Charlie Chaplin by Bertie Brown
Charlie Chaplin (Funny Wonder, 7 August 1915)

Bertie Brown was a prolific British comics artist, best known as the creator of several celebrity comics based on popular stage, radio and film stars, most notably Charlie Chaplin. He was a staff artist of the magazines published by the Amalgamated Press for over fifty years. Brown's early comic book work was influenced by artists like Tom Browne and G.M. Payne, but he later applied a more hasty and sketchy drawing style. He was however noticed for his striking portrayals of contemporary types and settings, making his work an interesting reflection of the social life of the time.

Homeless Hector (18 January 1947)

Albert Thacker Brown, nicknamed "Bertie", was born in 1887 in Epsom, Surrey, United Kingdom. He was educated at council schools in Sutton and Brockley, and won an art scholarship for the Slade School of Art. He however never enrolled there, because he had to earn a living for his large family. He started to work at the blueprint department of Elliott's in Lewisham, while self-studying the comics art of Tom Browne in his spare time. He published his first work for the comics weekly Scraps by James Henderson & Sons, and became a staff artist for Alfred Harmsworth's Amalgamated Press in 1908. His first original comic strip was about the stray dog 'Homeless Hector', which was published in the magazine Illustrated Chips. It was a regular feature right until the magazine's final issue of 12 September 1953. Brown also worked for magazines like Merry and Bright, Comic Cuts, Butterfly and Rainbow. In 1914 he created 'The Brownie Boys' for Rainbow, a feature which was quickly taken over by Freddie Crompton. Brown also made illustrations for Puck magazine, including its first colour cover (1913) in the Christmas issue which featured the story 'Xmas adventures of Jolly Joe Jinks'.

Xmas Adventures of Jolly Joe Jinks (13 December 1913)

In 1915 Brown drew a comic strip based on the popularity of film comedian Charlie Chaplin, which first appeared in issue 72 of Funny Wonder. It remained a popular feature on the magazine's front-page until 1944, mostly drawn by Brown but with some fill-in episodes by Freddie Adkins when the artist needed some time off. It's often said that Brown was the first artist to draw a comic strip based on Charlie Chaplin. The very same year American comics artist Stuart Carothers also drew a comic strip about Chaplin: 'Charlie Chaplin Comic Capers' (1915), published in The Chicago Herald, until his untimely death a few months later. It was later continued by two cartoonists named Warren and Ramsey, later followed by Elzie Segar from 1915 until 1917.

Charlie Chaplin by Bertie Brown

During the First World War Brown served in the Royal Field Artillery. After the war he reassumed his work as an artist for publications like Bubbles, Rainbow, Puck, Jester, Butterfly, Funny Wonder, Chips, Comic Cuts and Jolly Comic. His main serials include 'Our Kinema Couple' (Funny Wonder, 1919), 'Pa Perkins and Percy' (Illustrated Chips, 1922-1958), 'Dad Walker and his Son Wally' (Larks, 1927-1940), 'Constable Cuddlecook' (Jester, 1920s-1940), 'Jessie Joy' (The Jolly Jester/The Wonder, 1923-1932), 'Smiler and Smudge' (Butterfly, 1926-40) and 'Pinhead and Pete' (Comic Cuts, 1940-1951). In 1928 Bertie Brown drew 'Jumbo Jim and Brother Tim' for Sunbeam. It starred two young elephants and their guardian Uncle. These are however but a few of his many creations.

Constable Cuddlecook by Bertie Brown
Constable Cuddlecook (1932)

Throughout his career, he has also made a variety of short-lived features, including 'John Willie's Jackdaw', (1911), 'Nibby Nugget' (1911), Peter Parsnips (1911), 'Marmaduke Maxim' (1912), 'Coffdrop College (1912), 'Herr Kutz' (1913), 'Cyril Slapdab (1913), 'Willy & Wally' (1914, a rip-off of Rudolph Dirks' 'Katzenjammer Kids'), 'Ragged Reggie' (1914), 'Angel and Her Playmates' (1915), 'Gussy Goosegog' (1915), 'Sally Cinders' (1915), 'Corny Cachou (1916), 'Rushing Rupert' (1916), 'Dandy and Dinky' (1918), 'Pimple' (1920), 'Moonlight Moggie'(1920), 'Annie Seed' (1920), 'Wizzo the Wizard' (1921), 'Piggy and Wiggy' (1921), 'Billy and Buster' (1922), 'Abie the A.B.' (1923), 'Merry Boys of Dingle School' (Comic Life, 1925), 'Prairie Pranks' (Larks, 1927), 'Skinny and Scotty' (1928), 'Jolly Uncle Joe' (1930), 'Snappy Sammy' (1931), 'Nelson Twigg' (1932), 'Kitty, Ken and Koko' (Sparkler, 1934), 'Captain Skittle' (1935), 'Ping the Panda' (1939), 'Little Teddy Tring' (Tip Top, 1940), 'Troddles and Tonkytonk' (1941) and 'It's That Man Again' (1945).

Smiler and Smudge (Butterfly, 14 May 1938)

Brown drew several other celebrity comics for magazines like Jolly Comic, Radio Fun, Film Fun and TV Fun, most notably in the 1940s and 1950s. Among the many comedians and other performers portrayed in a comic strip by Bertie Brown are Harry Weldon (1921), Will Hay (1936), Richard Hassett (1940), Vic Oliver (1941), Petula Clark (1945), Jimmy Durante (1945, 1959), Charlie Chester (1946), Gracie Fields (1948), Derek Roy (1948), Joy Nichols and Dick Bentley (1949), Sid Fields (1950), Reg Dixon (1950), Arthur English (1951), Mustava Bunn (1952), Red Skelton (1953), The Beverley Sisters (1953), Diana Decker (1953), Martin & Lewis (1954), Frankie Howerd (1956), Shirley Eaton (1956) and Harry Secombe (1958).

Celebrity comic starring Arthur English, from Radio Fun, 20 January 1951

Brown retired in 1958 and passed away in Croydon, Surrey in 1974. His oeuvre has been estimated at about a million comic frames, yet in all those years, Bertie Brown never once signed his name. Amalgamated Press had a policy of anonymity for artists. Had they been more generous, Bertie Brown would surely be more hallowed in the world of comic art.

We're telling you by Bertie Brown

Bertie Brown on Lew Stringer's blog

Series and books by Bertie Brown in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:


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