James (Jimmy) Charles Bancks

Born Enmore, New South Wales 1889
Died Sydney, New South Wales 1952

By Lindsay Foyle

On October 9, 1921, The Sunday Sun in Sydney introduced a children’s section edited by the author Ethel Turner. Called Sunbeams it contained a collection of stories, poetry, drawings and letters. Much to Turner’s surprise a four-page comic section was added a month later, aimed at the adult readership of the paper. Turner was angered to say the least and tried to have the comics removed. She did not succeed, but she did get them modified so as not to offend little children or even their parents.

The idea for The Sunday Sun’s comics had come from Monty Grover, a former editor of the paper. He was fascinated with comics. He would read them travelling home on the Bondi tram. His favourite two came from America and were The Katzenjammer Kids and The Captain and the Kids. He was convinced an Australian version of these comics would work here. He wrote a script for a comic and asked a number of artists to draw it. The concept featured a small girl, Gladsome Gladys who would accompany a gang of boys on adventures and extricate them from the various predicaments they got themselves into.

The drawings Grover chose to publish were by Jimmy Bancks; an artist who was working for The Bulletin and drawing freelance cartoons for The Sun. Just why his drawings were chosen is hard to understand. The lines were thin and amateurish and far from the professional looking drawings that were in the other comics in the section. While Bancks never shied away from the story about how the comic started, he also never named the other artists who had also been asked to illustrate Grover’s script. The comic was called Us Fellers and was one of the comics introduced to the Sunbeams section on November 13, 1921.

The following week Us Fellers was gone, replaced by another comic - In the Day’s Work - also drawn by Bancks. Us Fellers returned on November 27 and continued to alternate with other comics for several months. Because Grover was moving to Melbourne - to launch The Sun News-Pictorial - he was unable to continue with the scripts. Bancks took on the writing as well as the drawing of the comic. He quickly became disenchanted with Gladys. Ginger Smith, originally a minor character in the first episode was elevated to the lead. By April 1922 he had become Ginger Meggs and his mother had made an appearance. Gladys had completely disappeared by March and Minnie Peters had appeared and Us Fellers had moved to the front page of Sunbeams and had become a weekly feature. All the changes Bancks had introduced found favour with the readers and Ginger Meggs soon became the most popular boy in Sydney.

Intentionally or unintentionally Meggs was the realization of everything our national image needed to be. He was Australian. Not a namby-pamby in pantaloons and frilled shirt as some English comic characters were. There was no trace of imitation American or British about him. He was independent, rebelled against authority, as had our soldiers in the war. He laughed when things did not go his way, which was more often than not and he did not suffer bullies. There was never much money in Meggs’ life but a fair go was more important than greed. The only way he could have been more Australian was to have big feet and a long tail or live in a tree and eat gum leaves. There was not much he was missing from Henry Lawson’s Joe Wilson, Banjo Paterson’s the Man from Snowy River or C J Dennis’ Sentimental Bloke mould and he was only ten.

Bancks was 33 years old when he started drawing Us Fellers and still living with his mother and father in their home in West Street, North Sydney. For Us Fellers, he was drawing on his background in the northern Sydney suburb of Hornsby for inspiration. The things Ginger did were the same type of adventures he had been involved in as a boy. Hornsby was a small boy's paradise. Jim lived there among the trees and the creeks and the paddocks; the swimming holes with orchards to be robbed. Jim was a wild kid and the boy who would become Ginger Meggs.

When Grover offered Bancks a job in Melbourne to work on a new newspaper called The Sun News-Pictorial, he was reluctant to go. It would mean he would have to resign from The Bulletin, where he had a good job, take on a new job in a new city; and he would have to leave his family behind in North Sydney. This would add considerable financial pressure on them and his weekly pay packet made up much of the weekly family income. He thought about the benefits and the disadvantages and was having trouble deciding what to do, until his sister Margaret offered to go with him. It was only then he accepted the offer. She was to keep him company while looking after their home in Melbourne.

In September 1922 - the same month Henry Lawson died - The Sun News-Pictorial was launched in Melbourne. Grover was the editor and The Age was the competition. Bancks was there in Melbourne working on the paper, however he was still drawing Us Fellers for The Sunday Sun back in Sydney. In October Us Fellers started in the Melbourne paper too, and was soon being published in newspapers all over Australia.

In April 1923 Grover launched a second newspaper, The Evening Sun in Melbourne to compete with The Argus and The Herald. At the time Bancks was living at Eden Mansions in Dalgety Street, St. Kilda while working from a studio over Queens Walk on the site of the Civic Square in Swanson Street. He was drawing political cartoons and in August he also started to draw a new comic The Blimps that ran three days a week in The Evening Sun. It carried a credit line “The Blimps - By Bancks, Creator of Ginger Meggs” just in case anyone did not notice the connection. After six months it became Australia’s first daily comic. Us Fellers was just over two years old and Ginger Meggs and was well on his way to becoming nationally known when the theatrical producers J C Williamson included a song about Ginger in their 1923 pantomime “The Forty Thieves”.

James (Jimmy) Charles Bancks was born in Enmore on 26 May 1889 the second of five children. His parents John Spencer Bancks and Maggie Beston married in Sydney in 1886. The family moved around and when Jimmy was three, lived in Newtown, two years later in Redfern. John Bancks worked for the railway as a cleaner on seven shillings a day. In 1898 he was transferred to Hornsby. Bancks was 11 when the family moved into a house at Hornsby in 1900, which he later described as a “shack beside the railway line.” It had railway lines on two sides as it sat in the fork where the North Shore Line met the main Northern Line a little south of Hornsby station.

Hornsby was at the northern end of Sydney and was a mixture of suburbia and farming. While living there Bancks was encouraged to take up drawing by Mrs Patterson, the wife of the Kuring-gai Chase Trust ranger who coincidently had a daughter named Gladys - the same name Monty Grover gave the heroin in the original Us Fellers. Early last century Hornsby had a varied population, which included a number of well-known artists.

There are a number of competing claims about which schools Bancks attended in the Hornsby area including Waitara Convent School, Hornsby Public and Normanhurst Public; wherever it was he failed to cover himself in scholastic glory and left school at fourteen. He found work doing a number of jobs including office boy, clerk and lift driver. He was also playing cricket and rugby union in local district teams. By the time he was eighteen he was becoming more aware of his drawing talents and started taking lessons at night at the Art Society.

