A HAPPY GLOW - BILL HOLROYD, UK CARTOONIST - BY tHE PERFECT PAIR DOLPHIN TRILOGY CO-AUTHOR, TRACY J HOLROYD
Article first published by Best of British Magazine in 2008
When you find yourself grinning at the wry humour of Alf Wit, Plum McDuff or Ding Dong Belle, it’s hard to imagine their creator fighting for survival on the beaches of Dunkirk. But, at 21 years of age, that’s exactly what Bill Holroyd was doing.
Dodging a snowstorm of bullets and with blood pumping from a shrapnel wound in his nose, Bill struggled bravely and selflessly to get those pals more badly injured than himself aboard a vessel back to Blighty and safety. The boat almost left without him, but when a mate on board yelled that Bill might also like to return to England in one piece, a last-minute leap secured him a place with those he’d helped to save.
But Salford boys are tough, and Salford boys born into large families during the early 1900s had to be particularly tough. Bill Holroyd was born on 21st March 1919, the third eldest of seven surviving children.
Like all his brothers and sisters, Bill had a natural flair for art. A talented child-artist, he won a scholarship to study at Salford Art School. There, he met another talented artist, Ken Reid of Fudge the Elf and Roger the Dodger fame, who quickly became his best friend and would also become his brother-in-law.
In 1937, Bill secured his first job working in the art department of an advertising agency in Manchester. But, despite having the chance to do a job he loved, Bill didn’t easily tolerate being shut up in a studio. He wanted to see the world, so joined the Royal Artillery. Unfortunately, 1939 saw the onset of the Second World War – hence Bill’s first precarious visit abroad.
Following his journey back to Blighty, Bill found himself hospitalised in Liverpool - too close to Salford for temptation! He absconded from hospital in the hope of seeing his family - but an encounter with the Redcaps saw a speedy end to that adventure.
In September 1941, whilst billeted on a farm in Ballysnodd, Northern Ireland, he met his future wife, Elizabeth (Betty) Girvan. Betty fondly recalls noticing Bill singing in a chorus of some twelve soldiers at a concert - wearing a cowboy hat and playing a ukulele. “He looks a nice lad,” she whispered to her friend. But a week later, she was astounded to find him sitting on her garden fence. “He asked me how old I was and I said, ‘Nineteen,’ because I thought he looked so young.”
Bill couldn’t believe the coincidence – he was just nineteen, too! The fact that the happy couple started out by fibbing to each other wasn’t a bad omen, however. Their marriage took place only five months later and lasted until Bill’s death in February 2000 – just days before their 58th wedding anniversary.
Betty describes a wedding day spent in and out of Police barracks trying to organise her passport to visit the Holroyd clan in Salford. After the wedding, the couple did manage to visit England briefly – but only when Bill was posted there did England finally become home. At least for a short while.
Soon after being demobbed, Bill joined the Hornsey Art College in London, where he remained until starting work with Gaumont British as an animator.
Although working full time to keep a wife, two young sons, Wee Bill and Holven, and a daughter, Colleen, Bill still found time to send freelance scripts off to various publishing houses.
In October 1950, he landed a full-time position with the publishers D. C. Thomson and moved to Arbroath in Scotland - a town familiar to him from his army days. The family lived there until Bill bought a boat, the Duchess of Down, in which they sailed back to Ireland and a stunning home in Ballygally Bay.
Tracy J Holroyd, Cert Ed, BA(Hons) - Member of the Society of Authors
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What a heart warming, intriguing and lovely story. Quite a hero indeed. He sounded like a splendid gentlemen.
Thank you for taking the time to comment, Shelley. He was a hero indeed! The Holroyds were very blessed because they all came back from WW2. They were also all brilliant artists: Bill, Albert, George and our dad, Ron. That same artistic talent runs through all the cousins. Thanks again for commenting, Shelley!
Amazing man!!!! And beautifully written story xxxxx
Thank you, June. This article gave us a lot of joy, it being about a member of our family. As Uncle Bill grew older, he gave me a lot of guidance and encouragement, and he was over the moon when I published my first short story for D C Thomson - a company he worked for extensively as a cartoonist. Thanks again for taking time to comment.
Quite amazing his bravery and helping others in World war 2..good to here more about Bill which I only know from his comic art which I love..
He was a fantastic cartoonist/artist, and well worthy of your fansite. A huge thank you for creating this, and bringing Bill Holroyd's fabulous artwork to a new audience. It's a pity you didn't get to meet the man himself. He was intelligent, far-seeing and had a great sense of humour - as you will realise from his stories. Thank you again, Peter, for creating his fansite and for taking time to make comment on this blog.
Thanks for the kind comments.. love doing the fansites and I learn from them myself..being an artist also..love studying there work..
The Holroyds are all artists. David is not just a writer, but an illustrator, too. He has illustrated six books now. Check out the Belinda Fellgate page on this website and the illustration page. We think you'll find them interesting. Thanks again for contributing to this blog page, and for honouring Uncle Bill's work. Best of luck with your artwork and all your future endeavours.
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David c holroyd & tracy j holroyd