BLUE PENCIL BILLY
First episode, taken from The Wizard issue: 1485 July 31st 1954.
He has his boss in fits of rage.
He’ll have you in fits of laughter.
Blue Pencil Billy’s hired twice—and fired twice—on his first day at work!
BILLY’S FIRST JOB
There was the usual mid-morning uproar in the Brumbridge News office. Typewriters clattered, telephones buzzed, and Mr Halloran bellowed. Mr Halloran was always bellowing. He was the news editor, shaggy-browed, chunky-jawed and hard boiled. Sometimes he bellowed like an angry bull and sometimes like a stampeding elephant, but he always bellowed. “Get me a reporter!” he was bellowing at this moment, glowering from his office doorway into the news room. “Why can’t I ever find a reporter when I want one?” “I’m here, sir,” piped a voice. Mr Halloran wheeled round and nearly fell over an eager faced youngster with bushy, brown hair and beaming, blue eyes, who had been waiting behind the door. “Who are you?” rasped Mr Halloran, looking at the youngster as if he were something that had crawled from under a damp stone. “I’m Billy Fisher, sir. I—” “Get out!” roared Mr Halloran. Then he looked round the office again. “Where’s Claypole? He’s supposed to be the star reporter on this paper. Does he think he’s on his holiday or something?” “You sent him out to get a story on Knuckles Steiner, the smash-and-grab gang leader who broke out of jail yesterday—” began Mr Cullet, Halloran’s bald-headed, harassed looking assistant. “That was two hours ago!” Halloran shouted. “It’s a tough job, Mr Halloran,” Cullet said defensively. “Even the police have no idea where Steiner is hiding, except he’s believed to be in this area somewhere. Claypole is trying to pick up a lead—” “All right!” Halloran interrupted. “Where’s that fellow Thomas who calls himself a photographer?” “You sent him with Claypole, Mr Halloran, to try to get some pictures,” Cullet reminded him. The news editor glowered. “Well, I need somebody for a job—” he broke off, once again nearly tripping over the bushy-haired youngster, who was trying to squirm past his elbow and get in front of him to catch his attention. “You still here?” Halloran bawled. “Yessir! Billy Fisher’s the name.” Billy beamed eagerly. “I’m used to reporting, sir. I was running my school magazine until I left last term. I’m keen, sir! I’m ambitious and full of enterprise! I’m a chap with ideas who wants to get on, sir. I’m going to be an ace newspaperman like Mr Claypole. I want to go places, sir.” “I’ll see you do,” snarled Mr Halloran, and he bellowed—“Baggs!” The burly, uniformed doorman hurried in and Mr Halloran pointed a quivering finger at Billy. “Throw him out!” the news editor roared. “You can’t throw him out, Mr Halloran,” put in cullet hastily. “He works here.” Halloran glared. “Since when?” he demanded. “Since this morning, Mr Halloran,” Cullet announced. “We needed a boy and this is the one the Employment Exchange sent.” The editor eyed Billy narrowly. “Can you handle a camera?” he barked. “Yessir!”
over a desk in his eagerness, had somehow got his fingers entangled in the
ribbon of a typewriter. He was struggling frantically with yards of ribbon,
trying to free himself, and beaming apologetically at Mr Halloran all the time.
“Listen!” yelled the purple faced editor. “This is a simple job I want you to
do, Fisher. Anybody but a mentally deficient ape could sail through it. I’m
running a series of articles on historical buildings in this town and I want
pictures of John Shand’s birthplace. You know John Shand, of course?” “Not to
speak to,” said Billy “He’s been dead fifty years,” shrieked Mr Halloran. “He
was a poet. He lived at
Then he trotted back to the office. Shortly afterwards he emerged from the dark room, where the film had been developed and enlarged, and placed the glossy still-damp prints on Halloran’s desk, together with the notes he had written on John Shand. The editor gave the prints one look, his face turned a ripe purple, and he let out a roar that shook every window in the building.