The Bancks family stayed in Hornsby for 9 years before moving to George Street, Redfern after John Bancks had been transferred back to Sydney in 1909. The following year the weatherboard house that had been their home in Hornsby was relocated a few streets away, to make way for a bridge that was built across the railway line near where the house had stood.

In 1911 - the same year New Zealand cartoonist David Low arrived in Australia to work on The Bulletin - Bancks had some successes selling cartoons to The Comic Australian and The Arrow. He said, “I cannot believe anybody had more early drawings rejected than I. The routine for a long time never varied. I would post my drawings, enclosing a stamp for return, on each Wednesday, and on each Monday, I would come home to find them awaiting me on the mantelpiece. Once in a while the package would not be there on Monday and my hopes would rise, only to be dashed on Tuesday.” But he did get a few cartoons published as well as some theatrical caricatures in The Bulletin.

Jimmy’s father was only earning eight shilling and six pence a day when he retired with defective hearing on August 20, 1913. Soon after the family moved again, this time to West Street, North Sydney.

Bancks was twenty-eight when he approached The Bulletin about a full-time job, and was probably pleasantly surprised when they put him on at £8 a week. It was good money, the basic wage in 1917 was only £3 and senior journalists were getting £8. Despite getting good money Bancks continued to freelance and was a regular in the offices of The Sun and Sunday Sun even after starting to work at The Bulletin. He even started his own correspondence art school in 1921, ‘J. C Bancks School of Sketching’, offering to teach students how to do original drawings and earn money selling them to newspapers. There were a number of other similar correspondence schools being run in Sydney at that time. One lasted till the 1950s, but it seems the Bancks School of Sketching did not survive for very long.

While Bancks’ heart remained in Sydney he found living in Melbourne pleasant, even though he was working harder than he ever had before. He still produced Us Fellers every week as well as drawing cartoons for The Sun News-Pictorial and The Evening Sun. He might have breathed a sigh of relief when The Evening Sun closed in April 1924 after only being published for a little over a year. There were other changes too; The Sun News-Pictorial was sold to The Herald and Weekly Times where Keith Murdoch was running The Herald. In 1921 Murdoch had been working in London for The Sun in Sydney and The Herald in Melbourne when he accepted an offer from Theodore Fink to return home to edit The Herald at £2000 a year. He revitalized the paper and was quickly elevated to the position of editor-in-chief. He had also overseen the take-over of Melbourne Punch in 1924 by the Herald and Weekly Times group. Melbourne Punch had been established in 1856 but by 1924 was struggling. After the take-over there was an effort put into re-establish it with a new editor, John (Bede) Dalley who had been enticed away from The Bulletin, and Will Dyson - considered one of the best cartoonists in the world – who was working in London, accepted an offer of £2000 a year to work on the weekly. That was very good money and matched what Murdoch had accepted to edit The Herald just a few years before.

When Dyson arrived in Melbourne on March 16, 1925 he was broke and ready to start his new five-year contract. He had not recovered from the emotional stress of the Great War and the loss of his wife Ruby Lindsay in 1919 or the falling out with editors in London who he thought did not understand cartooning. He soon found his new editors in Melbourne were just as hard to please as those he left behind in London. However, he did find solace with Bancks and the two established a good friendship. Both contributed to Melbourne Punch, as did many other cartoonists including Unk White, Joe Lynch, Hugh McCrae and Percy Leason.

The closure of The Evening Sun also ended The Blimps. Soon after Murdoch suggested to Bancks he start a comic called Mr Melbourne Day by Day for The Sun News-Pictorial. Hal Gye always claimed Mr Melbourne was a copy of a comic he had drawn when working as a cartoonist on The News in Adelaide soon after the paper started in 1923. Murdoch had a very keen interest in Adelaide. The Herald group was buying into The Advertiser and Murdoch was personally buying into News Limited, which published The News. Eventually Murdoch took control of The News and News Limited. It is possible that Murdoch brought Gye’s comic to Bancks’s attention and aided him in the creation of Mr Melbourne Day by Day. Murdoch was keen for Bancks to stay in Melbourne but after approximately 4 years he returned to Sydney to concentrate on Us Fellers. Mr Melbourne was then taken over by Len Reynolds who continued it until he died in 1939. It was then taken over by Harry Mitchell and continued for many years.

Dyson, at his best would have been perfect for Punch in Melbourne. But in Melbourne he was never at his best. He wanted to be back in London, where he considered the important things were happening. Melbourne was at the other end of the World where Dyson thought nothing much was happening. Melbourne Punch was not at its best either, and despite Murdoch’s wish to revive it, it did not survive. In 1925 it was merged into Table Talk. Dyson was moved onto Table Talk, where his style of cartooning was totally out of place. It was a magazine, which specialized in covering parties, picnics, engagements and weddings. It is hard to imagine the readers of this magazine being interested in anything Dyson wanted to cartoon on. But Dyson was not solely working on Table Talk. He made some contributions to The Herald where Sam Wells had become the main editorial cartoonists.

For a time in 1926 Dyson drew a satirical comic Literary Reflections that ran on Saturdays but never found favour. While Dyson continued with his friendship with Keith Murdoch - which had flourished when there were both at the front in the Great War - he did have trouble in adjusting to Murdoch’s position of authority as editor-in-chief of The Herald.

When Murdoch married Elisabeth Green in 1928 he gave her a 90-acre farm 30-miles south east of Melbourne. Originally it was called Home Farm but was renamed Cruden Farm by Murdoch after Cruden Bay on the west coast of Scotland where his father had come from. Murdoch was 43 and his wife 19 when they married and while Murdoch kept a substantial house in South Yarra near where Dyson also lived, it was Cruden Farm that was the family home. To help the newlyweds celebrate their first Christmas at Cruden Farm they invited Dyson and Bancks to spend it with them. It was not unusual to see Dyson and Bancks together and they often attended the same social gatherings, even after Bancks had moved back to Sydney.

