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Bill Tidy - Britain's Best Cartoonist

Posted Tuesday, June 12, 2007

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Bill Tidy

`a multi-talented & remarkable character who has recently been honoured with an MBE for his `Services to Journalism'

The name of Bill Tidy has become synonymous with humour, and though the veteran mirthmaker is a renowned and award-winning cartoonist who has been making the world-at-large laugh ever since he was old enough to manipulate a pencil, to catagorise him simply as a cartoonist would be a gross disservice to a multi-talented and remarkable character who has recently been honoured with an M.B.E. for his `Services to Journalism’.

Sitting in the conservatory of his comfortable and remote farmhouse tucked away amidst the lush rolling pastureland of south Derbyshire where he lives with Rosa, his Italian-born wife of 40 years, Bill described the morning last November when the letter beginning; “Dear Mr Tidy, The Prime Minister has asked me to inform you....” arrived at his home in Boylestone:

“The floods had just devastated my studio and washed away years of valuable and irreplaceable work, - and I came downstairs to find Rosa in tears”. Fearing yet more bad news Bill rushed to her side to console her, only to discover, as she handed him the letter, that they were tears of joy.

“What a surprise!” exclaimed Bill, “I had to sit down before I fell over, - and then the honour of being offered such an award washed over me and I felt so proud and delighted”. Of course, being Bill, he just turned to Rosa and said “About bloody time too!”. This is typical of the man whose irreverent and sometimes anarchic humour has won the hearts and admiration of all who have encompassed the framework of his individual genius over the 40 glorious years that he has spent making the nation laugh.

William Edward Tidy was born on October 9th 1933 in Tranmere, Cheshire.

He spent his schooldays in Liverpool during the war where he survived the blitz and then left school to work in a shipping office – but not before his embryonic talent had been recognised with his first cartoon being published in the school magazine.

Sgt.William Tidy!

He joined the Army in 1952 and was stationed in Germany, Korea and Japan with the Royal Engineers, selling his first cartoon to an English speaking Japanese newspaper in 1955. By the time he was demobbed in 1956 the 6ft-3ins Royal Engineer had attained the rank of Sergeant. He returned to Liverpool where he worked as a layout artist in an advertising agency, but soon moved to London when the Daily Sketch, Daily Mirror and Picturegoer began to publish his work. Bill and his contemporaries like Scarfe, Steadman, Vicky, Styx, Larry, and Eric Burgin met in a pub off Fleet Street and formed the Cartoonist’s Association, of which Bill became Chairman, in 1958.

It was on a flight from Liverpool to London on 13th June 1959 that Bill sat next to a young olive skinned Italian beauty named Rosa. They married a year later on May 12th 1960 in Naples, returning later to live in Southport.

In 1961 Bill was commissioned by Punch and a year later his first book was published by Corgi. This coincided with the launch of Private Eye, - and success began to follow success as the name of Bill Tidy became nationally recognised.

“I have been able to draw for as long as I can remember and it gives me as much pleasure today as it did when, as a four year-old I produced my first efforts of laboriously pencilled cowboys on jam pot lids in Wetherley’s grocer’s shop in Wallasey, Cheshire”, says Bill. “ It is a gift, one inch to the left of the Savant Syndrome, in which physically and mentally disabled people are inexplicably able to demonstrate artistic and musical ability way beyond their limitations – so I never question it, and hope to stay just on the right side of `Would you like to slip this long sleeved canvas jacket on, Mr Tidy`. Drawing is just something I can do which has enabled me to chat with princes and become uncomfortably close to politicians, - and has left me at the bottom of the sea waiting to die laughing”. This last remark refers to an unforgettable episode which he spent marooned on the sea-bed in the submarine H.M.S. Dreadnought – one of thousands of anecdotes gleaned from his colourful globe-trotting experiences, expertly and skillfully told in his autobiography, “Is There Any News of the Iceberg?”.

Bill writes “It’s the fate of most cartoonists to remain nothing more than signatures”, but he has proved the exception and neither he, nor his beautiful wife Rosa are strangers to celebrity. Rosa is an expert cook and her pasta cookery books are best sellers, whilst Bill has his name on the covers of over eighty published books, has graced the mediums of television, stage and radio, and is always in demand as an accomplished after-dinner speaker.

A family man, Bill and Rosa have three children; Sylvia (39) is a tour director in Kegworth; Nick (34) is a musician and composer who lives in Malibu, Los Angeles with wife Terah and Bill & Rosa’s grandchildren, Scarlette and Jones; and Robert (27) lives in Loughborough.

A man of weird and wonderful analogy who has always believed that laughter is the best medicine – “well it’s the best thing that ever came out of the Reader’s Digest” he quips, - this thinking man’s guru of mirth has utilised his art and comic genius to create such legends of cartoon hilarity as `The Fosdyke Saga’ (Daily Mirror),`The Cloggies’ (Private Eye),`Dr. Whittle’ (General Practitioner) and `Kegbuster’ in CAMRA’s monthly magazine `What’s Brewing’, and is a regular contributor to The Oldie Magazine and Punch. He has been a member of the Lord’s Taverners for 30 years and is deservedly well known for his charity work which has helped to raise thousands of pounds for those in need. A favourite memento is a cricket scorecard which reads: - `M.C.Cowdrey caught Rushton bowled Tidy 51’.

Eamon Andrews presented him with the `big red book’ when Bill was the subject of `This is Your Life’ in 1975 and he has been a regular on television and radio with shows like `Countdown’, `Collector’s Lot’ and `Through the Keyhole’. He has also written and presented `Draw Me’- a 13 part children’s T.V.series and has appeared on T.V. and radio more times than he can remember.

A keen cricketer and lifelong Everton supporter, Bill moved to `the beautiful county’ of Derbyshire almost 20 years ago from Walsall, - “We had to move, he explains “because Rosa couldn’t pronounce it properly – and all our mail was going to Poland!”

Before moving to their present home they lived at Kegworth close to East Midlands Airport, where in January 1989 an airliner narrowly missed the village and crashed onto the M1 embankment claiming the lives of forty seven people. Realising they’d had a narrow escape, Bill and daughter Sylvia were both featured on the television news at the scene of the crash.

At the age of 67, Bill is “working harder than ever” with a television series on the Discovery Channel, and with his latest book “Disgraceful Archeology” co-written with Dr.Paul Bahn selling well.

This erudite professional has no thoughts of retirement: “ I love what I do and hope to go on doing it forever” smiles Bill.

Interview over, I thank the man and offer our congratulations on his well merited award, - but he demands the last word and tongue in cheek adds:-

“I’m only just getting started – after being a true ambassador to the British Empire for almost 50 years, - they’ve only just decided to make me a member!”

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