George Moonie (The Beano Editor) travelled to Preston to meet me, toward the end of the third week of October 1953. I met him at the railway station, and we walked along Fishergate to the Kardomah Café.
Little Plum had made his first appearance in The Beano two weeks before; Minnie was due to appear in December. Over a pot of tea, George asked me: would I create a third feature? A 2/3rd. page set, featuring a bashing and thumping crowd of children pouring out of school.
I told George in a daze of excitement that this was exactly what I had longed to do: what had made him think of it?
George looked surprised and shuffled through his papers. He unearthed the pencil sketch that I had sent to R.D. Low in January of the year: "This gave us the idea. You sent it to us - don't you remember?"
After a momentary feeling of foolishness (for in nine months that had passed since I sent the sketch to R.D., with the intervening creation of PLUM and MINNIE, it had indeed gone from my mind, become part of the detritus of the past) I began to expound to George on what I would do with this new feature.
Interrupting my flow, George asked: `Is there a toilet in here?'
(And I will interrupt the flow of the narrative for a moment. The Kardomah Café was a pleasant place for us to be sitting discussing the birth of Bash Street - or When The Bell Goes, as George had re-titled it. Forgive me for slipping for this moment from history into antiquarianism, but then antiquarian detail is part of the plankton of history. The Kardomah (demolished in recent years) occupied the left half of what had been the old Fishergate Post Office, opened in May 1870, then closed when Preston Central Post Office opened in 1902. The magnificent long counter in the Kardomah was the one that had been used in the Fishergate Post Office.)
To George's question I replied `Yes, over there', and pointed to the far end of the café. George looked anxiously at the room crowded with ladies. He obviously regarded the tract of tables between our table and the toilet as an unnerving obstacle course, and asked `Is there another toilet nearby?'
I told him there was one in the park.
The route to the railway station by way of Avenham Park public lavatory was circuitous and long - about three quarters of a mile.
We set off, I continuing to discourse on what I would do with the new feature. We turned from Fishergate into Winkley Street. I had already told George that my 23rd birthday was in a week's time. As we stepped from Winkley Street into Winkley Square, I told George expansively that I had in mind to make a world-beater of the new feature by my 24th birthday.
George remarked dryly `Let's see if you can do it by your 23rd. birthday.' As we walked, I talked (digressing now and then from my euphoric bubblings about the School Bell, to point out to George some significant landmark e.g., as we passed through Winkley Square, Preston Catholic College: the Jesuit College where I had spent my grammar school years).
I was walking a few inches above the ground: the new feature, being a 2/3rd. page, would pay £6 (the same as Charlie Choo - I had thus now made up the loss of income that had stemmed from my decision to discard Charlie six months earlier. Plum and Minnie were both six pic strips, that paid £2 each; the addition of the new feature gave me an assured minimum weekly income of £10, a sufficient economic base (for comparison, my father's weekly wage at this time was £13, gained by relentless working of double overtime. My cousin Cissie, some years older than me, at this time was averaging earnings of £5 or £6 per week, as a driller working on gear boxes for buses and lorries at Leyland Motors: about £1 per shift).
Moreover, I knew, with this new feature, that I was 'in'. This had already been signalled with George's letter to me in early September, returning to me my first Minnie strip for inking - the letter had stated `Dear Bax' (that's how I signed my drawings). All previous letters had begun `Dear Mr. Baxendale.' And now, over a pot of tea in the Kardomah café, George had sounded me out about moving to Dundee, to be nearer the firm.
Walking from Winkley square into Avenham Park, I was so absorbed in my expositions of what great things I would do with the new feature, that George's call of nature had gone entirely from my mind.
I had taken off like a dirigible and was by now passing through the stratosphere, having left earthly considerations behind, so that I walked straight past the public conveniences just inside the entrance to the park, failing to point them out to George (and he would not have noticed them for himself, set about as they were with large evergreen shrubs.)
As we walked side by side, and I talked, George grew more silent. We passed out of Avenham Park, under the railway viaduct into the more formal flower-bedded reaches of Miller Park, along the embankment of the flowing River Ribble; thence up the steep, long climb of Fishergate Hill, and finally down the concourse into the railway station. As we walked along the platform and came abreast of the station toilets, George stopped suddenly, shoved his brief case abruptly into my surprised hands, gave me a wry look, and headed inside at speed.
As George's query in the Kardomah café came suddenly back to my dismayed recollection, I must say that I felt considerable remorse.
Seeing George off onto his train, I noticed with interest that a first class compartment was one of the perks of being Editor of The Beano.
[Copies of ON COMEDY are available for £5 + £1.40 P&P from REAPER BOOKS, 11 Brockley Acres, Eastcombe, Stroud, Glos. GL6 7DU]