Odhams Press was a British publishing company, operating from 1920 to 1968. Originally a magazine publisher, Odhams later expanded into book publishing and then children's comics. The company was acquired by Fleetway Publications in 1961 and then IPC Magazines in 1963. In its final incarnation, Odhams was known for its Power Comics line of titles, notable for publishing reprints of American Marvel Comics superheroes.

Odhams Press Ltd
Odhams Press Hall, Watford, built 1954
Parent companyFleetway Publications (1961–1963)
IPC Magazines (1963–1969)
Statusdefunct (1969)
Founded1870s (as William Odhams)
1920 (as Odhams Press)
FoundersWilliam Odhams
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Headquarters location64 Long Acre, London
Key peopleJohn Lynch Odhams, William James Baird Odhams, Julius Elias, 1st Viscount Southwood, Edwin Embleton, Alf Wallace, Pippa King Melling[1]
Publication typesmagazines, books, comics
Nonfiction topicshistory, lifestyle, fashion, animals
Fiction genreshumour, adventure, superhero
ImprintsOdhams Books Ltd
Longacre Press
Power Comics (1966–1968)

History edit

William Odhams; Odhams Bros. edit

In 1834 William Odhams left Sherborne, Dorset, for London,[a] where he initially worked for The Morning Post. In 1847, he went into partnership with William Biggar in Beaufort Buildings, Savoy, London; and in the 1870s he started the business known as William Odhams. Originally a jobbing printer and newspaper publisher, William Odhams sold the business to his two sons, John Lynch Odhams and William James Baird Odhams, in 1892. The business, then a small printing firm in Hart Street employing about twenty people, became known as Odhams Bros.

Magazine and book publishing edit

Odhams Limited was created in 1898. Julius Elias, who left school at the age of 13 before going to work as an office boy at Odhams Bros, worked his way up to become managing director and eventually chairman of the firm, which after a merger with John Bull in 1920 took the name Odhams Press Ltd. That same year, the company also founded Ideal Home and acquired the equestrian magazine Horse & Hound.

Odhams acquired a 51% share in the Trades Union Congress paper the Daily Herald in 1930 (by that point, Odhams was already publishing The Sunday People). A promotion campaign ensued, and in 1933, the Herald became the world's best-selling daily newspaper, with certified net sales of 2 million. This accomplishment set off a war with more conservative London papers, such as the Daily Express.

By 1937 Odhams had founded the first colour weekly, Woman, for which it set up and operated a dedicated high-speed print works. Odhams also expanded into book publishing, for example publishing Winston Churchill's Painting as a Pastime (1965), Rupert Gunnis's Dictionary of British Sculptors 1660–1851 (1953), and an edition of the complete works of William Shakespeare.

In 1954, Odhams Press Hall was built in Watford, designed by Yates, Cook and Derbyshire. The building was later protected by the Watford Borough Council because of the innovative clock tower, which houses a water tank for use in printing.[2]

In the 1950s, Odhams was one of London's three leading magazine publishers – along with Newnes/Pearson and the Hulton Press.

Throughout the 1960s, Odhams Books Ltd (likewise founded by Odhams Press) operated the Companion Book Club (CBC). This published a large series of hardcover novels.

Children's comics and acquisition by Fleetway/IPC edit

Odhams published Mickey Mouse Weekly from the 1930s (acquiring it from Willbank Publications), which featured American reprints as well as original British Disney comics material, including a number of non-Disney-related strips. Odhams lost the rights to Disney characters in 1957, and almost immediately launched the weekly comic Zip, which inherited the non-Disney strips from Mickey Mouse Weekly.

In 1959, Odhams purchased George Newnes Ltd[3][4][5] as well as its imprint C. Arthur Pearson Ltd. Notable comics titles originally published by Pearson and continued by Odhams included the romance comics Mirabelle and Marty, and the Picture Stories and Picture Library series.

In 1959–1960, Odhams acquired Hulton Press, renaming it Longacre Press,[b][6] thus taking over publication of the children's comics Eagle,[7] Girl, Swift,[8] and Robin.

