New book sheds light on Hartlepool Andy Capp creator Reg Smythe

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Cartoon strip character Andy Capp is the lovable rogue known to millions of fans all over the world.

Now a new insight into his Hartlepool-born creator Reg Smythe has hit the shelves with the publication of a new book.

My Dancing Bear book cover

My Dancing Bear book cover

My Dancing Bear: The Story of Reg Smythe, written by Reg’s niece and former journalist Hélène de Klerk gives an insight into the man behind the cartoon from his impoverished childhood to relationships and fame.

Hélène reckons she grew up in Hartlepool with Andy and his long-suffering wife Flo.

She said: “There were certainly men who looked and acted like Andy Capp and no shortage of women like Florrie, including my grandmother.

“As a family we were enormously proud of Reg, but that only hit home when I moved to London and saw how famous he then was.”

There were certainly men who looked and acted like Andy Capp and no shortage of women like Florrie, including my grandmother

Hélène, a counsellor and psychotherapist who lives in North Yorkshire, first considered writing the book, part biography part memoir, after Reg died in 1998. She added: “As his niece I am biased I know, but along with others consider him one of the major cartoonists of the 20th Century.

“It was only when I was collating his huge personal collection of cartoons and other memorabilia that I realised how much of his early material there was, including pre-Andy cartoons from when he was a jobbing cartoonist and those drawn during his time in the Northumberland Fusiliers.

“My aunt died in May this year which gave me further access to material and I guess the short answer is, I wanted to do him and his talent justice.

“And although there have been other biographies I felt I could offer a more personal perspective, often using his own words, to show his influences and illustrate how his drawing style developed.”

Reg Smythe at his drawing desk

Reg Smythe at his drawing desk

Andy – still printed in the Hartlepool Mail and The Mirror – struck a chord with millions of readers for Reg’s funny depiction of working class life.

He was the first British cartoonist to break into the American market.

Fergus McKenna, head of licensing and syndication for Trinity Mirror, said: “His legacy in creating one of the most successful strips of all time speaks for itself, but it is worth taking a moment to consider just what a stunning achievement this is.”

•My Dancing Bear, priced £12.99, is available through Amazon or direct from publishers

Reg Smythe's niece Helen De Klerk

Reg Smythe's niece Helen De Klerk

•The first Andy Capp cartoon was printed in The Daily Mirror on August 5, 1957;

•At the height of his fame he was syndicated to over 1,800 papers worldwide, translated into 14 languages and spawned a West End musical;

•Actor James Bolam played Andy in a 1988 ITV series. Paula Tilbrook, best known as Emmerdale’s Betty Eagleton, played his wife Flo;

•Fans of German football team FC Nuremberg have adopted Andy as their unofficial mascot;

•Andy Capp has been referenced several times in The Simpsons.