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How Keith Chapman 'met' Alf


I was born in 1943 in Enfield, then not even a London borough, just a district north of the city. I have fond memories of the boys' story papers. For me, first among these was The Champion, from the Amalgamated Press at Fleetway House, with boxing airman Rockfist Rogan, detective Colwyn Dane, and Ginger Nutt the schoolboy "who took the biscuit". But the The Champion closed in 1955, never having recovered from its reduced wartime size and possibly unable to foot it with colourful new comics like Eagle. Its AP replacements, like Lion and Tiger with their emphasis on "picture stories" (i.e. comics), didn't appeal. Even in my earlier, Dandy-reading days, I'd preferred text stories like Black Bob and Bongo the Boy from the Congo (how un-PC !); they seemed to give more hours' entertainment for my tuppence, which was a third of my pocket money.

After The Champion folded, AP still offered the monthly Sexton Blake Library in text, but my allegiance largely switched to the D. C. Thomson story papers. I still have copies in long runs from the 1950s stored in cardboard shirt-boxes. Remember them? Very handy for storing Rovers, Wizards, Hotspurs and Adventures in flat, mint condition!

With my head buried in the pages of The Rover, I thrilled to the yarns of WWII pilot Braddock, strong man Morgyn the Mighty, western Indian fighter and outlaw hunter J. A. Slade ... plus, of course, the Tough of the Track, Alf Tupper.

My story reading set me up for working life. I left school to take up a junior position on the editorial staff at Fleetway House, progressing from there fairly smartly to senior responsibilities at Combat Picture Library, Western Adventure Library and other titles at Micron Publications in Mitcham. Then it was back to London and the IPC-controlled world, at Odhams Books where I worked on the annuals for Boys' World, Eagle, Girls' World, Smash! and others. And yes, I did finally have to give in to the dominance of the comics, writing scripts for all the titles mentioned.

This early career path was quickly strewn with closures and amalgamations, both of individual publications and whole publishing companies. Could the race run for as long as needed? That question was one of several in mind when my wife and I decided, while holidaying in Ireland and contemplating the Odhams breakup, to sell up a recently purchased and heavily mortgaged house to emigrate to a possibly more secure future. In 1967 we spent my freelance writing earnings on a couple of air tickets to New Zealand. Here, I started afresh, in newspapers and general magazines. We were able to buy a better home and raise a family of three children in pleasant surroundings. Fiction went mostly on the back burner, though for a while I did freelance for the US company Charlton Comics.

Eventually I was able to retire from newspapers which, like comics before them, now face their own publishing crises around the world. Today I am a grandfather of five, and the author, as Chap O'Keefe, of 25 western novels. You can find them listed at Amazon and some are available as e-books you can read on a Kindle or your computer. Free excerpts are also athttp://chapokeefe.webs.com/bhemch/

But let's not stray into what Alf Tupper might call the "swank and wind"! Back to the lad himself ... I could scan for you a few Tough of the Track instalments from The Rover, to give a taste of the original text stories. Better than that, why not three complete stories that appeared in The Rover Book for Boys? Undated, these wonderful annuals were published in late 1955, '56, and '57.

Keith Chapman

NZ


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