Once Us Fellers became popular it did not take long before Meggs competitors to start appearing in the other newspapers being published in Sydney. The most successful Meggs competitor was Fatty Finn drawn by Syd Nicholls. In the early 1920s he was working on The Evening News, an old well-established Sydney newspaper. It started in 1867 as the first penny paper in New South Wales and for some years had been edited by Banjo Paterson. In 1922 Errol Knox left Smith’s Weekly, to take up the appointment of managing editor and he was intent on revitalising the paper and ridding it of its nickname of the Evening Snooze. He knew what he was doing and doubled the circulation in less than a year. It was the same newspaper that Lionel Lindsay had been drawing political cartoons for since 1903. It was a big year for Lionel he had also married Will Dyson’s sister Jane (known as Jean) Dyson.

Knox had not been at The Evening News long when he hired Syd Nicholls to be head artist. He had been working around Sydney for some years and was very well known, and some people thought him to be famous. It was something he denied saying, “You are never famous until you are dead.” When Nicholls started at The Sunday News it was running an American syndicated strip called the Clancy Kids. It was drawn by Percy Crosby, and had been renamed the Australian Clancy Kids to try and make it look local. It did not work and the comic soon disappeared. Nicholls drew a comic for the paper called Doug but it did not last long either. Then Knox asked Nicholls to draw a Ginger Meggs competitor. The result was Fat and his Friends and it was first published in The Sunday News on September 16, 1923. But Fat had few friends, as he was a nasty fat schoolboy who looked like Billy Bunter the English schoolboy. Not a good start for an Australian comic.

However, Nicholls relaunch of his comic. It had never found favour and he had become disenchanted with it. He concluded the only way to save the comic was a complete remake; and he re-launched the comic on August 10, 1924. He even changed the name of the comic to Fatty Finn. Fat changed too, he evolved from an English schoolboy look-a-like into a boy scout look-a-like. Fatty acquired a dog, called Pal and a goat, called Hector. Fatty took on a strong resemblance to the American cartoon figure of Skippy, which was drawn by Percy Crosby. Skippy was first published in America in March 1923 and it was Crosby’s follow up comic to the Clancy Kids. Jimmy Russell, who knew Nicholls in the 1920s, said Nicholls was quite open in admitting the Skippy comic influenced him. But others who also knew Nicholls well said he never spoke of Skippy. Whatever the case may have been Fatty Finn did look a lot like Skippy.

To capitalize on Ginger Megg’s popularity in 1924 Sun Newspapers decided to publish a collection of the best comics in an annual. It surpassed all expectations and became an annual event and over the next ten years almost two million copies were sold. They continued for thirty-five years with the last being published in 1959. There was a Meggs film too, Those Terrible Twins, for which Ginger acquired a sister and it screened to packed houses in 1925. Ginger’s sister disappeared as quickly as she appeared and never featured in print.

By 1929 Us Fellers was being syndicated to New Zealand and eighteen newspapers in North America, and Bancks had become Australia’s highest paid artist. Some people were saying he “was getting more that the Governor.”

By 1930 the depression was starting to hurt and unemployment had swelled to 85,000, about a quarter of the working population. Sydney became a city of soup queues and beggars. However, Bancks was feeling comfortable. Frank Packer had financed Eric Porter - who was working for Ken Hall - to produce an eight-minute animated film of Ginger Meggs. When completed it was shown privately but nobody knew what to do with it after it was shown and it was lost. Bancks was also having some success in selling Ginger Meggs to newspapers overseas. The LA Presse, a French language newspaper in Montreal, Canada started running Us Fellers as Pierrot in 1930. The French experiment only lasted 73 issues before it was discontinued, one of the few setbacks Bancks had with Ginger Meggs.

Despite the chaos the depression was bringing to much of the world, everything was going well for Bancks. So, well he decided to take a year off and travelled to England leaving behind enough Us Fellers strips to run while he was away. He had always had a love of cricket and wanted to watch the Australian cricket team on the 1930 tour. With him was Arthur Mailey who was covering the cricket for The Sun. Mailey was a quiet man and well known as an artist cartooning for Australian and British newspapers. He was also writing on cricket.

Mailey was a year older than Bancks having been born in 1888 in the southern Sydney suburb of Waterloo (just a few blocks from where Bancks had lived in Redfern) and studied art with J S Watkins. His first published drawing was in The Referee and he later contributed to The Bulletin. Mailey was famous because he had been a test bowler who took 36 wickets in five tests in 1921, and in one game took ten wickets for sixty-six runs. He had also contributed to The Bystander and Allied Newspapers in London. In 1921 he joined the staff of The Sun and was best known for his caricatures of cricketers.

Bancks and Mailey were good friends and travelled with the Australian cricket team and stayed in the same hotels as the team did. Bill Woodfull was the captain and the young Don Bradman - who had scored 452 not out for NSW earlier that year - was making his first tour of England. It became the first Australian team to regain the Ashes in England and Bradman scored 974 runs at an average of 139.14. The English were not amused.

When Bancks returned to Sydney he married Jessie Tait, whose family was involved in the Sydney theatrical world.

However, the newspaper industry was being affected by the Depression and a number of papers disappeared. Early in 1931 The Daily Guardian was merged with The Daily Telegraph News Pictorial to create The Daily Telegraph. The Sunday Pictorial was closed on February 15 and The Evening News on March 21. After selling his shares in Smith’s Weekly to Smith, Robert Packer left in September to work at Associated Newspapers as managing editor with control of editing, production and distribution of all Associated’s publications. What drove him to make the move was the declining value of the shares he received from the sale of The Daily Guardian and Sunday Guardian in 1929. The value of a £1 share had declined by more than half to nine shillings, and Packer had 200,000 of them. Soon after Packer disappeared from Smith’s Weekly McKay reappeared. Frank Packer decided to put his foot down and said Smith’s Weekly was not big enough for him and McKay. He was more than a little surprised when Smith agreed with him. Packer was paid off and sent on his way.

By 1930 Fatty Finn had become recognised as possibly the best-drawn comic in Australia and was vying with Us Fellers as the most popular comic being published in Sydney. Nicholls was also as well known in Sydney as Bancks, who had become a popular after dinner speaker. Following the merger of The Sunday Guardian and The Sunday News, Nicholls ended up sharing a studio with Jim Russell who had been the political cartoonist for The Evening News. It was a job he had held since 1928 when he became Australia’s youngest political cartoonist at the age of 19. While Russell had been considered to be young to be a political cartoonist he was hardly an outsider to the subject. He had grown up in a house where politics was discussed all the time and his mother, Catherine Green was a Labor member of the New South Wales Legislative Council from 1931 to 1932.