“WHAT IS THIS?”
pictures you told me to get, Mr Halloran,” said Billy, surprised at the
editor’s murderous expression. “That’s not John Shand’s birthplace!” bawled
Halloran. “Well, it’s
THE WRONG REMARK
But Billy had
gone. He was ambling along the street scratching his head glumly and pondering
on the uncertainties of a newspaperman’s life. He decided to console himself
with an egg and chips lunch. Meanwhile, the police had been informed of
Knuckles Steiner’s hideout and the news was coming out with splash headlines
and the picture of
The three toughs sat watching with narrowing eyes. “What’s this about reporters?” growled one of them distrustfully. “You mugs told us you’d swiped a camera and wanted to get in touch with a fence who might buy it—” “Mr Claypole wouldn’t pinch a camera,” put in Billy indignantly. “Any of his pals in the News office will tell you.” Claypole moaned under his breath. “Are you mugs newspapermen?” snarled one of the toughs. “Of course they’re newspapermen,” said Billy. “The smartest in the country.” He beamed at Lew. “You don’t mind me putting in a good word for you, do you Mr Claypole?” “Suffering crows,” groaned Claypole. “Why don’t you just stab me with a table knife and have done with it?” “Why, have I said anything wrong?” asked Billy, looking round in surprise. “You’ve said plenty,” rasped one of the toughs. “Look here,” began Claypole, rising warily, “you can’t start any trouble here—in broad daylight—” “Can’t we?” grinned the tough, pulling out a vicious looking cosh. “We’ve got a car just round the corner. We can knock you cold and drive you off before anybody knows anything about it. You’re coming with us. You can walk or be carried—it’s up to you.” “We’ll walk,” said Claypole. One of the toughs brought the car round to the door of the café. The two newspapermen and Billy were bundled into it. “What’s going on here?” demanded Billy, blinking in amazement. “I didn’t even have time to order my egg and chips. How did you manage to get in a jam like this, Mr Claypole?” Claypole breathed hard. His feelings were too murderous to allow for lengthy explanations.
Billy was feeling
pretty fed up at going without his lunch. He hung on to his seat desperately as
the big car, after cutting through traffic, swung into Audley Street and then
screeched to an abrupt halt.
Hoisted on their shoulders, Billy peered through the fanlight with his box camera in his hands. The two newspapermen started shouting furiously, their voices drowning the soft click of the camera. As Billy hastily slid down, the door shot open. “Pipe down!” barked one of the toughs, glaring through the doorway and swinging a cosh. “Anymore of it and I’ll give you something to quieten you.” “We were only telling the kid what we thought of him,” protested Claypole. Behind his back Billy was furtively wrapping the camera in Thomas’s scarf. “Now drop it quietly out of the window while we keep this thug talking,” whispered Thomas. Billy backed to the window. A moment later a fearful crash sounded in the street below. The screech of brakes could be heard in the street, followed by a babble of infuriated voices. The crook with the cosh rushed to the window. “He bunged the camera straight through the windscreen of a lorry,” croaked Thomas to Claypole. “There’s blue murder going on down there.” The noise brought Steiner and the others rushing to the window. Down in the street was a lorry with its windscreen smashed and its front wheels up on the pavement. The wrathful driver was hotly complaining to a burly policeman and pointing to the warehouse. “That cop’s coming in here,” muttered Steiner, startled. “Let’s beat it.” “What about these newspaper guys—?” began one of the gang. “We can’t clutter ourselves up with them,” snapped Steiner impatiently. “They don’t know anything anyway. Let’s scram.” By the time the policeman had forced his way into the warehouse, the crooks had vanished. Claypole swiftly explained what had happened, and then, leaving the police to search for the crooks, recovered Billy’s camera and made his way back to the News office, followed by Thomas and Billy. Halloran, in his shirt sleeves, glared up from his paper littered desk. “Where do you think you’ve been all day?” he roared. “We’ve got a scoop,” grinned Claypole. “A picture of the Steiner bunch planning a big job—and there’s a street map in the picture that’ll tell us where it’ll be.” He jerked a thumb at Billy. “Rush it to the developing room, son.” Billy looked mildly embarrassed. “There’s something I remembered afterwards, Mr Claypole,” he explained. “I didn’t like to tell you before, but I don’t think we’ve got any picture.” “Why not?” asked Claypole faintly. “After I took those snaps this morning,” said Billy. “I forgot to put a new film in the camera.”
