DENNIS WHEATLEY’S ONLY COMIC STRIP

Paula has probably not been seen since its original 1946 printing

The Creative Team

Dennis Wheatley, British author of famed occult thrillers like The Devil Rides Out (1934) was also a writer of conventional crime and war thrillers. In 2013 a number of his books were reissued by Bloomsbury. Neil Gaiman got in on the promotional campaign for this. He told how he had enjoyed being titillated by these perennial bestsellers from the age of ten. Wheatley’s sex ‘n’ satanism shockers were not aimed at children, and most British schoolboys of the 1970s (myself included) were probably a bit older than that when we got into the books.

Gaiman wheatley

Paula   ̶  a crime story set in the world of British movie-making, which ran in the Daily Express from September to November 1946  ̶  was Dennis Wheatley’s only newspaper comic strip.

Wheatley was by this time a well established best-selling author. Paula was actually co-written (possibly “ghosted”) by T.E.B. “Tibby” Clarke, as noted in the Express‘s September 23rd text intro:

Paula intro text 23 Sep 46_72 dpi

T.E.B (Thomas) Clarke was a scriptwriter for Ealing Films, and a former policeman. He wrote Johnny Frenchman (1945) and Hue and Cry (1947). He would go on to write The Blue Lamp (1950) and The Lavender Hill Mob (which won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for 1952) and several novels.

His brother, Brigadier Dudley Clarke, reportedly “did as much to win the war for the Allies as any other individual.” Dudley Clarke was a pioneer in Britain’s military deception operations during World War Two. These involved deceiving the enemy with leaked false orders of battle, dummy tanks & planes and even whole “phantom armies”. Clarke had set up a successful unit in Cairo before returning to London in late 1941 to help create the London Controlling Section, LCS. One of the planning team at LCS was Dennis Wheatley.

Wheatley (born in 1897) had fought as a 2nd Lieutenant in the British Army’s Royal Field Artillery in World War I,  before being gassed with chlorine at Passchendaele in 1917 and invalided home. Despite having documented fascist leanings, Wheatley was patriotic when it came to the 1939 war, and keen to contribute. He had contacts in the security services, but was initially unable to find his way into any war work. His wife Joan worked as a driver for MI5, and through this connection Wheatley came to submit numerous advisory papers to the War Office in 1940-41. This led to his recruitment to the LCS. The web site DenisWheatley.info has this page about his work there; http://www.denniswheatley.info/museum/room.asp?id=8

Wheatley and LCS were involved in the planning of several projects which have become almost legendary  ̶  Operation Mincemeat / The Man Who Never Was, for example, and the major Operation Fortitude, which convinced the Nazis that the D-Day landings were to be well north of their true destination, and was vital to D-Day’s success.

MAN WHO NEVER WAS, THE MWNW 001 POSTER

Wheatley left the LCS in 1944. How he met “Tibby” Clarke we may never know, but the connection with Dudley Clarke and the LCS  seems likely to have contributed. Phil Baker, in his very good biography of Wheatley, The Devil Is A Gentleman, confirms that he had an enduring friendship with Dudley Clarke. “Tibby” is not mentioned, and nor is the obscure Paula.

The third creative contributor to Paula was the uncredited artist, Eric Parker. I found out about the strip while looking up Parker’s work. He has been a favourite of mine for many years, since I started collecting Anthony Skene‘s Sexton Blake stories featuring Blake’s antagonist Zenith the Albino. (Zenith was famously one of the influences on Michael Moorcock‘s sword & sorcery character, Elric Of Melniboné.)

Eric Parker illustrated many of the Zenith stories, both cover art and interiors. These were text stories, appearing from 1919 to 1941 in the various magazines which carried Blake’s adventures  ̶  Union Jack, Detective Weekly and The Sexton Blake Library. Savoy Books republished Skene’s only stand-alone Zenith novel, and have a page on Zenith at http://www.savoy.abel.co.uk/HTML/zenith.html, as does Jess Nevins, http://www.webcitation.org/query?url=http://www.geocities.com/jessnevins/zenith.html&date=2009-10-26+22:36:42

My own Eric Parker cover gallery is here: http://www.jacktrevorstory.com/new_page_15.htm

BLAKEvaliantPIC01parker

Eric Parker Sexton Blake illo from the 1968 Valiant Book of Sexton Blake

Parker is possibly best known for his coloured illustrations and comics strips, usually on historical subjects, for Boys’ World, Ranger and especially Look and Learn in the 1960s. The Illustration Art Gallery has a great Parker biography by Steve Holland here http://illustrationartgallery.blogspot.co.uk/2012_07_01_archive.html and some artwork for sale. A personal reminiscence by W.O.G. “Bill” Lofts appears here: http://www.jot101.com/2015/05/the-eric-parker-story-dun.html

