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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