Russell said in an interview in 1996 that not long after he and Nicholls moved in together he overheard a phone conversation between Bancks and Nicholls. Bancks had rung to complain about Fatty Finn using the word “beaut”. He claimed his character, Ginger Meggs had used the word first and therefore Fatty Finn should not. Nicholls disagreed. It was a silly squabble neither could win. The word was in common use and nobody had any control over who could or could not use it. As a result of the squabble the two rarely spoke to each other again. What Nicholls thought of Bancks is hard to establish. He avoided mentioning his name in conversation, and when he did he did not say much. It was the same for Bancks who rarely spoke to or of Nicholls.

In 1931 the merger of The Sunday Sun with The Sunday Guardian brought Us Fellers and Fatty Finn into direct competition as both were now in the one newspaper. Banks had a contract specifying Us Fellers would occupy the full front page of the comic section, so the merger had no direct effect on Ginger. On the other hand, Fatty Finn had to be reduced from filling a full page to only filling half a page.

The depression was really biting and there were many artists and journalists who had lost their jobs with the mergers and closures of the newspapers. As well most of those still working were forced to accept substantial reductions in pay. Campbell-Jones, managing director of Associated Newspapers did not like William Pidgeon’s drawing style and sacked him. If Campbell-Jones had use of a crystal ball he might have thought twice about sacking Pidgeon, as his drawing style developed he became one of the most influential newspaper artists in Australia. Drawing with a brush his loose style influenced many artists who started their careers in the 1940s. Les Tanner who became one of Australia’s best-known cartoonists always acknowledged the debt he owed to William Edwin Pidgeon or WEP, as he had become known.

However, the future of cartoonists’ careers was not given much thought at that time. It was money and politics that was dominating the minds of proprietors and the pages of all the papers.

In August 1934 the Theatre Royal opened with a new play, Blue Mountain Melody with music by Charles Zwar and text by Jimmy Bancks who said, “The story begins in the Blue Mountains then changes to a brief cabaret scene in Darlinghurst; shifts again to Palm Beach and then returns to the Blue Mountains.” Bancks explained the story was about a young painter who turns to boxing to earn money to continue with his painting. While not a biography there was a touch of Bancks in the story. He was an artist and enjoyed watching boxing. It was a reasonable success and after it closed in Sydney moved to Melbourne for a season at His Majesty's theatre.

Theatregoers in Sydney and Melbourne may have found Blue Mountain Melody entertaining but it was the theatre of war that was grabbing the headlines in newspapers all over the world. Italy invaded Abyssinia in 1935 and civil war started in Spain in 1936.

The mid-thirties were in many ways a turning point for many in the newspaper industry. Many journalists, photographers and artists lost their jobs and many others had substantial pay cuts. For Bancks life just seemed to keep getting better and better. Us Fellers was going from strength to strength and he was making more money than he had dreamed possible. Jessie Bancks was also enjoying life, working for Frank Packer as the fashion editor on the Australian Women’s Weekly. Life for Packer was also on the rise. The Australian Women’s Weekly, launched in 1933, it was doing better than anyone had expected and he had more money in his pocket than he had ever had before.

In the 1971 book Sir Frank, by RS Whitington, there’s a story about how Packer and Bancks, “used to play golf together regularly for what Sir Frank called the ‘Championship of East Asia’. For this regular Thursday afternoon competition, a deux, Packer supplied two silver tankards as trophies at a cost of £5 each. At the end of the year, the winner received the tankard of his choice; Bancks did most of the choosing.” Bancks and Packer had a close friendship and enjoyed socialising together. While their friendship was play Packer would regularly say to Bancks he would double his already substantial salary if he ever got tired of working for The Sunday Sun and come and work for him. Bancks would always refuse as he was on good money and he felt a loyalty to The Sunday Sun.

Packer eventually made Bancks an offer he could not refuse. He had married Gretel Joyce Bullmore at the All Saint’s Church, Woollahra on July 24, 1934 and their first son Robert Clyde had been born on July 22, 1935. Packer wanted Bancks to be Godfather. For many years Bancks was a regular visitor to the Packer home and knew both Clyde and his younger brother Kerry Francis Bullmore well. Kerry has been known to boast that Bancks was his Godfather too and that he taught him to draw Ginger Meggs. With a little prompting he was happy to demonstrate.

The editor of The Sunday Sun, Eric Baume claimed in 1935 Bancks had “created a post war character which was to sweep the Commonwealth and New Zealand. Ginger Meggs is the most human character created by any caricaturist in the second and third decades of the century. Not because Ginger is loved by the 280,000 readers of The Sunday Sun is this assertion made, but because the sheer Australian characteristics of the lad have endeared him to readers of newspapers in every part of this country and of New Zealand.”

Not long before, Bancks had received a substantial offer to move to the United States and take Ginger with him. Baume wanted Ginger to stay and made a counter-offer. Baume said Bancks became, “the highest-paid artist or journalist in the southern hemisphere, and other countries, especially the United States of America, will be the poorer” because he was staying here. At the time, about 3,000,000 Australians a week - almost half the population, were reading Us Fellers. But, not everything was going well for Bancks and in 1936 Jessie died giving birth to a daughter who also died.

This personal tragedy happened at a time when Bancks was probably at the peak of his creative talents. He was drawing with a confidence he did not have when he started on Ginger. His line was strong and confident. His pen strokes had a lightness of touch, which gave his drawings added depth. He was also drawing cartoons for Minties in their “Moments like these” newspaper advertisements, so too were other cartoonists working in Australia. There was a sense of fun about Bancks' drawing style that had been missing in the 1920s. This fun showed up in the illustrations Bancks produced for a book of cocktail recipes he drew for Usher’s Hotel, some of which looked very similar to drawings for Us Fellers.

Bancks worked from home and was rarely seen in the newspaper office until his weekly drawing was completed. Once there, a staff of spelling experts had to go through the artwork for mistakes. Baume said he, “once found twelve in one issue”. While Bancks may have had a problem with spelling he knew just what he wanted when it came to the reproduction of his artwork. Theo Batten who worked on The Sun for a time in the thirties remembered the occasions he saw Bancks in the office. Batten said “Bancks was pleasant and jovial until it came to Us Fellers, then he became very particular about the reproduction and the colours that were to be used in the printing. Nothing else mattered other than getting Us Fellers right. Nobody crossed Bancks when it came to Ginger.”

