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1 in April 1950 but it never really superseded its dingy, crumbly, fragile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
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
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.