Bristow by Frank Dickens

Frank Dickens was a British cartoonist and writer, best-known for his gag-a-day comic 'Bristow' (1961-2012), one of the longest-running comics series of all time, particularly by one single author. He furthermore made several other newspaper cartoons and wrote children's novels.

He was born in 1931 as Frank William Huline Dickens in the Hornsey district of London. His father was a painter and decorator, and Dickens started working with his father after his education at the Stationer's Company's School. He also worked as a buying clerk in an engineering firm, a vacuum cleaner salesman, and had ambitions to become a professional racing cyclist.

Oddbob, by Frank Dickens
Oddbod, Sunday Times, 12-3-1961

He wasn't admitted to the Tour de France however, and instead turned to cartooning, applying a typical primitive style. He did stay close to his favourite sport, and made cycling cartoons for French magazines like L'Équipe and Paris Match. Back in England, he initially tried his luck as an actor as part of the Dickens and Mandel comedy duo, performing in music halls in 1957 and 1958. The self-taught artist had his first cartoon published in the Sunday Express in 1959. He eventually developed his first comic strip, 'Oddbod', in 1960. This in turn led to a book of short stories, 'What the Dickens' (1961), about men and women who all try to get rid of their partners. The book also marked the debut of the character whom Dickens would eventually feature in 'Bristow' on 19 September 1961. This likeable employee of the City conglomerate Chester-Perry brought a new vision to office humor.

Bristow, art by Frank Dickens

Bristow' initially ran in a couple of regional papers, like the Aberdeen Press and the Western Mail, before it was picked up by The Evening Standard in 1962. The feature stayed in this paper until 2012, earning Dickens a spot in The Guinness Book of World Records in 2010 for "the longest-running daily cartoon strip by a single author". With a staggering length of 51 years 'Bristow' (1961-2012) surpassed the Belgian artist Marc Sleen, who previously held the record with his series 'Nero' (1947-1992), which ran for 45 years. Eventually Dickens was surpassed himself by Jim Russell's 'The Potts' (1939-2001), which he drew singlehandedly for 61 years. The 'Bristow' feature was also syndicated worldwide, except in the US, because Dickens refused to "Americanize" his characters.

Notable foreign publications that ran Dickens' strip are the Melbourne Herald and the Sydney Morning Herald from Australia, and the Italian magazine Linus. Between 1966 and 2011, twelve 'Bristow' compilation books were published. A stage adaptation was performed at the ICA in 1971, and Dickens himself reworked his strip into a six-part series for BBC Radio 4 in 1999.

Albert Herbert by Frank Dickens

Among Dickens' other comic characters are 'Willie Biggelow' for The Sunday Express (1966), 'Mavis' for Woman's Realm and 'Patto' for the Evening Standard (2002-2004). His biggest financial success was 'Albert Herbert Hawkins: The Naughtiest Boy in the World', a feature that gained a certain success in the USA in 1979-1980. Dickens furthermore made a soccer strip called 'Striker' in 1971, and contributed single panel cartoons to Punch magazine. For the Daily Express, Dickens wrote 'Spare Ribs', drawn by Don Roberts (1976-77) and ‘tEMpS’ (1977), which he drew himself. Throughout the years, Dickens developed several other syndicated characters, such as 'Teddy Pig', 'Panto the police horse' and 'Lucy Lanzarote'.

Willie Biggelow, by Frank Dickens
Willie Biggelow

Frank Dickens was also the author of several children's books, starting with 'Fly Away Peter' in 1964. He also wrote two thrillers centred around the world of cycle racing: 'A Curl Up and Die Day' (1980) and 'Three Cheers for the Good Guys' (1984). Dickens won a total of eight awards for "Strip Cartoonist of the Year" from the Cartoonists' Club of Great Britain. He died at the age of 84 on 8 July 2016 after a long illness.

Bristow in Linus

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