Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Eddie the Happy Editor

I'm not sure if I've ever covered Film Fun on this blog. I'm sure I've mentioned it from time to time but never have I gone any further than that. Today, however, that will change, and here is a fascinating and wonderfully researched article (edited slightly to work as a blog post) from 1985 about Frederick George Cordwell, the editor of Film Fun. Enjoy...
Film Fun artists considered it to be a great jape to include their
portly editor in their strips. Here Fred Cordwell is portrayed as
a crook in woman's clothing.

Frederick George Cordwell did not live to enjoy the ripest years of his creation's immense success, although was also spared the years of its decline and closure. He died in 1949 at Richmond, Surrey, aged sixty-two, having spent all his working life among comic papers, twenty-nine of them as 'Eddie, the Happy Editor' of Film Fun.

Among collectors of comic and Old Boys' papers, Cordwell is reverently regarded as a genius. From the recollections of the people who worked with him he emerges as something of a comic character himself: bluff, bald and bowler-hatted, flamboyant and a touch eccentric, and completely immersed in the droll world he created from his cramped office in Fleetway House, Farringdon Street. This immersion was so total at times that Cordwell not only devised the 'wheezes' for Film Fun and wrote most of the stories, but occasionally posed for the pictures that illustrated them - usually as a leering villain and on one occasion a Moriarty-type character called Professor Lewdroc, which is of course Cordwell spelled backwards but without the final 'l' which would have imparted with a hardly credible Welsh flavour!

The dramatic arts held a great
fascination for Cordwell, and he often
posed for pictured to be used to
illustrate stories in Film Fun. With
dark glasses hardly hiding his
identity he appears in a Jack Keen
detective story as a suspicious-looking

Although the son of a lawyer and college-educated, Cordwell's Lambeth upbringing brought him into early contact with working class people, and his proudly cultivated Cockney tastes and interests all his life. Despite his comparative wealth - his salary was for many years boosted by an agreement in which he was paid a bonus for increasing the circulation of Film Fun - he preferred to spend his evenings in music halls and Fleet Street pubs rather than in West End clubs and restaurants. He was an avid picturegoer when people of his standing wouldn't be seen dead in a cinema. Almost without exception the writers and artists who worked for him were East Enders and working class craftsmen, and invariably his drinking companions. He had an instinctive understanding of the tastes and yearnings of the ordinary man and, as it turned out, of the ordinary youngster.

Cordwell thus possessed the common touch necessary in an editor of any mass circulation medium, as vital for publishing a comic as a newspaper. Time and time again, writers and artists were admonished - in surviving correspondence - to observe some tiny detail, to make some visual gag clearer, to correct a lapse of taste, to make a drawing funnier. To enliven the uniformity of style he had stamped on the paper his searched constantly for new ideas and gags for the strips, at trade screenings of newly released comedy films, from vaudeville sketches and even from the works od P G Wodehouse, whom he claimed was an old school chum. Cordwell ran his ship with a iron hand, and was not above trotting out his more sophisticated tastes and knowledge to intimidate colleagues. In his office the running captions under the drawings were always referred to as the 'libretto' in deference to his reputation as a music-lover.

Selecting the comic stars to appear in Film Fun strips was apparently an idiosyncratic process. The editor had his per likes and dislikes, and it was said that Fred Cordwell "simply could not stand" Danny Kaye, for example, which is why, despite his enormous popularity in the 1940's and 1950's, he was never featured in the comic paper. No payment was ever made for the right to use a comedian's name or character (publishers today will choke on this!), and permission, when it was sought at all, was usually a verbal agreement with an agent or distributor. In a few cases comedians or their agents, realising the tremendous publicity it represented actually solicited Film Fun to run strips based on their screen characters, but for the most part the editor hoped his best-selling properties would never be the subject of litigation. When Laurel and Hardy visited England on one occasion, Bill Wakefield, who drew this strip, was expressly forbidden to go near them in case they asked for money.

The real beauty of pirating a comedian's screen persona was that there was no interference and no direction as to what was permissible and what was not. In only one case was a strip vetted regularly. Objecting about an incident portrayed in one of her husband's strips, Beryl Formby obtained a grudging agreement from Cordwell that he would submit all George Formby artwork for her approval before publication. Because Formby was unquestionable the most popular film star in Britain at the time, the editor had no alternative.

Cordwell's breadth of knowledge also extended into food. He regarded himself as something of a bon vivant, and although in fact his preferences were steak and kidney pudding, stewed eels, pie and mash and Guinness and oysters, his already food-conscious artists were never allowed to forget his superiority in matters gastronomic.

"Mr Cordwell would tell the artists to load the table with food," recalled jack Le Grand, who joined the staff of Film Fun in 1936 and later became its editor. "On one occasion an artist brought in his drawings for a Christmas number. The final frame showed the characters gathered around the Christmas feast, replete with turkey, pudding and mince pies. 'Make the turkey twice the size!' Mr Cordwell shouted, 'And make the pudding the biggest anyone has ever seen!' The artist groaned, complaining there would be no room left in the frame for the characters." Fred Cordwell's epicurean enthusiasm may eventually have brought around his end, for he dies, it is said, with a glass in his hand.


Judging by the number of appearances, Cordwell never minded being included in the strips.

Wheeler and Woolsey, 1935

Laurel and Hardy, 1942

Laurel and Hardy, 1935

Laurel and Hardy, 1948

Joe E Brown, 1948


This article came from the book 'The Wonderful World Of Film Fun'. I'm only part way through it but so far I've found it to be a comprehensive and engaging book through even minor details from arches to coalholes! Anybody who is a fan of Film Fun or wants to find out more about this undeniably successful Golden Age comic should most definitely buy this book. Written by Graham King and Ron Saxby, it is a thorough look at this marvelous comic and is illustrated with appropriate images throughout.


DeadSpiderEye said...

You've sold a copy of that book, I've just put it on my shopping list.

George Shiers said...

I should become a salesman!

I'm sure you'll enjoy the book. I'm only part way through but am really liking it so far!