THE UNIFORM CLUE
Mr Halloran couldn’t say anything because the telephone on his desk was ringing. He clamped the instrument to his ear, fizzing like a damp squib. “It was the police,” he snarled, slamming the phone down again. “The Steiner mob have got clean away.” He glowered at Claypole and Thomas. “Now we’re right back where we started. We know they’re going to do a big job tonight, but we don’t know where.” His baleful gaze swept to Billy. “All because you forgot to load your camera!” he bellowed. He stood up and thumped his desk, making all the pencils jump. “You’re fired!” “Yessir!” said Billy meekly. “It’s not only because you’re such a dumb-bell with a camera!” bawled Mr Halloran, snatching up a typewritten sheet and waving it under Billy’s nose furiously. “But look at this tripe you served up. Your notes on John Shand’s birthplace!” The editor’s face grew even more purple as he glared at the notes. They were not easy to read for he had slashed his editor’s heavy blue pencil across them from corner to corner to indicate that they were useless. “You say—‘ Here in this grey old house, where the great poet was born and where he dreamed up his stirring odes to Spring, now lives a humble cinema commissionaire—” Halloran broke off, spluttering. “What the thump has a cinema commissionaire got to do with it?” he roared. “Besides, the police say that house has been empty for months. That’s why Steiner was hiding there.” “Well, there was a cinema commissionaire there when I looked in,” protested Billy. He was a bit peeved about all the blue pencil marks that Mr Halloran had made on his notes. “I peeped through a window. The uniform was on the table as plain as daylight. I know, because it was a Troxy Cinema outfit, and I always have one-and-a-tanner’s worth at the Troxy every week, so you needn’t have made all those blue pencil scores on my notes.” “Blue pencil scores! I’ll give you blue pencil! I’ll—” “Wait a minute, chief!” interrupted Claypole, his eyes gleaming excitedly. “This may be a lead! Why would Steiner’s mob have a Troxy Cinema uniform in their hideout?” “How would I know?” hooted Halloran. “Don’t you see?” said Claypole excitedly. “It’s plain! That’s the job! They’re going to hold up the Troxy Cinema tonight!” The wrath faded from Halloran’s eyes. He blinked. For a moment he sat still, then he grabbed the phone and called the police.
The Troxy Cinema was the biggest in town. At that evening a car drew up outside it. Out nipped Steiner and the three toughs. One of them was wearing a commissionaire’s uniform. He stood at the entrance, watching and keeping away any would be patrons, while Steiner and the others rushed in to raid the pay box. It was at that moment that a whistle blew and the police cars closed in and surrounded the place. Billy was with Claypole and Thomas on the other side of the road. They saw the Steiner gang arrested, and the News came out later with a full story and pictures. Back in the News office, after the paper had gone to press, Mr Halloran regarded Billy a little more amiably. “Fisher, I’ve decided not to fire you,” he said. “Not this week anyway.” Billy beamed. “You won’t regret it, Mr Halloran,” he declared happily. “I’ve got the makings of a newspaperman, even if I do say it myself. The News is going to be a real live-wire paper now I’m on it. You’ve done yourself a bit of good.” And Blue Pencil Billy—as the rest of the staff had promptly nicknamed him—shot off before Mr Halloran could get his breath back and change his mind!
BLUE PENCIL BILLY 9 episodes appeared in The Wizard issues 1485 – 1493 (1954)
© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd
Vic Whittle 2007