A Potted History

A Short History of Fleetway

Fleetway, also known as Fleetway Publications and Fleetway Editions, was a publishing company, mainly producing comics and magazines for the U.K.. It began in 1959 and ended in 1963 when it was merged with Newnes and Odhams (two other comics producing companies) to become the International Publishing Corporation (IPC) Media. End of Story - NO!: not even the start, read on.

The Potted History of Fleetway

Comic Cuts was published each week for 63 years, finally finishing with issue 3,006 on 12 September 1953.

In 1888 a Victorian gentleman called Alfred Charles William Harmsworth launched a magazine called Answers, which, while having nothing to do with comics, made him enough money to start a new title called Comic Cuts (17 May 1890). Comic Cuts was the first halfpenny comic paper, and included cartoons and strips: so popular was it, that it soon started to make more money than the highly successful Answers. With the money Harmsworth started a string of comic papers, and also introduced the idea of original comic art, as new printing methods, notably roto-gravure, saw the end of the old wood-block technique. Simply put, printing was easier.

A Brief Timeline

1888: Harmsworth launches Answers
: Harmsworth launches Comic Cuts
: Harsworth starts AP
1920: AP launches Film Fun
: AP buys Allen (Comet and Sun publisher)
: AP bought by the Mirror Group and re-named Fleetway
1959: Hulton's (Eagle publisher) acquired by Odhams Press
1960: Odhams renamed Longacre Press
1961: Mirror Group takes-over Longacre Press and George Newnes
1963: Mirror Group renamed International Publishing Corporation (IPC)
1968: IPC Magazines formed
1987: All comics collected into Fleetway and sold to Robert Maxwell

In 1901, Harmsworth's many publishing business' were brought together and called The Amalgamated Press (AP). Harmsworth went on to found the Daily Mirror newspaper, and eventually became owner of The Times newspaper, he was later knighted becoming Lord Northcliffe. On his death in 1922, The Amalgamated Press was one of the largest publishers in the world, and they remained faithful to their original tenet: they were also the largest publishers of childrens comics.

Amalgamated Press (AP) were based in Fleetway House, Farringdon Street, London, and it was from there that their many products were created, and to where the many artists submitted their work. Like any other company, in order to remain profitable, you have to learn to adapt to what's going on around you. This AP did quite well. For instance the coming of silent film and the plethora of new stars that were exciting the population led to them starting the comic Film Fun (17 January 1920) and four months later Kinema Comic featuring the comic adventures of various screen stars such as Monty Banks, Ben Turpin, and with time, Harold Lloyd and Laurel and Hardy. Kinema Comic merged with Film Fun in 1932.

An original Harold Lloyd rough for Film Fun by William (Bill) Radford: circa 1927. Note blue tick of approval.

The first editor of Film Fun was Frederick George Cordwell, who insisted that his artists come up with the ideas for one of the many character strips featured in the comic, these were done as roughs and then sent to Fleetway House, where Cordwell would either accept or destroy depending upon circumstances. If accepted, the original rough (usually marked "OK" or ticked with a blue pencil) would be returned to the artist with a perumptory note.

On the basis that if it works once, it will probably work again, the success of Film Fun would lead AP in time to release Radio Fun (15 October 1938) and the not so successful TV Fun (19 September 1953).

On the verge of the second world war, AP released another comic that would change forever the way that British children would view comics - its name was Knockout. This comic featured wonderful artwork by the likes of Eric Parker, Derek Eyles, H.M. Brock, Heath Robinson and Jesus Blasco and the emphasis was firmly on adventure. Featuring such strips as Sexton Blake, Dick Turpin, and historical adaptations like The Black Arrow and Capt. Flame by academy artist Sep Scott.

Please remember though, that AP did not publish just children's comics: they published magazines and newspapers covering a wide variety of subjects, and they were always on the look-out to pick up small or ailing publishers. In 1942 Amalgamated Press took control of US publisher Conde Nast Publications on the founders death. Conde Nash were the publishers of such well known fashion magazine titles as Vogue and Vanity Fair. In 1959 AP re-sold Conde Nast Publications for a profit.

Knockout Nr. 1 - published March 1939

So it was that two of the most popular comic titles of the 1950's were acquired by AP, Comet and Sun. Both these titles were actually started by J.B. Allen just after the war, but when AP took over J.B. Allen's titles in 1949 they re-vamped the strips (reducing the size of the comic along the way) and exchanged the "funnies" strips of Allen with such great adventure strips as Battler Britton, Billy the Kid, Robin Hood, Kit Carson and Dick Turpin.

In 1950 AP released (first in Australia and later in Britain) the title Cowboy Comics (later to be re-named Cowboy Picture Library). The odd size of the comic (5.5 inches x 7 inches or 13.5cms x 17.6cms) was governed by the fact that the only available printing press was that used by a story paper called the Sexton Blake Library - which had had the same size. Another "revolution" for its time was that the Cowboy Comics had 68 pages and could accomodate either 2-3 short stories or one complete one. Taking already popular characters such as Kit Carson and Buck Jones AP soon realised that it had a success on its hands. Over the ensuing years these characters would be joined by the Kansas Kid, Davy Crockett and some odd appearances by The Cisco Kid, Lucky Lannigan and Buffalo Bill.

Super Detective Library Comic Nr. 53 - Rick Random

The success of Knockout, Sun, Comet as well as Cowboy Comics, soon prompted AP to start two more "Library" comics: Thriller Comics (later to become Thriller Picture Library) featuring historical swashbuckling adventures of The Three Musketeers, Dick Turpin, Robin Hood, Claude Duval and many more and Super Detective Library featuring mystery and detective adventures with Bulldog Drummond, The Saint, Sherlock Holmes (from a dissapointing US strip), and, creme de la creme, the space sleuth Rick Random drawn by a young artist called Ron Turner.

As the decade of the 1950's moved into its close the buying, merging and selling of publishing houses increased. The reasons for this are simple enough, ther were many titles on the market all vying for attention of the consumer. AP was bought up by the Mirror Group in 1959 - and in the same year AP's rival publishing company, Hulton (publisher of Dan Dare's flagship Eagle) was taken over by Odhams Press. One year later Odhams was renamed Longacre Press (1960). One year further on (1961) the Mirror Group (which now included AP) took over Longacre Press and with it the title Eagle and ownership of Dan Dare.

In 1963 the Mirror Group was renamed International Publishing Corporation Ltd (IPC): so now IPC owned the title to such classic comics as Buster, Eagle, Harold Hare's Own Paper, Lion, Mirabelle, and a host of other comics, as well as such diverse strips as Dan Dare, Capt. Condor (who started as rivals by different publishers), The Steel Claw, Capt. Hurricane and Jack and Jill. New comic titles were started, old comic titles were merged or ceased altogether. The name of Fleetway was still used to identify the comics magazine publishing arm of IPC, although some comics were published in IPC's name.

2000 AD Nr. 1 - published February 1977

One comic, and probably the last comic title to be produced by IPC, was destined to be Britain's best selling modern comic - 2000AD which started in 1977 and featured the heroes Dan Dare and Judge Dredd.

In 1987 all comics were collected into the Fleetway arm and sold to Robert Maxwell. In 1991, this Fleetway division was bought from Maxwell by Egmont , who merged it with their own British based comic publishing division, London Editions, to create Fleetway Editions. At some point after 2002 the name of Fleetway Editions ceased to be used by Egmont on its publications. Fleetway House was re-named Fleetway Egmont House, and our story is all but over. 2000AD is now published by Egmont under license.

It could be said that the AP/Fleetway era (encompassing a number of different name changes) lasted 110 years.

Things will never be the same again.

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