to/1vlaHLB for volume 1 and this link http://goo.gl/j1PzpE for volume 2.

Another great man came on the scene a few years ago. James Blundell. He made an animated film of the Adam and Eve story – hopefully as a curtain opener to the whole event. Sadly this is as far as it’s got so far, but it’s really good. Take a look. Show it to the kids: http://goo.gl/j2T4nK
The book is no longer available anywhere apart from the back of that same shelf, but you can see some cartoons, done much later, of key moments in this Biblical extravaganza by clicking here: http://goo.gl/QuQeaj

Oh, and this masterwork was dedicated to Lotte, or Charlotte as she was then…

IN WHICH HIX AND DUNCAN MEET, AND A WORLD STOPPING CARD RANGE IS CREATED…

The Not Particularly Orange story…

It all began one bright spring morning. Robert Duncan jumped out of bed, listened to the birds singing in his pyjamas, and donned … a suit. This was because he wanted to make a good impression to a greeting card company that had expressed an interest in his cartoons.

A Not Particularly ORange CardHappy and eager, he rang the door bell …

The door was opened by a great gawky studenty type with very long hair and a cup of foul smelling tea.  Or was it a very long cup of tea and foul smelling hair? The memory plays tricks.

“Robert Duncan?” this fellow uttered. Who was he expecting? Harold Wilson? Obviously taken aback and slightly horrified by the advanced age of his new artistic discovery, David Hix, for that is who this Neil from The Young Ones lookalike was, remembered his manners just in time and said “Tea?”

Well, as you can imagine, Robert Duncan was not used to such kindness, so warmed to this odd specimen immediately. Questioning to himself why he had worn the good suit when the greeting card company turned out to be nothing more than this bloke’s lounge, with some hastily built shelves, or ‘stock’ as his host referred to it.

In the throes of this unlikely beginning, Robert Duncan and Hix cracked a deal and, more importantly, a joke or two. RD loosened his tie and wished he was twenty years younger. Hix loosened his hair band and wished he could afford Gerald Scarfe.

And Robert Duncan left, having agreed to do six cards because at least he would have a few samples to send to his chums, and the whole bloody morning wouldn’t have been completely wasted.

The result, a curious card collection called Terribly Useful Cut-outs, were a complete disaster.

The second meeting, when the Hix visited RD on his own patch, was no more encouraging.

Hix wanted to try cartoon postcards and RD suggested keeping them VERY simple (so not too much effort) and … that they should be typeset captions. Hix said no, but it was agreed to have RD’s own hand lettering, and black and white cartoons with a minimal bit of second colour – red, blue, green or yellow.

After deep discussion, and upwards of three rejected titles, it was decided to call the cards The Not Particularly Orange Range http://goo.gl/yZmhOH – on the grounds that orange wasn’t being used in the printing.

Anyway, to cut a long story short (if it’s not too late) RD did the first six cards. Hix went away and came back a month later with printed samples, the lines for a dozen more cards, and a royalty cheque made out to Robert Duncan for £250.

RD, now galvanized into extreme interest, produced the next cartoons at high speed.

The working relationship developed into the old good pals scenario very quickly, and is still very much in existence today, well over twenty years later, with jolly evenings out where RD drinks too much to drive, and takes hideous advantage of the Hix spare bed on his Hammersmith houseboat. This is mainly because, in those early days, they thought of each other as incredibly funny (even if no one else did) and would send rude and unnecessary faxes to each other deep into the night. Samples still exist – literary gems that feature words such as bum, tit and willy frequently.

David Hix and his Really Good Card Company suddenly moved into glitzy new surroundings, with a sea of desks containing waving members of staff, people hanging around the coffee machine, and chaps on fork lift trucks. Business was brisk, with orders flying around the world, via places like Athena, WHSmith and the Belgian Congo.

With the Not Particularly Orange range expanding all the time (it eventually reached over 300 cards) Hix set his sights on printing the Duncan genius on to folding cards. He was never anything less than inspirationally imaginative. The result was the Remarkable Duck range, quickly followed by the Big Balls range (don’t mention badge cards) the Casual Fish range, Ticky Bits, and the Serious Hyena range. But all that’s another story.