Bancks was just as hard on himself. It was not unusual for him to stop half way through drawing a strip and start again. He was always trying to get the best out of a story and the drawings had to be the best he could manage. His drawing style had continued to evolve and the simple line drawings had started to give way to the use of thick and thin lines. His story telling had also developed. Bancks said, “Ginger is an ordinary little boy. He is not always a hero; he fails at times. He doesn’t always win his fights. If he did people would see that he always came out on top and become tired of him.” There were times when Bancks thought he had drawn a really good strip and hardly heard a mention about it. There were other times he said when he was “almost disgusted to have a particular idea published only to receive shoals of congratulations for it. So, you never can tell.”

Ginger always had a larrikin style but Bancks attributed his popularity to, “character, I never let Ginger forget that. Even if what I thought was a great idea depended on Ginger giving his father cheek or doing something unworthy or mean, then I would abandon the idea.” On another occasion he said, “It seems to me that, much better than producing a character that makes people laugh, is to create one that can win affection. Readers who have affection for a character stay with him over his bad spots and no character can run for a number of years without having his share of these. Lovers of a character forgive him his weak days and remember the times when he did amuse them and feel sure that he will be amusing again.”

Monty Grover named Ginger because there had been red ink available to use on his hair when the comic was originally published. As the comic evolved Bancks had changed much about it, he never considered changing the name Ginger. One thing he did change was his last name, from Smith to Meggs but could never remember why or where it came from. He used a lot of his family as models, which he described as a “living comic strip.” His mother was a large and dominating woman as was Sarah, Ginger’s mother. Bancks said his father was, “good natured and magnificently inefficient” as was Gingers’ dad, John.

John Ryan writing in The Golden Years of Ginger Meggs stated, “Bancks gradually moulded Ginger into the lovable, eternal schoolboy with all the shortcomings inherent in the young. He had an instinctive feeling for his urchin and was able to capture all the warmth, charm, character and innermost feelings of a small Australian boy, almost from the beginning; and it was these traits blended with Bancks’ natural humour that allowed the strip to transcend the rather poor draftsmanship of the early years.”

While Bancks said Ginger was modelled on a boy he had once known - and there were a few boys who could identify with the image - the truth was Bancks was his own model and admitted so privately. Bancks was aware of several people who laid claim to being the model for Ginger and he told his wife Patricia he never saw any reason to take away from them their claim to fame, but he would never endorse their claims either. Bancks said he once watched Don Bradman destroy a women’s belief that her mother had danced with him. He told her in a very blunt fashion that he had never met her and had never been near the place where they had supposedly danced. Bancks thought the denial cruel, as the story meant nothing to Bradman, but was of some importance to the women and her family. Bancks said he never wanted to repeat the incident.

David McNicoll who was friends with Bancks for many years claimed that people who knew Bancks, thought Ginger was the boy Bancks wished he had been. Even his obituary in The Daily Telegraph said, “Bancks and Ginger, the carrot-haired hero of his strip, were so alike in spirit that they seemed merely different facets of the one character.”

Bancks insisted that as a small boy he had been “painfully shy and retiring” and was never the fighter Ginger was. Writing in The Sunday Sun in 1946 Bancks said, “I couldn’t fight. As a matter of fact, I had my only fight when I was a small boy and then I did it to impress a small schoolgirl. It was an unfortunate affair. I must have been blinded by passion or temporarily insane for, although a thin boy myself I challenged a boy twice my own size. He was a very heavy, bovine lad, very sluggish mentally, but very strong and violently active physically. I don’t remember anything of the fight except the actual shaping up, but my best school friend explained later, that I did not lay a hand on my opponent but he got in fifteen or twenty lucky blows before I was carried away and placed under a tap.”

Not everybody saw Ginger in such a glowing light. Melbourne journalist Keith Dunstan when writing about comics in 1986 said, “Ginger Meggs, particularly in the 1930s, had a C J Dennis ‘Sentimental Bloke’ flavour. Ginger wasn’t far removed from Ginger Mick. There were the bullies, the gang warfare, and the fear of the cops. Ginger, of course, was a horrid little boy. He was a thief. He was constantly stealing fruit over neighbours’ fences. He was a basher. Always in fights with other kids around the neighbourhood, including Tiger Kelly. He detested school and loathed work. He nicked out of school and played truant on every possible occasion.” Not an endorsement anyone would want on his or her CV.

In the middle of the 1930s Packer started talking about starting a new evening newspaper to compete against The Sun. It did not take Associated Newspapers long to start negotiating with him to take over The Daily Telegraph a morning newspaper that would keep him away from the lucrative afternoon market.

After much negotiating a new company, Consolidated Press Limited was formed, with Associated Newspapers putting into the new company the empty Evening News building at 168 Castlereagh Street along with The Daily Telegraph. Sydney Newspapers put in some money and The Australian Women’s Weekly. Both Associated Newspapers and Sydney Newspapers had equal representation on the board and Frank Packer took on the role of chairman. The Evening News building had been empty since the paper closed in 1931 and Associated were glade to get it off their hands. They were happy to be rid of The Daily Telegraph too, as it was losing money. Packer was glad to get his hands on both, as the Castlereagh Street building was just what he needed as it had loading dock in Elizabeth Street designed for newspaper publishing. While The Daily Telegraph was losing money, it was still a cheaper option than starting a new newspaper, and there would be savings as he could defray some of the costs with the Women’s Weekly. To help with the production of his new newspaper Packer poached some of the staff from Smith’s Weekly, which added to the difficulties that paper was having. Packer quickly moved into the building and revamped the ailing Daily Telegraph with the first edition under new ownership being published on March 23, 1936 to compete against The Sydney Morning Herald. Packer also published The Australian Women’s Weekly from the building and it eventually evolved from a newspaper into Australia’s biggest selling magazine making massive profits that were the backbone of the Packer fortune. It also kept The Daily Telegraph afloat and gave Packer some political clout, which he was more than happy to use.

