Monkhouse (1928-2003) became particularly famous for his TV game show presenting skills – such as Celebrity Squares and Family Fortunes. When he came out of the RAF in the late 1940s his first involvement with making people laugh did not involve the stage, radio or early TV however, but the world of comics.
As a man who knew how to draw and how to write, with his superb comic timing, he found work doing the scripts and even drawing for comics in the 1940s-50s.
His career developed into scriptwriting and TV work but he never forgot his comic book roots and indeed became one of the foremost comic collectors in the UK.
This early interest is highlighted by a timed auction starting on November 14 and ending on November 25 being held by Comic Book Auctions (CBA).
CBA owner Malcolm Phillips got to know Monkhouse over the years as a buyer and has been entrusted by his estate to disperse some of his amazing collection across a series of larger auctions over the past four years.
This latest slice focuses on original comic artwork collected by Monkhouse rather than the comics themselves, and his name itself creates a premium when items from his collection are offered, such is his reputation among collectors.
Phillips says: “The sort of customers we have are pretty knowlegedable and they know that Monkhouse had this wonderful collection of not only comics but original film scripts such as the Goons, all kinds of things - he was a polymath as a collector, but his main area was comics. The fun thing was he was a comic who collected comics.”
When it comes to Monkhouse’s own comic productions, Philips adds that what put him on the map with collectors were two titles called Oh Boy! and Wonderman. “That’s where he often signed his work RAM [Robert Alan Monkhouse].” Another alias was used: some drawings would be signed ‘Ramon’.
As his wider career progressed Monkhouse kept in touch with artists who drew comics and was “an avid reader, he knew a lot of the artists who are famous”.
Phillips says: “The two great Franks, Hampson and Bellamy, he knew them both, and was collecting their work from the 1950s-80s, right the way through, 40 years, and they just used to send him stuff and inscribe it. He’d say ‘could I have a piece for the wall’ and they would just send it – it was like that in the old days, and in return he would make a few notes, say, if they were making a speech at a wedding.”
Hampson is best known as the creator and artist of Dan Dare, while Bellamy is renowned for his work on Eagle comic – later reworking the flagship Dan Dare strip.
Phillips says that the nature of the British comic collecting scene means that it is better for a saleroom to disperse works over several sales rather than in one big dedicated auction.
“It is a much, much bigger collecting area than it used to be, but for argument’s sake, if you compare it to the US or to mainland Europe where they have Angouleme for example, the international comics festival once a year, the comic artists are much more widely revered and achieve much higher prices than in the UK,” he adds.
“You can’t put too many pieces into one auction catalogue, otherwise you don’t get the concentration of interest because collecting comic artwork and paying sums for it perhaps into four figures is not the norm in British collecting – a few are well-heeled and will collect anything for any price but I don’t have an elitist attitude.
“I want the low-value items as well, so in this collection I picked out some items of Terry-Thomas interest, in Film Fun annual, where three pieces of artwork from the 1950s will go in at £70-100 for the three strips. For me that is the way to build the business and not just have all the top pieces for sums in the low thousands.”
See accompanying illustrations for some auction highlights.
Earlier Monkhouse sales
In a timed auction in May this year CBA sold copies of Oh Boy! from 1948 (nos 3,4, 5, 11, 12) published by Paget, which featured art and lettering by Bob Monkhouse. Together with a copy of Dynamic comic, they made £460 (estimate £90-130).
An example of one of the previous lots sold from the Bob Monkhouse Archive offered by CBA was Triumph/Superman (1939) nos 771-792 – the Superman run. It sold for £1220 (estimate £700-800) in December last year. These reprints of Superman, with four Superman covers by UK artist John McCail, were the first time the superhero appeared in the UK. The character made his US debut a year before in Action Comics.
Although he never met Monkhouse face to face, Philips says he knew him quite well from his dealings in the comic collecting scene.
“He bought a considerable amount from us in the early years. He was this fantastic gentleman on the telephone, always with this dry wit, not to tell you a story to make you laugh but just a very fresh guy. His TV personality was this slick entertainer but he was nothing like that in real life, just a genuine fan and collector and respected everybody in the business.
“He used to write me letters which I have in my own personal collection and, for instance, he did this thing, where instead of saying ‘to Malcolm Phillips, Comic Book Auctions’ or whatever, he would have a bloke sitting on a stool falling back off it, pointing at my name on the letter with his hand held to his head with beads of sweats flowing in every direction. It was just the way he did things like that – totally unnecessary but absolutely charming.”