Monday, 15 November 2010


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 became the wholly un-interested beneficiary of my artistic aspirations (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 consequent comparison.)

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 artistic 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 BATMAN 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 illustration 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.


Aaron said...

Wow, what a great many don't what a difference they have made.

Kid said...

Thanks, Aaron. Two or three years after leaving school, I used to see someone in my local shopping centre who looked very much like Mr. Bell, but I was unsure whether it was him so never said hello.

Thing is, I'm sure I used to see the same fella even AFTER being told Mr. Bell was dead, hence my hope that perhaps news of his demise had been "exaggerated."

I haven't seen this fella in some years, otherwise I'd approach him to ascertain whether he was my old teacher or not. I'm probably grasping at straws 'though - I don't see how the other teacher who told me the news could have been mistaken.

Sad, eh?

Anonymous said...

Kid, there are teachers that make a real difference to those they teach. Can I direct you to Youtube and a clip of footballer Ian Wright who is reunited with his PE teacher/life mentor. Very, very moving and I am not ashamed to admit a tear in the eye.moment fot this od cynic. Type in Ian Wright teacher cries etc and you should get there. You might also like to look at another clip of Wright describing his hard road to making it eventually at Arsenal. If like me you probaby only know Wright as a cocky jack the lad c-list celebrity type,.II guarantee you will see a different man devoid of any ego or media personia. Be interested to read your take on these clips.


Kid said...

Ken, I watched the clip of him being reunited with his teacher and you're right - it is quite touching. Haven't found the other clip yet, but I'll track it down at some stage.

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