In 1938 Bancks married for a second time. His bride on this occasion was Patricia Quinan who, like his first wife was also involved in the theatre industry. To keep things quiet, they travelled to America for the wedding. On the same trip Bancks met up with Arthur J Lafave who was running a syndication agency. Bancks signed a contract on August 9, for Lafave to take over the syndication of Ginger Meggs in America. Lafave was soon pushing Bancks to start a daily version of his comic strip. However, Bancks remembered how much work was involved when he was drawing The Blimps in Melbourne and was not keen to repeat the effort. Lafave was taken by Bancks’ drawings but had two problems with the weekly comic. The first was size. Meggs occupied a full page in The Sunday Sun, a broadsheet newspaper. This was far too big for the American market, which would only give a Sunday comic part of a page. Lafave had Meggs remade to fit the American size while editing out the second problem, Australian slang.

The following year Germany invaded Poland and the Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies told the Australian people in September 1939, “It is my melancholy duty to inform you officially that, in consequence of a persistence by Germany in her invasion of Poland, Great Britain has declared war on her and that, as a result, Australia is now also at war.”

War or no war Frank Packer was not about to let this little inconvenience affect his plans for expanding his empire. He had put a lot of time and money into launching The Sunday Telegraph and the new broadsheet was first published on November 19. He was also unaffected by all the complaints about syndicated comics. The Sunday Telegraph had Australia’s biggest comic section - 16 pages - and all the comics came from the United States. Packer may have considered including Ginger Meggs or Fatty Finn in the comic section but did not for a very practical reason. It was not just the comics in the section that came from America it was the entire comic section that was imported to Australia printed and ready to insert into The Sunday Telegraph. The Australian Journalists’ Association sent letters to the Federal Government complaining. Stan Cross as president of the Black and White Artists’ Club wrote to every Member of Parliament asking for some action to stop the “fast-growing practice of publishing in this country American syndicated press copy and drawings.” For a time, it looked as though the Government was going to take some action. However, as World War Two had started the government’s attention turned from stopping imported comics to stopping Hitler.

To meet the challenge of the Sunday Telegraph and the new comic section the Sunday Sun undertook a revamp. It happened on November 5, 1939 - two weeks before the Sunday Telegraph was first published- and Us Fellers disappeared and reappeared renamed Ginger Meggs. Nothing else about the comic changed. Why would it? Most people called the comic Ginger Meggs and the original name was just a carry-over from Monty Grover’s original script and was about the only thing that remained unchanged since Bancks had taken over.

Frank Packer was only thirty-three when the Second World War started and joined the Army. Bancks was fifty and there was no thought of him signing up. Being in the Army kept Packer away from a number of his social and professional commitments. Not as many as could be expected, according to Ezra Norton the owner of The Truth. There were photos of Packer published in Army uniform attending the races or some other social events, often questioning when Packer was going to stop running his newspaper empire and see active service. Packer was unwilling to give control of his empire to anyone and this led to tension as he tried to fulfil his army obligations. One of the duties Packer did relinquish at the time was that of President of the NSW Amateur Boxing Association. Ten years earlier he had been their Heavyweight Boxing Champion. Bancks took on Packer’s duties and became Acting-President of the NSW Amateur Boxing Association.

Australia’s population was a little over seven million when the Second World War started and 557,799 of them served in the armed forces, 39,429 were killed. Conscription was introduced in 1943 without the inconvenience of a referendum, as had been the case in the First World War. Ginger’s popularity did not wane with around 3 million people reading the comic every week. Soldiers would paint Ginger Meggs images on the sides of tanks, trucks and aircraft. The war made little difference to Gingers existence. His father was not conscripted into armed services. Several times there were posters in the background promoting War Bonds and twice there was direct appeal for the war effort, October 20, 1940 and December 14, 1942. Ginger and his mates shot down a Japanese plane on November 22, 1943 with a skyrocket and General MacArthur appeared on October 14, 1943. Little else changed. Bancks wanted life to go on for Ginger and his mates uninterrupted, and to give everyone a reminder of better times.

There was tension at The Daily Telegraph during the Second World War and it was obvious to everyone. There was conflict with the censors and some news coverage was restricted. When that happened, the paper was printed leaving the space where the affected story had been blank. Staffing was always an issue and there was a shortage of newsprint that added to the problems of publishing newspapers. In November 1942 Packer took the big step of converting his broadsheet newspapers to tabloid to save on paper.

Prime Minister, John Curtin appeared to be untroubled by the problems with The Daily Telegraph however he was obviously aware of some of the things that were being printed in newspapers. Especially the comics and he claimed, “Ginger Meggs is Australia's Peter Pan. Most of us can recognize in him our own youth, but unlike him, we had to grow up. Good luck to Ginger and all Australian youth.” At the end of the war Dame Mary Gilmore suggested that, “Australia is still young and daring enough to be Ginger at the peace table - will Dr. Evatt please take note!” Gilmore had a great affection for Ginger Meggs; in 1942 to celebrate his 21st birthday, had written a poem for him.

“Battered, beaten, troubled, sore.
Ginger Meggs gets up for more.
“Where’s the paper?” Boy or man.
Eagerly his doings scan.
Boy or man? And woman too.
Ginger laddie, here’s to you!”

The War in Europe ended on May 7, 1944 and, on August 15, 1945 the Japanese surrendered. It was not long before Australian soldiers were returning home with an independent spirit and a larrikin attitude. The war had brought Federal control of taxation and banking. The non-Labor political parties saw this as a threat of socialism. But in reality, it was creeping bureaucracy, it grew threefold between 1939 and 1951. The Cold War started and everything drifted back to what people saw as normal.

Things were going well for Bancks in his personal life too. He and Patricia had adopted a daughter, Sheena in 1944 and Frank Packer was called upon to do the duties of God Father. As soon as they could after the war ended Jimmy and Pat Bancks were off on another trip to the US, visiting the agent Arthur J Lafave in his home in Cleveland in 1946. At the time Jimmy and Dan Russell, both newspaper artists, were in America too. Jimmy Russell was keen on having Lafave take on the syndication of Mr and Mrs Pott. Bancks made the introductions and soon Mr and Mrs Pott was running in about 40 papers across the United States. But Lafave was not all that interested in Mr and Mrs Pott believing the comic to have limited appeal. Regardless of that, it was something he could conveniently try to sell when visiting newspapers selling Ginger Meggs. What he really wanted was a daily Ginger Meggs. Bancks was still not interested in doing the work.

Lafave pointed out many Americans felt an affinity towards Australia. In part because of contacts that had been built up during the Second World War and there was the “frontier” parallels between America and Australia. He was also aware of the gap in newspapers left by the disappearance of Skippy, which has stopped being syndicated in December 1945. He thought all this would help in establishing Ginger Meggs in newspapers across America.

