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Monday, 15 November 2010
A TRIBUTE TO MR. BOB BELL...
A real Boy Wonder. (Everyone wonders if he's a real boy)
There's an old saying: "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach."
Before we get to the main
point of this post, let me now
relate the tale of how I found
this saying to have a fair
amount of truth to it.
More years ago than I
care to recall, in art class at
school one day, our appointed
task was to paint a portrait of
the person sitting next to us.
The person sat next to me was
a lad by the name of MORRIS
ORR, so he consequently be-
came the wholly uninterested
beneficiary of my artistic as-
pirations (and I his) as I duly
set about immortalizing him
in watercolours, via those
circular and curiously pungent tablets of which schools were once so fond
(and may still be for all I know).
It was a perfect likeness (if I say so myself - and I do), but I was less
than happy with my attempts at Morris's lips, which I had painted in an
almost comicbook style. That is, the line of the upper lip with the shadow of
the lower lip underneath it, rendered in slightly darker flesh tones. However,
I was stricken by a desire to emulate the 'Old Masters' and portray every
crook, cranny, curve, crevice and crack of Morris's gob in vivid detail, so
I therefore painted over my first attempt and sat back to wait for it to
dry before having another go.
As the teacher (Mr. McLEAN) made his way around the class gazing over
our shoulders, he mistook my temporary lack of activity for uncertainty on
how I should proceed. Looking at my painting, he said, "Having trouble with
the mouth, Gordon? Here, let me show you a little tip." (Behave - it's not that
type of story.) Taking my brush, he then proceeded to paint an inferior version
of my initial attempt at little Mo's mouth. "There, that's how you do it," he
said, in a rather self-satisfied tone as he made his way back to his desk.
It was at that point I realized that this teacher had nothing to
teach me. Here was I, eager to ascend to a higher plateau of artistic
accomplishment, only to be hindered by someone who was content
to keep me at the level from which I was trying to advance.
Fortunately, however, not all art teachers were like that - which
now brings us rather neatly to the Mr. BOB BELL mentioned in the
title of this rather nostalgic - if self-indulgent - "little" piece. (Feel free
to marvel at the skill with which I cleverly contrived to craft the
Mr. Bell was a different box of spiders altogether; cheery, rotund,
enthusiastic and friendly - not unlike one of those jolly uncle figures in
a RICHMAL CROMPTON "WILLIAM" book. What's more, Mr. Bell
thought I was a 14 year-old artistic genius - which elicited no protest from
me as, quite frankly, I was of the same opinion. (Much like BENJAMIN DISRAELI, who once said, "My idea of an agreeable person is a person
who agrees with me.") Mr. Bell had arrived at his elevated evaluation of
my abilities after watching me draw a figure of a musclebound superhero
in class on one occasion, prompting him to pronounce my picture
as "anatomically perfect."
Ah, but there's more. It had long been Mr. Bell's ambition to draw for
comics, and he'd even once submitted some samples of his sequential art-
work to D.C. THOMSON in an attempt to find favour and approval. Sadly,
it wasn't to be and he was met with polite rejection (if such a thing is possible).
He brought the pages in to school to show the class (or perhaps just show me,
because I was also a comics geek) and he could certainly draw, so it wasn't a
lack of ability which had led to DCT declining his services. More likely was
the fact that the influence of DUDLEY D. WATKINS - and other artists -
was too pronounced (perhaps giving editors the impression that he was
a mere 'copyist'), rather than because his pages weren't any good.
One day he brought in a box containing a pile of comics, including
quite a few British editions of MAD magazine. He kindly let me take one
home with me to read at my leisure, and - when I evinced my liking for said
magazine - even more kindly said I could keep it. Wotta guy! The magazine
in question was the one illustrating the top of this very post, and contained
a witty parody - drawn by the superb MORT DRUCKER - of the BAT- MAN television show from 1966.
He was also a great admirer of the GERRY ANDERSON programmes -
and I remember him once telling me that, whenever he saw art director BOB BELL's name in the closing credits, he always felt a pang of disappointment
that it wasn't him. What a difference to his staid, stuffy, and static "arty-
farty" colleagues, whom he effortlessly outclassed and outshone.
About six or seven years after leaving school, I ran into another
(former) art teacher from the same period, who - when I enquired after
Mr. Bell - informed me that he'd died two or three years before. Although it's
been about 30 years since I learned this, I still sometimes find myself hoping
that he was mistaken and that Mr. Bell is still very much alive somewhere,
drawing comic strips to his heart's content.
Sadly, I never got to tell him just how much I enjoyed being in his
class, or how much I appreciated his lavish praise, encouragement, and
enthusiasm - but, whenever I look at that terrific NORMAN MINGO il-
lustration adorning that particular cover of MAD, I can't help but think
of DUNCANRIG's very own Mr. BOB BELL. He was just what a
teacher should be.
Here's to you, Mr. Bell (or can I call you Bob?) -
wherever you are. You made a difference.