Bill Tidy: laughing all the way to the pub
Added: Tuesday, March 21st 2023
Bill Tidy, who has died aged 89, was a comic genius who tickled the nation’s ribs for decades with such hilarious strips as the Cloggies, the Fosdyke Saga and, most importantly where beer is concerned, Kegbuster in What’s Brewing.
Month after month, Kegbuster and his faithful whippet fought the good fight for cask ale against the machinations of big brewers, pin-striped executives and steely-eyed marketing men, all the time finding time for a pint or three of his beloved Crudgington’s 6X.
Bill was born in Tranmere on Merseyside in 1933. He had no formal training as an artist but he worked for an advertising agency in Liverpool where he did illustrations for clients. His first cartoon was bought by a Japanese newspaper and he then started to draw strips for the Daily Mirror and Daily Sketch. Working for daily newspapers took him to London where he also sold cartoons to the satirical magazine Punch. He linked up with fellow artists to form the Cartoonist Club of Great Britain and he became the club’s chairman.
His career took off and some of his strips had astonishing longevity. The Fosdyke Saga ran in the Daily Mirror from 1971 to 1985 and stopped only when the paper’s owner, that well-known humorist Robert Maxwell, said he didn’t find it funny. Millions did and loved its wry working-class re-working of the John Galsworthy novels and TV series the Forsyte Saga that followed the sexual misadventures of upper-class families living in Dorset and London.
The Fosdyke family in sharp contrast ran a tripe factory in the North-west. The background was soot and chimneys and was described as “a classic tale of struggle, power, personalities...and tripe”.
The Cloggies appeared in Private Eye from 1967 to 1981. It was an affectionate send-up of the radio soap The Archers, 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. The dancers had a legendary capacity for beer and would repair to the nearest pub for a gallon or two after every epic contest.
Bill enjoyed beer, too, but he admitted he “drank any old rubbish, like Double Diamond” until he came into contact with CAMRA in the 1970s. Michael Hardman, one of the Campaign’s founders and first editor of What’s Brewing, contacted Bill and invited him to contribute to the paper.
“Bill said he would love to draw a strip,” Michael recalls. “He added that my name had given him an idea for some characters.”
The Grotny Hardmen were born, grim-faced keg salesmen who were determined to foist their fizzy brews on drinkers and publicans and were repulsed by Kegbuster. The Hardmen were followed by Twitbread, another giant keg brewery that attempted to phase out cask ale with inferior gassy products.
For more than 40 years, Kegbuster proclaimed the joys of “Crudgies”, the cask ale from Crudgington’s brewery. The name was based not on the revered Manchester beer Boddingtons or “Boddies” for short but the name of a player at Crewe Alexandra football club.
Bill had a phenomenal work load at the time. “I was doing six strips and had to be careful I didn’t send the wrong one to a newspaper or magazine,” he said. The Fosdyke Saga, the Cloggies and Kegbuster all appeared in book form and Fosdyke also became a radio serial.
And Bill became more than a cartoonist. He appeared regularly on radio and TV on Countdown and Blankety Blank and was in great demand as a raconteur. In 1975 he was the subject of an edition of This Is Your Life.
Bill was never without his pens but they could cause him trouble. For 30 years he played for the Lord’s Taverners cricket team – named after a pub at Lord’s ground. The team was made up of people in the entertainment world who raised large amounts for charity.
During one game, Bill was fielding at square leg, dressed impeccably in white but with his trusty pens in his shirt pocket. The batsman hooked the ball straight at Bill, hit him on the chest and knocked him to the ground. The other players rushed to help him and one cried: “Quick, call an ambulance – he’s bleeding!” and pointed to a large red stain on Bill’s chest.
“It’s all right – it’s not blood, it’s my red pen,” a supine Bill gasped.
He was generous with his time. At one CAMRA fund-raising event, he leapt around the room unveiling, sequence by sequence, an enormous strip illustrating the history of beer from Ancient Egypt to the present day. It must have taken him weeks to prepare and draw and all free of charge and for the cause.
Bill said he was never stumped for a theme for each episode of Kegbuster. He read What’s Brewing avidly from cover to cover and picked up on the big stories of the day and the debates raging inside the Campaign. In 1992 CAMRA published Called to the Bar, a collection of essays marking the Campaign’s 21st anniversary, and Kegbuster and his faithful hound adorned the cover.
Kegbuster continued on his merry way until April 2020 when Bill decided to call it a day. Rosa, his wife of close to 60 years, died in December 2019 and Bill had a mild stroke and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.
In 2000 he was awarded an MBE “for service to journalism”. It wasn’t the best citation. It should have read “for keeping the nation – and beer lovers – laughing”.
First published in What’s Brewing, March 2023.