Lafave urged Dan Russell to take on the drawing of the daily with Bancks writing the scripts. From time to time Dan did draw Ginger - for books and some advertising projects. He even said in 1995, “on one occasion I drew the comic for two weeks when Bancks was unable to do it”. But realizing what a taskmaster Bancks was and the demands of the Americans he turned the job down. He thought he, “could satisfy Bancks with the drawings and I could satisfy the Americans with their needs, especially with the editing out of the more obscure Australian slang. But I did not think I could satisfy both at once and keep up with the daily deadlines.” Jim Russell was never considered, as he was well positioned at Smith’s Weekly and busy with Mr and Mrs Pott.

By this time Bancks had become interested in the daily comic and when he got back to Sydney asked several cartoonists if they would do the drawings. Stan Clements was one of those who turned him down. “I did not want to lose my identity,” he explained. Hearing Bancks was looking for someone to draw Meggs, Syd Nicholls approached him. Bancks turned him down. There may have been a little self-preservation going on. Bancks was very much aware that Nicholls was a far better artist than he was. If Nicholls started drawing the daily version of Ginger Meggs it would soon become very obvious it was better looking than the Sunday version. Then there would be pressure to lift the standard of the Sunday comic. The only way this could have been achieved would be to let Nicholls take on all the drawing while Bancks concentrated on the scripts. With the history of rivalry between Fatty Finn and Ginger Meggs, Bancks simply said he thought the two could never develop a good working relationship. It was probably a reasonable assessment of the situation.

The daily strip did not happen but the weekly strips continued to be syndicated. Ginger Meggs was being read in newspapers in London, Boston, Dallas, New York and St. Louis. As well it was being translated into French and Spanish to be read in France and in South America. Bancks said, “It has been a special pleasure to see him (Ginger) published in London and New York and other cities, and to see him printed in a foreign language.”

Bancks’ drawing style had continued to evolve and by the late 1940s looked nothing like it had twenty years before. Gone was the blunt ugly style, replaced by a thick and thin line that owed nothing to other comics and made every drawing in a Ginger Meggs comic instantly recognizable. Things were going well for Bancks and he was starting to make an impression in New York and the NBC network serialized an episode of Ginger on the radio in 1948. The Americans understood how important comics were to the circulation of newspapers. A survey conducted at that time by the American Newspaper Publishers’ Association showed 83 per cent of men and 79 per cent of women read them. Only 43 per cent of men and 27 per cent of women read the editorials. It was a common belief among the Americans at that time that next to the news comics were the most important selling factor for newspapers. The attention from the Americans made Associated Newspapers, publishers of The Sunday Sun think long and hard about the asset they had in Ginger Meggs. Bancks was offered and signed a new ten-year contract in 1949. He was to work exclusively for The Sunday Sun drawing Ginger Meggs and receiving £80 a week. The top award rate for journalist in 1950 was £23 and five shillings.

In what many said was a strange move the editor of The Sunday Sun, Lindsay Clinch, moved Ginger Meggs from the front page of the comic section to an inside page on January 1951. He replacing Meggs with a new adventure strip called Snowy McGann saying he was forced to do this because of new printing arrangements and wanted to keep Meggs on a colour page.

Tom Gurr the editor-in-chief of Associated Newspapers was the person who was really responsible for the move. Gurr had a long history with The Sunday Sun and had no love for Ginger Meggs. People who knew him said he would say Bancks was being paid too much and could be replaced at a much-reduced cost. Gurr was convinced he knew how and asked Hottie Lahm, the art director at Associated Newspapers to draw Snowy McGann while he wrote the scripts.

Bancks, who had always been very protective of Ginger Meggs, pointed out that his contract specified Meggs would run on the front page of the comic section. He was then told it was on the front page because the section heading Sunday Sun Comics was on the same page as Meggs. This was true but Meggs and the section heading were on the inside on a page numbered 9 and McGann on the cover of the section on a page numbered 1.

Bancks argued against the move for four weeks without making headway and eventually took his complaints to the chief executive of Associated Newspapers, Eric Kennedy. The best Bancks could get out of him was a promise to “get the advertising department to look into the matter to see if something could be done.” But nothing was. Why would it? Advertising had nothing to do with what page various comics were placed on.

When Bancks was convinced Meggs was not going to be moved back onto the front page, he informed Kennedy on February 26, 1951 that Associated Newspapers had broken their contract with him and he intended to sign a new contract with Frank Packer for Ginger Meggs to run in The Sunday Telegraph. Packer was not an innocent bystander he knew what was going on and had contacted Bancks and offered to double his already considerable salary.

This caused an instant rethink at Associated Newspapers and on March 7, 1951 they sought an injunction to force Bancks to remain with The Sunday Sun. The following week Meggs was back on the front page of the Sunday Sun comic section and in colour. The very thing Bancks had been told could not be done. The matter went before the Chief Judge in Equity Mr Justice Roper on April 3, 1951. Ignoring the fact, they had repositioned Ginger Meggs, Associated Newspapers argued that because the page on which Ginger Meggs had been appearing carried the section logo it was the front page of the section, even though in reality it was page 9. They went further and suggested that readers could reverse-fold the comics and in doing so restore Ginger Meggs to the front page.

These arguments carried no weight with Roper, who agreed with Bancks that the contract he had with Associated Newspapers had been broken. In his judgment on April 4, Roper said, “There were indications The Sun acted as though it felt it had a right to do what it had.” He went on to say where there was a conflict of evidence he thought Bancks was the more likely to have an accurate recollection of what had been said.

Associated Newspapers immediately appealed to the High Court but the appeal was lost. When the decision was handed down Bancks was in New York so he could appear on a television show. The show was called ‘Dinner at the Stork Club’ and was very popular in America at the time. It was an interview style show and Bancks was there to help raise money for the United Cerebral Palsy Association. While drawing a picture of Ginger he explained to the American audience about similar charitable work that was being done in Australia by the Mosman Spastic Centre.

Ginger Meggs moved to The Sunday Telegraph on June 3, 1951 and Bancks, according to Ken Hall, an old friend, was to be paid “£10,000 a year - when, as the boys say, a quid really WAS a quid.” There was a front-page promotion for Ginger with a drawing of him asking, “How do you like me, kids, in my new, brilliantly coloured Sunday Telegraph clobber?”

