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Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Book Review - The Happy Warrior

To all intents and purposes The Happy Warrior can be regarded as a graphic biography. It tells the life story of Sir Winston Churchill from birth until 1955. He died in 1965.

A full-colour page was printed on the back cover of the Eagle comic each week from 4 October 1957 up to 6 September 1958. The text was by Clifford Makins and the artwork was by Frank Bellamy.

This slim book collects the full story as published, all 62 pages of it, though it has been slightly reduced in size from the original comic dimensions. I was pleased to get hold of a copy as it has been out of print for many years; reprinted 2014.

To accompany the graphics there is an introduction about the Eagle and its place in British culture, plus a 5-page commentary by Richard M. Langworth, CBE, who sketches in several historical points that were not included in the graphic narrative.

What is remarkable is the amount of detail and information Makins does include in what is, essentially, a war story – Churchill fighting in Cuba, Omdurman, South Africa and of course his tenure as war-time Premier. 

Churchill was not unstinting in ensuring that it was his allies, but most especially his countrymen who deserved the thanks for delivering Great Britain from defeat:

‘This will was resolute and remorseless, and as it proved, unconquerable. It fell to me to express it, and if I found the right words you must remember that I have always earned my living by my pen and by my tongue. It was a nation and race dwelling all round the globe that hade the lion heart. I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar. I also hope that I sometimes suggested to the lion the right places to use his claws.’

The title ‘The Happy Warrior’ is taken from William Wordsworth’s poem of 1806. And of course Churchill was not strictly a man of war, though that seems to be the impression. He said, ‘Much as war attracts me and fascinates my mind with its tremendous situations – I feel more deeply every year – and can measure the feeling here in the midst of arms – what vile and wicked folly and barbarism it all is.’
Frank Bellamy was born in 1917 and died too soon, in 1976, aged 59. Besides the superb artwork of Churchill’s story, he illustrated The Shepherd King (the Story of King David, 1958-59), Fraser of Africa (1960-61), Heros the Spartan (1962-63) and many Dane Dare, Pilot of the Future episodes, all for Eagle (1959-60), before moving on to other projects, notably the black-and-white Garth newspaper strip for the Daily Mirror (1971-76).
Clifford Makins was born in 1924 and died in 1990. He wrote a number of comic strips with Frank Bellamy, was deputy editor of Eagle and took over editorship and finally left to become sports editor of the Observer. He co-wrote a cricket murder mystery Testkill with Ted Dexter (1976).

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