ParkerHorseSoldiers

Though Sexton Blake comic strips ran in many venues over the decades, regrettably only a few weeks in the Knockout comic of 1949 were ever drawn by Parker. His other newspaper strips were also few; Steve Holland lists Pepys Diary (Evening News), An Age of Greatness (Daily Globe), Our Gang (Sunday Pictorial) and notably, Making A Film for the Daily Express. I know nothing about this last one except its title. It sounds like a factual account. Perhaps it gave Parker some background for drawing Paula; maybe vice versa.

A Few Technical Matters

Paula has never been reprinted as far as I know. The Denis Wheatley.info site has only this photo of the first instalment:

Paula 01_enh

The version I have accessed, from an online newspaper archive, is taken (I think) from a microfilmed image. The whole page of the full-sized, pre-tabloid paper is represented, and each Paula daily strip is a small fraction of the image, which I have cropped out.

It looks like this (the first instalment):
Paula 01 72dpi

As usual, a slightly larger version can be seen by clicking on the image.

I tried cleaning up some panels, initially thinking I could simply fill in some black areas. This looked pretty awful, with such marked contrast between my blacks and the other snowy lines. So I tried correcting other parts of the drawings too, but found it very difficult work out what was Parker’s ink line and what was an artefact of the patchy reproduction. I could not correct all of the drawing, or the word balloons. After a lot of work I decided it wasn’t really worth the effort:

Paula 01 RT 72

This was another attempt. I really couldn’t decide what was going on with this guy’s left eye, gave up, and blacked it all in. This convinced me I was on a hiding to nothing.

Retouched 02

So, Paula will be presented in Super-Special Snazzy Snow-Vision until something better turns up. Firstly, some observations about individual moments from the strip, then the first two weeks of continuity.

A few thoughts arising from the strip

Tommy Trinder was a successful British comedian of the 1930s and 40s on the variety stage and radio who also appeared in a number of films, including Ealing Studios’  Champagne Charlie in 1944. His catchphrase was “You lucky people”.

TommyTrinder portrait

Given his fame, one might think his appearance in Paula would have been trailed in its introduction. Parker’s caricature is not at all bad, but Trinder’s name on his dressing room door in strip 5 ensures that readers know who he is. In strip 6 he is presumably playing up to his perceived public image when he flirts “humorously” with a young actress.

DETAIL_Paula 05_Trinder smaller           DETAIL_Paula 06_Trinder

The opening panel of strip 1 seems very clumsy to me. Starting in the middle of an argument with the word “Then” is an odd choice. It sent me looking around to see if I had missed the actual opening strip(s), but no, this really is how it starts. It is an attempt introduce Paula herself as continuity girl, but a better introduction of setting and characters should have been expected. I suspect this poor beginning reflects the lack of comic strip experience of both writers.

DETAIL_Paula 01_01

And there is no attempt to explain what the role of the continuity girl actually is. Perhaps all Express readers in 1946 already knew what a vital member of the film crew she is, checking that everything in camera view is just the same between takes  ̶  right down to a stray lock of hair or the length of a partly-smoked cigarette.

In strip 7, Paula’s concern for the “stand-in” suggest Thomas Clarke’s scripting hand:

DETAIL_Paula 07_stand-in

Finally, in the same strip, the lack of sugar in the Turkish Delight reminds us of Paula‘s post-war setting. Sugar rationing did not end in Britain until 1953.

DETAIL_Paula 07_no sugar

The first two weeks of Paula

Paula ran from September 23rd 1946 for nine weeks. It appeared every weekday and Saturday during that period, six strips per week. Most days it was the only comic strip in the Express, though it was occasionally accompanied by a dire “humour” strip called  ̶  no relation  ̶  The Parkers (“by Hodges”).

After nine weeks  ̶  the mystery concluded  ̶  Paula rather abruptly ended. The adventures of the plucky continuity girl were not to be continued. History does not record the whys and wherefores.

And I must ask: if anyone thinks they have rights in this intellectual property, and that I have made anything other than fair use of it on this not-for-profit, historical-informative blog  ̶  please get in touch.

As usual, clicking on the small image should take you to a larger, more readable version  ̶  as readable as Snazzy Snow-Vision is ever going to get, anyway.

Paula Week One: September 23rd to 28th, 1946:

PAULA week 01

Paula Week Two: September 30th to October 5th, 1946:

PAULA week 02

That’s it for now… you lucky people!

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