William Edward "Bill" Tidy was born in Tranmere, Cheshire, on 9 October 1933, the son of William Edward Tidy and Catherine Price. "My father was a sailor", Bill Tidy later recalled, "I haven't seen him since I was a child. I was brought up in an off-licence in Liverpool." Educated at St Margaret's School, Anfield, Liverpool, Tidy's first published cartoon appeared in the school magazine. He left school aged fifteen, the year after he last saw his father, and from 1950 to 1951 worked for R. P. Houston, a shipping office in the city. In 1952 he volunteered to join the Royal Engineers, serving in Germany, Korea and Japan, where in 1955 he sold his first cartoon to Mainichi, an English-language newspaper.
On leaving the army in 1955 he returned to Liverpool, where he worked from 1956 as a layout artist at the Pagan Smith advertising agency, and drew advertisements for Radio Times. As Tidy later recalled, he was drawing "half-inch single column ads for greenhouses", but "I sat behind a guy who was actually selling drawings to Lilliput and I thought 'Hell, I could do that.'" He began freelancing, and was soon earning as much from one Daily Mirror cartoon as the agency paid him each week. In 1957, after plans to emigrate to Canada fell through, he became a professional cartoonist. He began contributing to Punch, and in 1959 treated himself to a flight from Liverpool to London to attend his first “Punch Lunch”. On the plane he sat next to a young Italian girl, Rosa Colotti, whom he married in Naples the following year.
Tidy had no formal art training, although, as he later recalled, "I went to a sculpture class at night school once because I heard there was always good-looking crumpet there." His work became very popular, and his output was enormous - in 1966 it was said that he could turn out fifteen finished cartoons in a day. In the same year he was one of the founder members of the British Cartoonists' Association, and was voted CCGB Humorous Cartoonist of the Year.
Tidy became well known for his strip cartoons, particularly "The Cloggies", which ran in Private Eye from 1967 to 1981 and in the Listener from 1985 to 1986, and "The Fosdyke Saga", which began in the Daily Mirror on 2 March 1971, with a front-page notice "The Fosdykes are Here!" The strip was originally to have appeared in 1970, in the Mirror's short-lived colour supplement, the Mirror Magazine. Tidy was asked to produce a strip about "a great Northern family", and came up with one called "The Broadbottoms", after a man he had known in the RAF. By July 1970, when the magazine folded, he had completed ten pages of roughs and a few specimen finished strips. Luckily he was then invited to contribute a strip for the Daily Mirror itself.
This was "The Fosdyke Saga", whose name was a pastiche of "The Forsyte Saga", the television series which the BBC adapted from John Galsworthy's novels about a wealthy English family. Launched in 1967, the series was enormously popular, and had an audience of eighteen million for its final episode in 1969. "When I saw the Forsyte Saga", Tidy explained, "I thought the working classes ought to have their own. Their lives, thoughts, and dreams have been neglected for years." The Fosdykes were firmly based in the industrial north, and "The Fosdyke Saga" was even more ambitious than the BBC series, for the Daily Mirror announced that it would start "at the turn of the century, span two wars, and spill over into the bold bad world of today."
"The Fosdyke Saga" became very successful. Fourteen books of reprints were produced, and in 1975 the writer Alan Plater transformed the series into “The Fosdyke Saga” at the Bush theatre in London, followed by “Fosdyke Two” at the same venue in 1976. As Tidy joked, Plater’s job was simply to glue his speech bubbles together. In 1977, in an ironic twist, a version of Plater's stage version of “The Fosdyke Saga” was broadcast by BBC television, and in 1983 the strip was again adapted as a forty-two part series for BBC Radio 2, written by Bill Tidy and John Junkin.
Tidy was now drawing an entire week's supply of "The Fosdyke Saga" every Friday, and told one interviewer that this end to the week was "symbolic - because the Fosdykes are my great standby, the rock on which my church is built." However, in July 1984 Robert Maxwell purchased Mirror Group Newspapers, and in November 1984 the Daily Mirror began running Wally Fawkes' "Flook" strip on its diary page. Maxwell then unceremoniously axed the "The Fosdyke Saga", while the BBC radio series was still running. Tidy refused to complete the final episode, and the last published strip appeared in the Daily Mirror on 28 February 1985 - the same day that Jack Dunkley's strip "The Larks" ended after twenty-eight years.
