Remembering Reg Smythe – the man who brought us Andy Capp

The Andy Capp statue next to the Harbour of Refuge pub in Croft Terrace, Hartlepool. Photo courtesy of Stan Laundon.
The Andy Capp statue next to the Harbour of Refuge pub in Croft Terrace, Hartlepool. Photo courtesy of Stan Laundon.

Being shuttled between Hartlepool and Sunderland by feuding parents was hardly a fairytale start in life for young Reg Smythe.

But that rough-and-ready upbringing spawned a happy ending – in the form of the enduringly-popular cartoon character Andy Capp.

An Andy Capp cartoon from The Mirror in around 1971, when Flo was starting to get the upper hand over layabout Andy.

An Andy Capp cartoon from The Mirror in around 1971, when Flo was starting to get the upper hand over layabout Andy.

“Despite his humble childhood, Reg became one of the most influential cartoonists of his generation,” said his cousin, Ian Smyth Herdman.

It was in 1916 that Reg’s parents, shipwright Richard Smyth and factory worker Florrie Pearce first met in Hartlepool.

Romance soon blossomed, and a Christmas wedding was held.

Reg’s birth in July the following year was cause for great celebration.

“However, the happy times and marital stability gradually deteriorated into a mire of hard times and upheaval,” said Ian.

Exhausted by backbreaking and monotonous shipyard shifts, Richard started dropping into the pub on his way home. What little money the family had was squandered on drink, despite Florrie waiting at the pub entrance to drag him home.

“She would stand outside with baby Reg swaddled in a blanket,” said Ian. “As Richard left the pub, Florrie would shout abuse.

“Florrie was always happy to admit that Flo, the character of Andy’s strong-minded but long-suffering wife, was based on her.

“But Andy wasn’t based on Richard. Yes, he smoked and drank, but Reg always said Andy was based on a stereotype of all the men he knew.”

When Richard was laid off after the war, life became even harder. The family regularly had to hide from the rentman.

But following the birth of their daughter Lily in 1919, Richard finally managed to find a job at a Sunderland shipyard.

Constant arguments raged between the couple, however, and Reg’s education was left in tatters as he was shuttled between Sunderland and Hartlepool.

“He ended up as a butcher’s boy at 14, then joined the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers in 1936 and saw action in the war as a machine-gunner,” said Ian.

“It was during this time that he started drawing cartoons. He was often asked by friends to sketch a character on their letters home.”

Reg joined theGeneral Post Office in London after demob, later producing cartoons for the Mail.

In 1954, The Mirror offered him a permanent job, and Andy was born in 1957.

“He decided to name him Andy Capp, a pun for a man who could do nothing for himself, a man who was a real handicap to his wife,” said Ian.

“Reg drew Andy right until his death in 1998. The cartoons are his legacy both to his family and to everyone who enjoyed reading them.”