BRITISH COMICS

(Wizard Homepage)

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!”

 

Billy, leaning 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 71 Audley Road, see? All I want is a picture of his house and a few notes on his life, which you can get from the reference library. Is that clear, Fisher?” “Yessir!” Billy answered smartly. “Okay! Grab a camera and get going,” ordered Halloran. Halloran strode back into his office. It was about half an hour later, when Cullet went in with some papers, that Halloran remembered Billy. “Did young Fisher get off to that job I sent him on?” the editor demanded. “Yes he’s gone,” said Cullet, “but I don’t think he’ll bring any pictures back.” “Why not?” Halloran demanded. “He forgot the camera,” said Cullet. In the meantime Billy was wandering cheerfully through busy streets in the centre of Brumbridge, which was a large and prosperous market town. Billy was a happy lad, but he had about as much sense of direction as a bloodhound with a head cold, and he was always getting lost. He was lost now. “Where’s Audley Street?” he asked a policeman on point duty hopefully. “Audley Street? Second on the left, son,” the policeman informed him. Billy ambled on cheerfully. He had a small box camera in his pocket. He had discovered he had forgotten to bring the one from the office, and not wishing to go back and risk further trouble with Halloran, he had nipped home and got his own camera. Being an orphan, Billy lived with his Uncle Jeff, who was a night watchman in a factory. Ten minutes later Billy was standing in front of an old house. It was a ramshackle place, not much like a famous poet’s house, but Billy decided that it was not his business to criticize. His job was to take pictures. So after a look round, Billy focussed his little box camera and took some pictures of 71 Audley Street.

 

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?”

“They’re the 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 71 Audley Street—that’s where you told me to go,” Billy said. “Audley Street,” echoed the editor, breathing hard in his efforts to hold himself in check. He suddenly leapt to his feet and thumped the desk in fury. “I told you to go to Audley Road—not Audley Street! They’re two entirely different places!” “Crumbs, are they?” gasped Billy amazed. “Get out of here!” screamed Halloran. “You’re fired!” Billy hastily retreated. It was no use trying to reason with Halloran in his present mood. Halloran slumped back into his chair, mopping his brow, and hurled the prints furiously into his wastepaper basket. Then suddenly he jerked up, an incredulous expression coming into his eyes. He hastily salvaged the prints. “Cullet!” he yelled, “Come and look at this!” “I can see them,” said Cullet, coming in and peering over his shoulder. “It’s the wrong place altogether. The pictures are no use to us.” “No use to us!” echoed Halloran, his face glowing with joy. “Cullet, this is the scoop of the year! Can’s you see a face peering through the curtains?” “Yes,” said Cullet. “It’s Knuckles Steiner, the gangster everybody is looking for!” yelled Halloran. “Call the kid back!”

 

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 71 Audley Street on the front page. “Claypole has just phoned in,” Mr Cullet told Halloran. “He and Thomas have got in with some tough characters down near the market. These toughs are known to be members of Steiner’s gang. Claypole and Thomas are pretending to be a couple of small-time crooks who want to sell a camera they’ve pinched, and they’re hoping that the toughs will lead them to Steiner.” “They’ll get themselves killed before they’re done,” snorted Halloran. “Anyway, the police haven’t got Steiner. He must have seen Fisher taking that picture. He beat it before the police got there.” Unaware of all these events, Billy was sauntering down one of the narrow streets near the market when his eyes suddenly lit up. Through the doorway of a disreputable-looking café Billy saw his great hero, Lew Claypole, the lean-faced, sharp-eyed ace reporter of the news. With Lew was Charlie Thomas, the plump, good-humoured photographer. They both looked down-at-heel and scruffy. The two newspapermen were trying to convince the three suspicious looking toughs who were sitting with them that they too, were crooks. “Why, hullo, Mr Claypole!” exclaimed Billy, ambling happily into the café to the horror of the two newspapermen. Billy pulled up another chair and sat down at the table. “I’m glad I met you because I don’t seem to hit it off with old Halloran, and I’ve been hoping you might give me some tips on how to be a good reporter—ouch!” He broke off with a yelp as Claypole frantically kicked him in the shin under cover of the table.

 

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’S BRAINWAVE

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. Audley Street seemed to be full of policemen and patrol cars, with a mob of gaping spectators outside number 71. “The cops have got on to us!” rapped one of the toughs. “Let’s get out of here fast. I wonder if they’ve got Steiner?” “I know where he’ll be if they haven’t,” grunted the driver, and he swung the car round and drove away at top speed. The car finally halted at an empty warehouse in a narrow street off the river front. The two newspapermen and Billy were bundled out and rushed up a narrow iron stairway to a room at the top of the building. In the room a sallow, hard faced man was waiting impatiently. It was Knuckles Steiner. “That’s the kid who put the cops on me!” he roared, as soon as he saw Billy. “I ought to put a slug through him. I saw him taking pictures outside the house and I only just managed to make a getaway before the cops surrounded the place.” Claypole and Thomas blinked at each other. “Does this mean,” the astonished reporter whispered to Billy, “that you found his hideout and took pictures of it?” “I dunno what he’s talking about,” said Billy. The toughs were explaining to the angry Steiner how they had got mixed up with Claypole and Thomas. “we oughta dump the whole bunch in the river,” snarled Steiner. “Only I’ve got more important things on my mind. This town is too hot for us now. We’ve got to pull this job tonight and beat it.” “What’ll we do with ‘em in the meantime, boss?” asked one of the gang. “Let ‘em stew here,” said Steiner. “Lock ‘em in. We’ve got to get the details settled for tonight. I’ve marked out a street map here—” The crooks disappeared into an adjoining room and the door was locked on Billy. Claypole and Thomas. Claypole glowered at Billy. “A fine mess you’ve got us into,” he snorted. “What do you think Halloran’s going to say?” “I don’t see what I did wrong,” protested Billy, a hurt look on his amiable face. “Besides, we’ve got a scoop here, haven’t we? We’ve found Steiner.” “What good is that going to do us locked in here?” hissed Claypole. Billy looked up at the open fanlight over the door. “They’re in there plotting some dirty work for tonight,” he whispered eagerly. “If I could climb up to that fanlight and get a picture of them, what a scoop it would be for the News?” “How can we take a picture?” hissed Thomas. “They took my camera, didn’t they?” “I’ve got a camera,” said Billy patting his pocket. “You’ve got a camera!” Thomas and Claypole shot excited glances at each other. “We could do it,” breathed Claypole, glancing alertly round at the window. “There’s enough light, and once we’ve got the picture we could wrap the camera in a scarf and drop it out of the window. I’ll scribble a note to go with it. There’s a chance somebody may pick it up and take it to the News office.” “We can’t take a picture without their knowing,” muttered Thomas. “They’ll hear the click of the shutter and be on us like a pack of wolves.” “Not if you made a noise,” beamed Billy. “You could start shouting—pretend you were mad at me.” “Pretend, he says!” spluttered Thomas. “We’ll try it,” said Claypole. “Hoist him up. Try to get a shot with that street map in it, Fisher. It may give a clue to the job they’re planning.”

 

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 nine o’clock 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