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Bill Tidy obituary

<span>Photograph: Radio Times/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Radio Times/Getty Images

Bill Tidy, who has died aged 89, was a cartoonist, broadcaster and raconteur whose work appeared in national newspapers and on radio and TV. He is best known for two long-running cartoon strips in the Daily Mirror and Private Eye. The Fosdyke Saga ran in the Mirror from 1971 until 1985 and stopped only when Robert Maxwell bought the paper and declared he didn’t find the strip funny. Bill was deeply upset, but turned the saga into a BBC Radio 2 series in 42 episodes, with additional scripting by John Junkin and a stage play co-written with Alan Plater.

Fosdyke was a wry reworking of John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga novels, which followed the lives and peccadillos of aristocratic families in Dorset and London. In sharp contrast, the Fosdyke family ran a tripe factory in Salford with the slogan “Nation Shall Speak Tripe Unto Nation”. The background was soot and chimneys and Bill described it as “a classic tale of struggle, power, personalities … and tripe.”

The Cloggies appeared in Private Eye from 1967 until 1981. It was an affectionate send-up of the radio soap The Archers, which is billed as “an everyday story of country folk” whereas the Cloggies were “an everyday story of clog-dancing folk”. The strip followed the misadventures of a team of clog dancers who took on rival teams and developed such tactical foot manoeuvres as the Triple Arkwright and the Heckmondwycke with Reverse Spin, with the aim of triumphing over their opponents.

The dancers had a legendary capacity for beer and would repair to the nearest tavern for a gallon or two following every epic contest. Bill also enjoyed beer in moderation and in the 1970s he accepted an offer from the fledgling Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) to draw a monthly strip called Kegbuster for its newspaper What’s Brewing. For more than 40 years, until he retired in 2000, Bill regaled Camra members with the battles between the ale-loving Kegbuster and such giant brewers as Grotnys and Twitbread that attempted to replace cask beer with keg.

When I became editor of What’s Brewing, I got to know Bill well and visited him at his home in Leicestershire. Over a few beers in his local pub, we laughed about the creator of Kegbuster living in a village called Kegworth.

Bill was born in Tranmere, Merseyside, the son of William Tidy, a seaman, and Catherine (nee Price), who ran an off-licence in Liverpool. He was educated at St Margaret’s secondary school in Anfield and left aged 15. He worked as a shipping clerk and went briefly to art school before joining the Royal Engineers at 19 and serving in Germany, Korea and Japan. He was promoted to the rank of sergeant and was discharged in 1955.

Back in Liverpool, Bill worked for an advertising agency where he did illustrations for the company’s clients. When he saw a colleague drawing and selling cartoons, he thought he would follow suit and submitted his work to Picturegoer magazine. Commissions followed from the Daily Mirror and Daily Sketch, and Bill was soon earning more money from cartoons than his full-time job.

Bill worked for an advertising agency. When he saw a colleague drawing and selling cartoons, he thought he would follow suit

He moved to London and started to draw for the satirical magazine Punch. With fellow artists he formed the Cartoonists’ Club of Great Britain and later became its chairman.

In 1960 he married Rosa Colotti, an Italian who was working as an au pair in Liverpool. They had three children, Nick, Sylvia and Rob.

His workload was phenomenal. At one time he was drawing six strips and he said he had to be careful not to mix them up and send them to the wrong newspapers or magazines. He also appeared regularly on television, in Countdown, Blankety Blank and Countryfile. In 1975 he was confronted by Eamonn Andrews with his famous red book when Bill was the subject of This Is Your Life.

Bill’s autobiography, Is There Any News of the Iceberg?, was published in 1995. He based the title on his favourite cartoon, which showed people reading the list of those lost on the Titanic while a polar bear asks: “Is there any news of the iceberg?”

His one major regret in his long career was his failure to save Punch from closure, despite trying, with other artists and journalists, to buy it. He drew for the magazine from 1959 but in spite of his best efforts it folded in 1992.

A keen cricket-lover, he was closely involved for many years with the Lord’s Taverners, a team of entertainers who raise large sums for charity. The proof that Bill never stopped working came when in one match he was fielding at square leg and the batsman hooked the ball straight at him. He was hit on the chest and fell to the ground. When his team mates rushed over, one shouted: “Call an ambulance”, pointing to a large red stain on Bill’s shirt. “It’s all right,” Bill groaned. “It’s not blood – it’s my red pen.” He had all his pens in his shirt pocket, ready for action.

In 2001 he was appointed MBE for services to journalism. Three years later Nick died, and Rosa died in 2019. Bill gave up work in 2020 as a result of ill health: he had two strokes and was then diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

He is survived by Sylvia and Rob.

▪ Bill (William Edward) Tidy, born 9 October 1933; died 11 March 2022