Hix and Duncan were giggling their way into the record books, which understandably irritated everyone else, and were soon developing spin-offs to maximize the impression that the Not Particularly Orange range had made on the public.

There were calendars. More calendars. Year planners. Badges. Cufflinks. T-shirts. Keyrings. Ties. Socks. A Mouse Nightshirt. Soap. Smelly Knickers. Some dodgy creams. A Willy Nightcap with a bell on top, which Hix claims to have tested to destruction. Mousemats. Notebooks. Body Chocolate. Little cakes. More calendars.

At its height the Not Particularly Orange range, and all that went with it, was deeply loved – especially by students – to the extent that it was hard to find a card shop between England and Australia that didn’t feature them in some way. The cards, not the students.

One day, David Hix looked at Robert Duncan and said “My God, if they knew how bloody old you are.”  Robert Duncan was deeply touched.

robert-duncan-catoonist-logo200w

MY LIFE STORY. VOLUME 1…

Set 900 words to tell his tempestuous life story for a magazine article, Robert Duncan faces his past…

900 words to tell my life story? Seems rather a lot…

Almost the first day I ever went to school, with the black and white miseries of the remains of the wartorn forties hanging around me like a dreary cloak, I realised that my mummy’s theory that I was desperately attractive, fun and just a bit cute was blatantly untrue. My pleasing lisp just seemed to irritate everybody, and my blonde curly hair, savagely combed into a powder-puff mound, only exacerbated the problem.

Polaroid photo of Robert Duncan at a low ageAdd a few more sad facts – I seemed unable to concentrate, I was quite fussy and girly about eating, and especially that I was hopeless at any sport – and this early incarnation of Fotherington-Thomas who is utterly wet (that’s for the older readers) was in danger.

Answer? Draw my way out of trouble. Anywhere. On the corners of blackboards before the teacher came in, on walls occasionally if I was really trying to impress, or animating stick men to do rude things in books if you flicked through them quickly.

My first earth-shattering cartoon, that found its way into the skool mag and turned me into a non-sporty hero (a rare breed) was a picture of a pilot getting out of a fighter plane with Nelson stuck on the pointy bit at the front, saying “Bad fog over London today.” (Eat your heart out cartoonists everywhere.)

I was ten.That very same year the old King died and I drew a Royal Mail van with a postman saying “They’ll have to change that to Royal Femail now.” My mummy lived off that one for years.

So, exciting beginnings. I was once caned by a seventeen year old prefect (strange places, public
schools, in the fifties) for drawing a sailing boat on a textbook. And what would that drawing be worth now eh? I heard that…

Cut to post-schooldays, and I was the long haired black sweatered painty jeaned art student taking a fine arts course of all things, with a distant dream of a garret with enough north light to create my surrealist masterpieces. You’re right, it never happened and I had to content myself with making a laborious and very bad animated film version of Edward Lear’s The Jumblies. This I filmed for posterity on 8mm, and did all of three minutes of it. Thank God (or that’s what Aardman and Disney say) this traditionally drawn 24 frames per second epic no longer exists.

You can see my 2013 version of this wonderful bit of nonsense poetry, written in the late nineteenth century, by going to http://goo.gl/yqq5RV It won lots of awards, so there.

By the mid-sixties I was deep into London’s display scene, visualising achingly trendy windows, doing bits of advertising when I could, and drawing large cartoons for boutique interiors. At the tender age of twenty two I was doing display work for Mary Quant’s Bazaar shops, and even did a Christmas scheme for Harrods windows.

I left all this to become creative director of an emergent advertising agency called Byron advertising and spent the following fourteen years helping to bring that company from two employees to 72. High spots included a stonkingly good campaign featuring Roger Hargreaves’ Mr Fussy. I remember being driven round London at high speed by him, as he explained that I could do the necessary drawings because they were bound to be better than he could do. And then there was Brentford Nylons, at that time one of the top five advertising spenders in the country. My campaign ‘Wake up to Brentfords’ featured a particularly silly bird – my reasoning being that sheets and stuff are waking up products, and by saying ‘wake up’ you are saying ‘become aware of.’ Anyway we got it for a few golden weeks and then they moved on to Saatchi or some similar bloke, taking my Wake up line with them.

