A Comics Genius
A man who lived in Royal Leamington Spa from 1945 to 1958 at 18 Milverton Terrace was probably the most prolific fiction writer of his time. He was Gilbert Lawford Dalton. He wrote several books but deserves greatest recognition for the stories in comics which he penned for many years for the leading publisher, D C Thomson of Dundee.
Gilbert was born in Kidderminster in 1903 or 1904 (sources differ) and was the son of a journalist. His first job after school was with the Coventry Evening Telegraph but he soon started writing serial stories for comics called Adventure, The Rover, The Skipper, The Wizard, The Hornet, The Hotspur and others. He was so successful that he wrote fiction full-time and gave up journalism.
In the 1940s, 1950s or 1960s many of us (mostly males) wanted to be Desperate Dan or Braddock VC or Billy Dane (with his magic boots) or Tough Of The Track, Alf Tupper. Or Roy Of The Rovers, or Dan Dare, or William Wilson The Wonder Athlete, or The Cannonball Kidd, or Baldy Hogan, or Limpalong Leslie or even Lord Snooty.
It seems that we were living in the Golden Age of British Comics. The style of comics in those days was mostly words with fewer pictures than later. And someone had to write all those words. By far the most prolific writer of them was Gilbert Dalton who used the pen names W S K Webb and Victor Norton. He also wrote Red Circle school stories.
Apparently Dalton averaged over a million words a year which is the equivalent of a dozen novels. It is said that he wrote his weekly 5,000 words about (Wonderful) Wilson in the morning and then two more feature articles before tea. In less than two months in 1949, Dalton scribed 316,000 words of serial fiction, an 80,000-word novel, and three episodes of a radio serial whilst sitting in his home in Leamington Spa.
William Wilson. Many of the stories and characters in the comics were the creation of an extraordinary imagination. William Wilson “the Wonder Athlete” is a fine example. He claimed to be born on 1 November 1795 in the (fictitious) village of Stayling in Yorkshire, although documents suggest that he was alive in 1774! His father died in his middle years, leaving him £5,000. He studied medicine in a number of countries and wanted to live to a ripe old age. He adopted a fitness regime and was able to slow his heart down using a formula from a hermit who would live to over 200.
Wilson spent whole winters in the open to strengthen his will power and toughen his body. He became a Squadron Leader and was awarded D.S.O., D.F.C. and bar and he scored 25 victories to his name. He was shot down during the Second World War and was listed as missing. He performed a number of improbable feats. For example, he was the first man to climb Everest and he captained an England cricket team to win The Ashes in Australia; Wilson clearly exemplified the “stiff upper lip” and British Grit.
After the war Gilbert Dalton continued to write and also authored stories for the radio show Children’s Hour and he delivered radio commentaries on Rugby Union for the BBC. But he continued to write for comics which apparently continued to pay well.
He moved to the south coast in 1958 and died at Weymouth hospital in 1963, aged 59.
Mick Jeffs, August 2015
Sources. With great thanks to several enthusiastic websites which recount the history of comics. We also recognise the illustrators who created the images in the comics.