Ginger did not appear on the front page of The Sunday Telegraph comic section that week, but as a double page centre spread. Bancks, for the first time drew himself into the comic reassuring the Meggs family, and the readers that life would go on as before in the new paper. As well as Ginger moving, 80,000 readers moved from The Sunday Sun to The Sunday Telegraph. With that sort of pull Bancks could more than justify his high salary. The following week Meggs was on the front page of The Sunday Telegraph comic section and for the Meggs family, life went on as if nothing had changed.

Bancks fitted into the world of Consolidated Press probably better than he fitted into Associated Newspapers. Editor-in-chief David McNicoll said, “In a way working for the Telegraph was a natural place for him to be. A sort of home away from home.” Bancks was drawing Ginger Meggs, which he loved and that was bringing him more money than ever before. He was also writing humorous features for The Daily Telegraph. He had a large circle of friends and a number of them worked for Packer. The change of newspaper brought another change. Packer took over the syndication of Ginger Meggs. The relationship between Bancks and Lafave was broken. Lafave tried to convince Packer he should continue to look after the American syndication, but to no avail. It was a pity; Packer never had the success syndicating Ginger Meggs that Lafave had.

Bancks continued to work from home in a studio downstairs in his home in Wentworth Place, Point Piper as he had done for many years. His daughter Sheena could remember him sitting at his desk drawing Ginger Meggs. Sheena had a desk there too where she would also sit and draw and sometimes Bancks would try and teach her how to draw Ginger Meggs. Bancks loved to teach children to draw Ginger. Twenty years earlier he had taught Clyde and Kerry Packer how to draw Ginger's face and now he was doing the same with his own daughter. He was a protective father and would not allow anything that put her at any risk. If he perceived a danger he would tell her she was not going to do that again or was not going there anymore. At night Bancks would come upstairs and read her a story as she was going to bed.

It was not unusual for Packer to call into the Bancks home. On one Saturday morning when he called in he found the house open, but nobody answered when he knocked. Packer walked in calling out but still nobody came. With nobody there to stop him Packer removed one of Bancks’ favourite paintings from the wall and placed it in the boot of his car. He then went back into the house and called out again. Eventually Bancks came and the normal pleasantries were exchanged. Then Bancks noticed the missing painting and thinking it had been stolen all hell broke loose. Eventually Packer had to admit he had the painting in the boot of his car and order was restored.

There were social gatherings at Bancks home with friends and their children. One long-time friend was Bill Pidgeon who had often been over with his wife and son. Pidgeon was twenty years younger than Bancks, but they had been friends since the twenties. Pidgeon had spent many years working for Packer and his illustrations and cartoons had been extensively used in The Australian Women's Weekly and The Daily Telegraph. He had left the Packer organization in 1949 to concentrate on painting and was building a reputation as a portrait painter. In the years to come he would win the Archibald Prize three times. At the Bancks home it was not unusual to see him, pencil in hand, sketching members of the family. Two of these drawing of family gatherings ended up framed and hanging on the walls of the Bancks’ home. Pidgeon also painted a portrait of Bancks, which he kept hanging on a wall of his home. A Pidgeon self-portrait hung on the wall of the Packer dining room. But in 1952 Packer decided it was too big and was going to have it cut down in size. Bancks was horrified at the thought. After some discussion Packer agreed to swap the Pidgeon for a smaller painting Bancks offered. Bancks then donated the portrait to the New South Wales Art Gallery.

Bancks and a number of others would often have a few drinks together. Both Don Bradman and John Frith remember Bancks at these gatherings and both said he was always funny and the centre of attention. Both agreed it was Arthur Mailey who would get the biggest laughs. Bancks would hold the floor with amusing stories and then Mailey would come in with a quick quip and have everyone splitting their sides.

Ken Hall was often there too. He was one of Australia's best-known filmmakers and great friends with Bancks. Writing in Cartoonists of Australia, compiled by Richard Rae, he said Bancks was, “my best friend and I think I knew him as well as many did. My patent admiration was shared by everyone who knew him and he had a legion of friends.” He went on to describe an evening late in June 1952. There was, “a group of regulars who drank at the American Club every Friday night. Jim had asked Arthur Mailey to join us. We’d had a lot of laughs and a lot of looks into the Cup that Cheers. Arthur went round the group, perhaps not at that moment in his best bowling form, earnestly asking, ‘What is your greatest ambition?’ He got the usual facetious answers like, ‘To live to ninety and be hanged for rape” and some less timeworn but also less publishable. When he asked the question of Jim the answer was simple ‘To stay alive.’ (Eighteen months before he had suffered a heart attack). Four days later I got a 6am call to say that Jim Bancks had died in the night.”

Bancks died on 1 July 1952, leaving an unfinished Meggs comic on his desk. But he did not wish Ginger Meggs to die and was on record as saying, “Creators come and go but their characters live on...When I pass on I hope the character I have created in Ginger will live long beyond me.”

With the death of Bancks, copyright of Ginger was placed in a trust for his daughter Sheena until she turned 21. He left the bulk of the residue of his estate valued at £13,634, but reduced to £7,592 after debts and liabilities to his widow Patricia Ruth Bancks.

All Packer was left with was one of two choices. The first was to stop running Ginger in The Sunday Telegraph as soon as the stock of unpublished comic strips ran out while paying Sheena a royalty. The other option was to come to an agreement with Pat Bancks on behalf of Sheena to continue to publish Ginger with new artists creating the comic and to pay Sheena a royalty. The second alternative was the most palatable. There was after all, the commercial aspect to consider and Packer was nothing if not an astute businessman and could have taught a rat cunning. He had waited many years to get his hands on Meggs, and now he had he did not want to see a valuable asset disappear.

There was no rush in finding someone as Bancks had left a backlog of unpublished comics, enough to run for almost a year. A number of artists sought the job. Dan Russell was looking for work. He took some drawings into Packer who thought the drawings were good, but he also thought Dan’s brother Jim Russell had drawn them and ruled him out. There were others artists interested too, including Ken Emerson, but nobody seemed to satisfy Packer and Pat Bancks. Eventually the job of drawing Ginger Meggs went to Ron Vivian a staff artist at ACP.

Jimmy Bancks entered the ACA Hall of Fame in 2009.

Further reading