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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Walkden Fisher

Walkden Fisher contributed only a single item to Swift Annual 4 (1958), a double-page feature on underground trains. Nowadays he is remembered as a pioneer in slot car racing and as a contributor of illustrations to Eagle. 'Running a Model Railway' began a twelve-issue run in Vol.1 no.22 (8 September 1950) and he later produced the feature 'Railway Wonders' (1954) as well as a number of centre-spread cutaway drawings. Fisher is something of a footnote in Eagle fandom but he almost contributed to the historic debut issue.

When Marcus Morris was putting together a dummy to present to publishers, Fisher drew a comic strip, 'Hiawatha', from the epic poem 'The Song of Hiawatha' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Although the dummy was accepted by Hulton Press, Hiawatha did not appear in the new paper.

Walkden Fisher was born in Birkdale in 1913, the grandson of Alderman Thomas Fisher, a freeman of the borough and one of Southport's civic fathers. He was educated at King George V School and then studied at the Victoria School of Art, Southport, for five years. An early hobby of his art school days was making puppet theatres and, after building a theatre in his cellar, he and other students performed plays.

He began his artistic career illustrating books written by Ellison Hawks, a Hull-born journalist and photographer who had worked as advertising manager for Meccano Ltd. and then as a general editor for Amalgamated Press and editor of The Dog Owner. Hawks had been producing dozens of books on science, astronomy and aircraft since around 1910 and Fisher's association with him lasted for over a decade. Ellison Hawks, who lived in Ainsdale, Southport, published a number of books himself which Fisher illustrated, including a reprint of a comic strip, 'Jasper', which he had produced for a local newspaper or magazine.

Fisher joined the R.A.F. as a draughtsman, spending two years in charge of the drawing office of 231 Group South-East Asia Command in Calcutta, where he also painted security posters for the USAF.

Fisher was introduced to Marcus Morris by Harold Johns, another student at the local art school, and 'Fish', as he was known, was one of the group that celebrated with Marcus and Frank Hampson when a telegram arrived from Hultons confirming that they wanted to publish Morris's new paper. Although Hiawatha was not to become a regular feature of the new weekly, Fisher was involved with the Bakehouse group of artists under Frank Hampson as a model maker, producing models of spaceships like the Anastasia and other items associated with Dan Dare, including a table-top model of Space Fleet Headquarters. When the studio moved south to Epsom, Fisher would often make the trip with his models.

He was associated with the Eagle for ten years (1949-59), taking a full week to produce watercolour illustrations for the centre-spreads (which he also wrote the text for). He also produced the character Mr. Therm for a strip sponsored by the Gas Council.

In the mid-1950s, rail racing -- racing model railways -- was a popular hobby , later to be superceded by slot car racing. Walkden Fisher was a keen enthusiast and was a member of the Southport Model Engineering Club and the Auto Road Racing Association who used to meet in the cellar of his house near Southport's town centre. Still a keen model maker, he had created the scenary for the ARRA track as well as building his own cars which, at that time, usually had bodies sculpted out of balsa wood.

Fisher became heavily involved as art editor of Model Car magazine and a technical editor of the American magazine Model Car and Track. He also freelanced illustrations to catalogues and brochures.

Fisher would go on sketching holidays with his friend Harold Johns and at one time another artist, Dave Jones, had an article relating to Fisher on the web, although I tried to find it again this evening without success. To quote this article:
Walkden then introduced me to Harold Johns, again a very accomplished watercolourist and Illustrator, and they both invited me to go on a sketching holiday to the Lake District for two weeks. Naturally I jumped at the chance. Walkden's love of the Lake District certainly is reflected in his work and, being from the Eskdale area of the Lake District myself, I would like to think that there is some element of " continuation " of this in my work and that both Walkden’s and Harold’s initial faith in my ability was somehow justified.

I suppose that, in some respects, I was thrown in at the deep end in so much as both Walkden and Harold painted exclusively in Water colours, not the easiest medium for a beginner! However, I was encouraged to use the best quality materials from the word go. As will be seen, I still use watercolours for my Landscape work. I did try oils with, what I felt was, limited success. I feel that the subtlety of Water colours suits my way of painting Landscapes whereas the "solidity" of oil paints suits my aircraft work.

I would like to stress that I was encouraged very much to do “my own thing” and that neither Walkden nor Harold actually showed me how they painted. I was left to my own devices and strongly encouraged to develop my own style which is extremely difficult when learning from the best. When I had completed a painting I would take it to show them for their criticism and comments. This way, I feel, I learnt quickly and it wasn't too long before I was having work accepted for the annual local artists exhibition run by the Southport “Palette Club " which has a history dating back to 1921 and is generally recognised as being one of the more prestigious exhibitions in the North West of England.

These sketching holidays in the Lake District were always for a fortnight, giving us ample opportunity to drive and walk to any number of places that we chose to visit. Each day after breakfast we would study our maps and choose one or two places, within easy reach of each other that looked like they may be worth sketching. Not all our choices proved to be suitable; however, I was always encouraged to sketch something even if only a gnarled old tree trunk! When the choice did not produce a scene suitable for a finished sketch Walkden would invariably lie on the ground, pull his cap over his eyes and gently puff away on his pipe assuring Harold and myself that he was O.K. and simply "soaking in the atmosphere" and that he had plenty of material already. Walkden didn't drive and was dependant upon Harold and myself to get him from A to B. I recall Walkden mentioning that he had driven before the war and on one occasion had gone up to the Lakes driving a Morgan three wheeler pretty well flat out all the way.

Harold was a very active person, enjoying golf as much as his sketching and painting. On our sketching trips he would disappear into the distance eager to get to where we were going and be well into his first sketch before Walkden and I arrived. On the other hand Walkden had a very "laid back" approach to life and when at home wouldn't rise until lunchtime and would paint in the evening into the small hours of the morning preferring the quiet of the night in his studio.
In the 1970s he was semi-retired and a one-man exhibition of his work was held at Southport's Atkinson Gallery in April 1973. A year later, Fisher was elected to be a life Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. In later years he also contributed cartoons to the Salvation Army magazine War Cry.

For many years Fisher, who was married and had a son, lived in Princes Street, Southport. He died in 1979, aged 66. Some of his artwork was subsequently published as fine art prints by a local firm, Hesketh Publishing.


Illustrated Books
This Wonderful World by Ellison Hawks. Southport, Ellison Hawks, 1947.
Adventures of Jasper. Southport, Ellison Hawks, 194?.

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