Hey ho.

1979, and I started again, giving back my top of the range BMW, eschewing my £40,000 a year salary.  My creative consultancy, Punchline, was designed to sell my cartoons, and the creative thinking and copywriting that went with it, to the advertising world.

Cartoons being drawn virtually every day. Plays and books coming out of my frenzied mind like there was no tomorrow. Radio ads on most stations. Over 4000 greeting cards all over the world.

And if I was spending a bit too much on frequent visits to Barbados, LA and New York. So what? I could always make some more…Then in the late eighties it slowed down frighteningly. I reluctantly closed Punchline’s doors and started to work at home, broadly doing what I do today – drawing cartoons for advertising, and hoping on a daily basis that maybe my play Cluedo will tour the country again sometime, with similar record-breaking results, or that The gigantically successful range of Not Particularly Orange greeting cards http://goo.gl/g5CMJx will emulate their world domination and once more become T-shirts, mugs, cufflinks, notebooks, mobile phone deckchairs and mini cakes. Until those heady days re-appear I’ll just sit here and keep churning out the stuff. What the hell – I love doing it as much now as I did when I was that little lad with his chapped knees and grey gabardine shorts in the fifties.

Trip me up again and I’ll tell matron…

WHAT ARE TESCO LIKE?

Robert Duncan poses this burning question…

Call me a sad git if you like (I heard that) but I used to love going to Tesco. It was a chance to be with my boys, and make silly jokes about everything, from Cathy’s strange habit of looking at the bottom of products before she makes a buying decision, to me holding up a packet of bacon and saying “Peppa Pig – the later years…”

Up early on Saturday morning, off to Tesco for a thoroughly unsuitable breakfast in their ketchup stained café, and locking horns with Dolloping Dora when she piles the baked beans on top of the sausages, eggs and hash browns instead of beside them.

But now that’s all changed. Tesco has obviously decided to go upmarket – or try to. The coffee shop is now ultra-trendy, with coffee sacks stuck to the walls, blackboards with cakes drawn on them in a careful hand, and people called a barista for some reason, who ask you if you’re having a nice day. Very nice, but not very Tesco.

And there’s a big area in the main shopping place which has been converted to a home-wares outlet. Who are they now? Next Home? Habitat? IKEA? The fact is they’re not very good at it, and it’s a waste of the space they used to give over to toys, affordable essentials and cheap crap that you couldn’t help buying. Example. We bought a little carry on case (for air travel, not a Kenneth Williams film) and it was twelve quid. When we got it home, surprise! There was a smaller case inside! Coo…

Now the same thing cost about £30, and I bet it hasn’t got a little goodie inside it. You see? Trying to go upmarket…

Now here’s the real beef (note I don’t go for any cheap hamburger jokes here.) Tesco staff choose the busiest part of the week, Saturday morning, to wheel round their ENORMOUS trolleys and collect home delivery orders for all those lazy bastards who can’t be bothered to get up in the mornings and go shopping. Instead they probably sit around in their ‘robes’ and drink really groovy coffee made in their special coffee making thingy, as they read their Saturday Times and watch Tarquin and Apple fighting over the latest mind broadening brochures about gites in the South of France.

These ‘pickers’ get in the way of the poor sods who actually manage to struggle into their local Tesco on the promise of an overpriced froffy coffee (remember the fifties?) and the pick of the broccoli pile.
Tesco GrrrrThe wine offers are hopeless now, the managers in their wisdom put up badly photocopied offers which they Sellotape to the fading bins, and the flowers are now so expensive that you could be excused for thinking you are buying a share of the greenhouse they were force grown in.

What’s the matter with them? They should know their place, and remember how successful it was for them.

Yer Tesco – stop trying to go upmarket and stay where you were comfortable, and profitable. Or I will take my broccoli business elsewhere…

Still, it’s nearly Saturday! We’re off shopping again!

To Sainsbury’s…