Thursday 9 September 2010

Embleton's TV Express Swansong

I was talking to David Slinn who has injected a lot of detail into the background story to the story of the phenomenally talented Ron Embleton's tenure at Express Weekly. The forthcoming giant sized "Ron Embleton's Wulf the Briton" reprises all of that amazing strip but when Wulf disappeared from the pages of Express, now TV Express, Embleton was busily immersing himself in other ventures for the comic, which would allow him freer rein to explore other conflicts from history.

There were two main vehicles for these tales of men and warfare, the first "Battleground" featured full front cover features on famous battles from British history and following a slight hiatus where Embleton's energies were taken up with an adaptation of the TV Series "Biggles", his next feature was stories of wartime espionage introduced by Colonel Oreste Pinto whose counter espionage stories featured in a BBC series titled appropriately enough "Spycatcher".

Here is one of those stories which appeared in the days when soccer stars such as Johnny Haynes were still earning £20.00 a week (he was the first to break through this barrier earning a heady £100.00 a week shortly thereafter when the £20.00 ceiling on players wages was abolished).

This comic was Embleton's penultimate appearance in TV Express and his last strip  minus color cover appeared a week later. By this stage Embleton was well and truly immersed in work for Leonard Matthews' Look and Learn.

The story itself is part of one of those ever fascinating balls-ups which evokes lines such as "glorious in defeat". The battle at Arnhem was a blunder propelled by military hubris and denial of intelligence from Dutch resistance groups that spoke of German armour and elite SS troops in the immediate vicinity and not the rear echelon elderly gentlemen that the British parachute troops had been briefed to expect. Tasked with capturing and holding the bridge at Arnhem until relieved by a force of tanks heading along a long narrow road from Belgium, everything that could possible go wrong did go wrong. The drop on the 17th September was daylight and outside the town, the gliders carrying the bulk of the jeeps were lost, by the time the soldiers had marched into Arnhem, the Germans were ready and waiting for them and in the end only one small detachment of men under the command of Colonel John Frost actually made it onto the bridge.

On top of all that the short wave radios they were equipped with were all but useless and desperate to find out what was going on their commanding officer Major General Robert Urquhart ended up holed up in a Dutch loft whilst unsuccessfully attempting to find out what exactly was going on, while a German self propelled gun and crew oblivious to Urquhart's presence set up position immediately outside the house.

It was as famously quoted, "a bridge too far" but certainly made good copy for artists such as Embleton who during those Express years visited the subject twice.

P.S. Has anyone noticed the error on the German soldier with the machine pistol on the cover image at the top of this posting?

If so let us know what you think it might be.


  1. Rather than being a brief hiatus I think his Biggles adaption went on to acquire almost legendary proportions amongst devotees of Captain James Bigglesworth, to the extent that I believe it was collected in book form in Europe.

    Also, although Look & Learn didn't really feature traditional comic strips (at least until it swallowed up Ranger and inherited The Trigan Empire, et al.) many of Ron's contributions used the techniques he developed in those later issues of TV Express to present historical information in a highly effective sequential format, beginning with a fascinating account of the Bath Road. In particular I remember a stunning double-page spread on the WW2 battle for Monte Casino which impressed my father who'd been personally involved. Perhaps you could feature some of this material as well in a future blog Peter?

  2. Great idea Phil, what I think I'll do is feature both the Look and Learn adaption as well as his TV Express exploration of the battle.

    Great to hear that Ron's artwork even impressed the vets. Your dad must have had the memories of that awful campaign vividly etched into his subconscious. Just finished reading a really superb book on the battle by Matthew Parker.It very vividly recreates just how traumatic the whole Italian campaign was for all involved.

  3. P.S. Has anyone noticed the error on the German soldier with the machine pistol on the cover image at the top of this posting?

    If so let us know what you think it might be.

  4. I'm no expert, but at a guess: is it the lack of a rifle stock to brace the weapon against his shoulder?

  5. You could be right there Dave, it's supposed to be either an MP38 or MP40, which as the title suggests was a machine pistol with a swivel steel frame butt which tucked under the body of the gun when not in use.

    The real booboo however which bedevils a lot of artist's recreations of World War 2 soldiery is that he has the wrong ammo pouches for the gear he is attempting to fire. He is wearing a cartridge belt rather than the triple magazine pouches which were worn on either side of the belt buckle and were considerably deeper than cartridge pouches for a rifle.