Tidy has produced work for the Oldie, New Scientist - including the "Grimbledon Down" strip from 1970 to 1994, Camra - the "Keg Buster" strip, Datalink - "Red Spanner", Today, Mail on Sunday, Sunday Dispatch - "Nero", Yorkshire Post, Picturegoer, Daily Sketch - "Sir Griswold", Everybody's, John Bull, General Practitioner - "Dr Whittle", Tit-Bits and others. As an interviewer noted in 1977, "his output is staggering": "Yet he won't normally work at weekends. He puts in a nine to sixish day, Monday to Friday at his office in central Southport."
In addition Tidy has contributed single cartoons to a wide variety of publications, has designed board games, ventriloquists' dummies, stage sets and trophies, is a frequent after-dinner speaker, has written and presented BBC TV programmes such as Tidy Up Walsall, Tidy Up Naples and Three Days Last Summer and has regularly appeared on Channel 4's Countdown and BBC Radio 4's I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue. His advertising work has included drawings for Batchelors, Bass Breweries, Dale Farm and Evans Halshaw amongst others. In 1973 Tidy won Granada TV's 'What the Paper's Say' Cartoonist of the Year Award.
Tidy contributed a large number of cartoons to Punch, including covers. However, in 1989 Lord Stevens, the head of Punch's parent company United Newspapers, brought in the twenty-nine year David Thomas as editor. Thomas had edited the Mail on Sunday's You magazine, and his brash style - with declarations that "Punch could be mega - I mean, mega mega" - brought a revolt from Punch contributors, led by Tidy. He finally left the magazine, and before Punch ceased publication in April 1992 mounted an unsuccessful campaign to buy it. Later that year Tidy and a financial backer made a bid for the magazine, but it was not accepted, and a second attempt in 1994 also proved unsuccessful.
Bill Tidy's style has been influenced by Eric Burgin and the early work of Ronald Searle, but as comic influences he also cites Bruce Bairnsfather and The Goon Show. Like the late Raymond Jackson (Jak), Tidy draws hands in the Disney style, with only three fingers and a thumb. His cartoon characters often have large noses, which he explains by saying "I believe in the Duke of Wellington's dictum that strong characters go with big hooters." He works on A4 Croxley Script paper and uses a dip pen with a Gillott 303 nib and Pelikan ink. “I have been able to draw for as long as I can remember”, Tidy told an interviewer in 2007: “It is a gift, one inch to the left of the Savant Syndrome, in which physically and mentally disabled people are inexplicably able to demonstrate artistic and musical ability way beyond their limitations – so I never question it, and hope to stay just on the right side of `Would you like to slip this long sleeved canvas jacket on, Mr Tidy`.”
In October 2013, soon after his eightieth birthday, Tidy appeared at the House of Commons to help launch "World Tripe Day", recalling his work on "The Fosdyke Saga", and its cruel axing "by noted tripe-hater Robert Maxwell." He continued to draw cartoons for British Archaeology, and the "Keg Buster" strip for What's Brewing, and in 2014 declared that he was determined "to retire feet first".
Bill gave up work in 2020 after suffering two strokes and being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. He sadly died on 11th March 2023.
- Donald Zec "The Fosdyke Saga", Daily Mirror, 26 February 1971, p.13.
- Bill Grundy "Grundy's Cartoonists 4: Who is Bill Tidy?", Punch, 10 August 1977, pp.230-1.
- Ross Davies "Business Diary: The Bill Tidy Saga", The Times, 8 January 1981, p.17 cols.1-5.
- Judy Rumbold "Profile: Is that the way to do it?", Guardian, 10 June 1991.
- Gary Mead "Former Punch cartoonist bids for magazine", Financial Times, 27 August 1992, p.7.
- Raymond Snoddy "Mr Punch Plans Comeback With Aid of Tidy Sum", Financial Times, 22 March 1994, p.12.
- Tom Bates “Bill Tidy - Britain's Best Cartoonist”, 12 June 2007: www.aboutderbyshire.co.uk/cms/people/bill-tidy-britains-best-c.shtml
- Michael Coveney “Obituary: Alan Plater”, The Guardian, 26 June 2010, p.41.
- Tripe Marketing Board: Industry News, 25 October 2013, "World Tripe Day Inauguration A 'Huge Success'" - tmbindustrynews.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/world-tripe-day-inauguration-huge.html
- Lynne Dixon “Ashbourne's King of the Cartoonists”, Derby Telegraph, 26 April 2014.
- Biography at Bill Tidy's website www.billtidy.com/biography.asp
8 boxes original uncatalogued strips FS0001-FS0552
11 uncatalogued originals [PU2076 - 2086]
3 unaccessioned originals (Drawer 15)
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