Braddock: Adventures of an Oik Bookworm


I’d long been a fan of the Matt Braddock stories which appeared in the Rover in the 1950s. Indeed such a fan as to produce my own compilation from a stack of back issues (1952-1954) I bought from a dealer in Northenden. This was strictly a one-off for my own consumption since I knew that DC Thompson, the Dundee based publisher, was fiercely protective of his copyright. This was my foreword to that compilation: 

George Orwell was characteristically pessimistic about the effects of comics on kids. Writing in 1939 he branded all publishers of the genre capitalist lackeys. D.C Thompson does sound like a throwback to an age of jingoism - and yet the Rover of the early fifties is full of chippy proles kicking against their dim superiors. The Eagle, a contemporary, was overtly high-minded (created by a vicar) and a much better production with art work of a high order. I read those too, starting with No 1 in April 1950 but it never really superseded its dingy, crumbly, fragile pre­cursor - mostly print and on paper no better than our Daily Express. So it must have been the stories - probably written by jaundiced ex-servicemen who seemed to know something about flying, running, cricket and football; and about the squalid tenements from whence these heroes sprang.

Ace pilot Matt Braddock VC and bar, and the Tough of the Track Alf Tupper were surely the greatest working class heroes of the Rover comic in the early 1950s. Braddock was a steeplejack before he joined the RAF and remained a sergeant throughout. Alf Tupper won Olympic gold medals and ran the first four minute mile but still worked as a welder for Summer and Winter's workshop where he'd doss down on a mattress on the floor. He carried his kit in a brown paper parcel and trained exclu­sively on fish and chips - which remains, even to this day, a non-controlled substance in world athletics. Neither profited from his genius. In the real world Braddock would be Air Chief Marshall and Alf would he a figure resembling Lord Sebastian Coe. So what went wrong?

Both Brad and Alf detested authority - military police, bureaucrats, wingless wonders, race organisers, team selectors etc. Careerwise a dis­abling resentment seethes just under the surface. Here we see Brad turn­ing down a commission because the interview panel leave him hanging around while they break for lunch. He wanders the streets of the capital and is shocked by the plight of the blitz victims in an episode rich in social comment - something of a break from usual war in the air. Alf is astonished that the press at the airport are waiting for him rather than a film star or a bigwig. He gave a sniff. "I wonder they haven't got some­thing better to do." (Alf usually sniffs whereas Brad usually growls) He's only just won the Empire Games with a sub-four minute mile. A week later he turns down a major race because he's too busy running his mate's chip shop.

Stroppy oiks, just like us, the readers. We thought the world had changed for ever and that we were the new consciousness. Fifty years later we see it was a strange blip and that the great runners of our time don't braze bike frames and eat cod and chips, they becomes peers of the realm and join the Tory Party like Lord Coe.

The Big Fellow was obviously Matt Braddock's trial test flight (May 10th 1952). Other exotics appeared it its pages. Morgyn the Mighty (the world's strongest man) first turned up on June 16th 1950 (see page 242). A straight Tarzan clone who could stun a charging lion with one punch. Cricket and soccer were represented and managed to work in much info about the rules. Bizarre variants on sport included the blind cricketer (bugger up by passive smoking) and even a blind boxer who manages to win the world heavyweight title. Quite barmy of course. I remember none of these specific stories but the tone is exactly what I hoped to find when I rooted, like Proust, in that Northenden book-shed some years ago.


So imagine my surprise to find I Flew With Braddock on Eddie’s bookstall. A 250 page hardback, with dustcover. Eddie wanted £4. “Hey Eddie!” I protested “This is gouging! I feel gouged!” But I stumped up all the same. What d’you get for £4 these days – two coffees? A small glass of plonk? Checking it out back home I discovered none of the stories were in my compilation. Indeed this may have been the original introduction of Braddock – hence v rare. So I checked on Abebooks. There were three copies for sale in the whole world. It was described as undated but listed as 1958. They were all on offer at £30. My paperback Braddock and the Flying Tigers was not to be had anywhere – not even for ready money. I begin to wonder if the Bodleian Library wouldn’t be interested in a bequest of this collection.

A typical extract from a Braddock story:

Our journey lay through London, and as we walked off the platform at Euston I saw two R.A.F cops stick their necks an extra inch or two from their collars and stare at Braddock.
"Here are some of your pals," I said.The corporal stopped Braddock. Suspicion blazed from his beady eyes.
“I reckon we've got an imposter here," he said to the other RAF policeman. "Look at his ribbons! The blighter's got the nerve to put up the V.C. ribbon, but it's in the wrong row!” It was, too. Instead of coming first, the V.C. ribbon had been stitched by Braddock in the second strip.