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Oldbury Dandy cartoonist dies at 97

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: January 30, 2014

LEFT: Charles Grigg with his wife Margery with some of his work, Desperate Dan on the cover of a Dandy Summer Special, Foxy on the cover of 1974's Topper annual and an original sketch of Korky the Kat ABOVE: An original sketch of Korky the Kat Charles drew for The Bugle

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OLDBURY cartoonist Charles Grigg, who brought joy to countless thousands of children over several decades with his cartoons in some of Britain's best-known comics, has died at the age of 97.

Though very few would have even known who was drawing them, generations of youngsters were brought up on Charlie's strips.

For 20 years he sketched out the adventures of the Dandy's lead character Korky the Kat, created many of the best-loved cartoons in the Topper, and on occasion drew the legendary Desperate Dan.

All of them were without his name appearing in print, which was standard practice for DC Thomson, the Dundee-based publisher of virtually all the country's top comics.

Charles Grigg was born in West Bromwich in the middle of the First World War, November 1916, the son of a railway fitter.

Following the family tradition, he began an apprenticeship at Smethwick's Railway Carriage and Wagon works at the age of 14, but already had his eye on a sideline.

"I loved drawing and I was good at football," he told The Bugle back in 2000, "but I was no academic. So I was encouraged to draw by my mother and my brother.

"My mother paid for me to do a postal course with the British and Dominion School of Art while I was still at school, but I never finished the course. I went out playing football, and then girls started to enter the equation ..."

Despite the distractions, Charlie's talents resurfaced soon enough, and with his focus on his natural talent for cartoons, he began attending evening classes in West Bromwich.

This being the Depression, Charlie's job at the Carriage Works lasted less than a year, but after moving to Hope's glassworks in Smethwick, he realised that his artistic talents were more than enough to earn him some extra income.

"I would pick up the Evening Despatch," he recalled, "and if there was a story of interest in there I'd do a topical cartoon based on it.

"Then I'd nip into town with it on the bus, and take it to the Birmingham Gazette – their deadline was nine o'clock in the evening. If the editor liked the drawing he'd use it, and it would be in the paper the next morning."

He soon expanded his horizons, with semi-political cartoons in the monthly journal of his union the AEU, and his first comic strips.

Still in his teens, Charlie created Rufus the Rabbit for the Oldbury Weekly News, and livened up the pages of the old Smethwick Telephone with the canine capers of Billy Bone.

Despite his obvious talents and the widening array of outlets for his work, it was 1951, when he was well into his 30s, before Charlie was bringing in enough money to give up the day job and become a full-time, freelance artist.

With his time freed up, Charlie was able to put some of his work the way of DC Thomson, home of the Dandy, Beano et al, and so impressed were they, he was commissioned for further work.

His first strip, in the summer of '51, was Sooty and his Shooter, a cartoon about an African boy with a magic blow-pipe.

He created several other strips for the Dandy and Beano in the early to mid-1950s, including Great Big Bonzo, Gobble Gobble Gertie and Clanky the Cast Iron Pup.

When the artist Dudley Watkins died at the drawing board, his legendary creation Desperate Dan would have passed with him had it not been for Charlie Grigg, who stepped in for a while and kept the lantern-jawed hero going.

But it was when he took on Korky the Kat, another established Dandy favourite, that Charlie's legend among cartoon enthusiasts was sealed.

Korky, very subtly changed under the Grigg pen, was drawn exclusively by him from 1962 until the early 1980s.

Comics were mostly black and white in those days of course, with the odd splash of a single colour here and there, but Charlie's work really sprang to life when he was allowed to introduce full colour, in the popular Summer Specials which sold for one shilling and six pence and kept many a schoolboy out of mischief during the summer holidays.

The girls too will have been familiar with Charlie's work. Judy for Girls featured dozens of his strips throughout the 1960s and 1970s, including the lengthy stories Robin Redbreast of Roxell and Katy's Casebook.

The Dandy, Judy and now the Topper kept Charlie busy throughout the 1970s, and his workload increased still further when he took on the small format, 66-page Dandy Comic Libraries, as sole artist. By now he was one of Thomson's main men. Not only had he taken on existing characters, he was regularly creating his own. One of his most endearing, and eventually his longest running, was Foxy, the hapless chicken chaser who, much like Wile E Coyote, always ended up in plaster and bandages after his latest hare-brained scheme.

In common with his feline cousin Korky, Foxy graced the covers of dozens of comics and, most notably, the glossy, full colour annuals.

Lesser known counterparts from Charlie's tireless imagination included Splodge, Last of the Goblins; Willy Nilly; Uncle Bob the Zookeeper and Morgan the Mountie, who rode a bike because he was scared of horses.

And many of those one-off, long-format adventure stories that gave the comics a bit of variety were also Grigg creations.

But all of this was in stark contrast to his 'other job'. Bamforth's, the makers of those traditional saucy postcards, featuring hen-pecked husbands and their larger-than-life wives, turned to Charlie many times over a period of about 50 years; eventually he created more than 200 of their innuendo-laced images.

It has been said that his wife Margery, whom he married in 1940, and who died six years ago, modelled for some of the bikini-clad younger girls in those postcards – as well as supplying a lot of the jokes.

Charlie was well into his 70s before he ceased sketching full time, but he continued to produce front cover art for Thomson's, in between bouts of his and Margery's favourite activity, bowling.

Charlie lived a very long life and made a lot of people very happy – including himself.

"They didn't overpay us, and it was hard work," he told The Bugle back in 2000, more than a decade into his retirement. "But it was good fun!"

Charles Grigg died on December 4, 2013.

Did you read these comics when you were young? What were your memories? Email editor@blackcountrybugle.co.uk or log on to www.blackcountrybugle.co.uk or write to us at 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL.

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