Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.

JULY 10th  

On this day in history in 1917, was born Reg Smythe.  

Smythe was a cartoonist, who created Andy Capp, the beer-drinking, indolent, dole-scrounging pigeon-fancier, who with his cartoon wife, Flo, set a bad example to the British working class.

Reginald Smyth, he became Smythe when he took up cartooning, was born on 10th July 1917 at Hartlepool, the son of Richard Smyth, a shipyard worker, and Florrie, née Pearce. His parents became the basis for Andy Capp and his long-suffering wife, Flo. He was educated at Galley's Field School, Hartlepool, leaving at 14 to take up a job as an errand boy, a post which he held for only a few months, before joining his father on unemployment benefit.

When war broke out in 1939, Smythe signed on with the Northumberland Fusiliers, where he served with distinction, seeing active service in North Africa. He remained in the army for a short time after the war, becoming involved in entertaining the troops. Here he discovered that he had an artistic talent for designing posters for theatrical productions.

After leaving the army, Smythe became a postal clerk, married a woman called Vera, and settled down to a life of boredom and respectability, enlivened only by amateur dramatics, for which he produced the posters as well as playing minor roles. His work attracted the attention of a literary agent who encouraged him to write cartoons for which, at the time, there was a ready market. He produced cartoons for Speedway World inventing motor racing characters including Sid Sprocket, a daredevil speed fanatic. He soon landed a job on the Daily Mirror, creating sketches for the Laughter at Work series. In 1957, the Mirror, asked employees for suggestions to boost their flagging Northern readership. On a visit to his parents in Hartlepool, he conceived the idea of his celebrated creation, Andy Capp.

Capp was a beer-drinker, who lived off the dole, and spent his days in the pub or the snooker hall, and lived off credit and never paid the rent. He was supported by his long suffering wife, Flo, who put up with his sloth, subsidised his alcohol and tobacco addiction, never complained about his ubiquitous pigeons and went out to work to sustain him in his prolific habits. He was distinguished as a northerner by his flat cap, which he wore even in bed, and the industrial setting to the drawings, with unwholesome public houses and terraced houses, visited weekly by a rent-collector, an assiduous individual, whose ability to collect from Capp did not deter him from continuing the effort.

Andy Capp’s popularity was instantaneous and enduring. He first appeared in the Mirror’s northern edition in 1957, and from 1960 appeared 7 days a week in Mirror publications, continuously until Smythe’s death in 1998. Despite his northern attributes, he became popular throughout the world and was translated into 13 languages.

Smythe then abandoned his other cartoon characters. He made a comfortable living with Andy Capp, and returned to Hartlepool, where he was known to enjoy beer and cigarettes, but not with the extreme capacity as his outrageous creation. At the age of 70, he died on 13th June 1998, after a brief illness, and left a year’s worth of cartoons for posthumous publication.

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