In 1960 Cecil Harmsworth King, chairman of the Daily Mirror newspaper, made an approach to Odhams on behalf of Fleetway Publications (formerly the Amalgamated Press). Odhams' board found this too attractive to refuse and, in 1961, Odhams was taken over by Fleetway.[9] In 1963 its holdings were amalgamated with those of Fleetway and others to form the International Publishing Corporation (known as IPC). Between 1964 and 1968 Odhams operated as a subsidiary of IPC.[citation needed]

Odhams' "juveniles" (i.e., children's comics) competed for readers with DC Thomson, publisher of such popular titles as The Beano, The Dandy, and Commando. Alf Wallace, who had found success at Fleetway with his line of War Picture Library comics, was brought over to oversee Odhams' comics line. He was, however, unable to reverse the declining popularity of Eagle and Swift, or succeed with Boys' World, launched in 1963.[10] In fact, by early 1964, Swift and Boys' World had both been absorbed by Eagle, which, along with Girl, was then taken over by IPC.[citation needed]

In desperation, Wallace recruited veteran cartoonist Leo Baxendale, who had worked for DC Thomson for many years, to create a new, energetic comics weekly.[10] Baxendale's Wham! debuted on 20 June 1964, breaking the mould of traditional British humour strips with its use of bizarre humour, outrageous puns, and surreal plots. With the success of Wham!, the next title in the new line, Smash!, debuted on 5 February 1966. With Odhams acquiring the Marvel Comics license in early 1966, The Hulk became the first Marvel superhero to show up in an Odhams title when he debuted in Smash! #16 (21 May 1966). The popularity of that strip led to Wham! adding Fantastic Four reprints beginning 6 August 1966. In late 1966, with two Odhams' titles featuring superheroes (and the third, Pow!, on the way), the Power Comics line was created. The line, which also came to include Fantastic and Terrific, was notable for its use of superhero material reprinted from Marvel, serving as an introduction of this new breed of American superheroes to UK readers.[citation needed]

Close of business edit

In 1968 Odhams encountered financial problems, partly due to unfavourable economic conditions in Britain.[11][12] As a result of this, and of IPC's desire to rationalise its titles and eliminate duplication, the comics published by the Odhams Press imprint were closed or transferred to IPC Magazines Ltd, another IPC subsidiary. This contained the losses on the Power Comics range within Odhams, which was a limited company with separate liability, but, in consequence, Odhams became financially unviable. On 1 January 1969 it effectively ceased to exist as a publishing business, when publication of its last surviving comics title, Smash!, was taken over by IPC.[c] (In 1971, Smash! merged with the IPC title Valiant.)

Newspapers edit

Magazines edit

Book series edit

  • Beacon Books[16]
  • Britain Illustrated
  • Colourama Series (also known as: Colourama: A Pictorial Treasury of Knowledge)[17]
  • Exploring Series
  • Famous Criminal Trials
  • Hippo Books[18][19]
  • Man's Book Series
  • Modern Living Series
  • New Educational Library
  • Odhams Owner-Driver Handbooks
  • The People's Home Library
  • Popular Library
  • University Series
  • The War in Pictures

Comics titles edit

Title Odhams' pub. dates Fate Notes
Mickey Mouse Weekly 1936–1957 Cancelled Odhams lost rights to Disney characters in 1957
Zip[20] 1958–1959 Merged into Swift Contained many strip originally from Mickey Mouse Weekly
Eagle 1960–1963 Taken over and continued by IPC Originally launched by Hulton Press in 1950; merged into Lion in 1969
Girl 1960–1964 Merged into IPC's Princess Originally launched in 1951 by Hulton Press
Robin[21] 1960–1963 Taken over and continued by IPC Originally launched by Amalgamated Press in 1953; merged into IPC's Playhour in 1969
Swift 1960–1963 Merged into Eagle Originally launched by Hulton Press in 1954 as a junior companion to Eagle
Boys' World 1963–1964 Merged into Eagle Published under the Longacre Press imprint
Wham! 1964–1968 Merged into Pow!
Smash! 1966–1969 Taken over by IPC Absorbed Pow! and Wham! and then Fantastic and Terrific in 1968; merged into Valiant in 1971
Pow! 1967–1968 Merged into Smash!
Fantastic 1967–1968 Merged into Smash!
Terrific 1967–1968 Merged into Fantastic

See also edit

References edit

Notes edit

  1. ^ According to Susan M. Penn's history of Long Street at Sherborne, Dorset,[citation needed] as verified by Harrop's historical house survey and by local census information, the house known since 1968 as Mistletoe Cottage was occupied in 1834 by John Odhams. His eldest son, William, grew up to be a compositor: possibly serving his apprenticeship with Langdon and Harker at the Sherborne Mercury printing office in Long Street, according to his great-granddaughter,[citation needed] although there is no other evidence to support this. At the rear of Mistletoe Cottage, however, is a substantial brick-built shed. The flat flooring of this shed is very solid, complete with thick oak planking, well able to support and withstand heavy items of machinery such as a printing press. Earthworks next to the shed in or around 2002 revealed evidence of many-colored printing inks still visible in the soil.[citation needed]
  2. ^ Odhams' headquarters were at 64 Long Acre, London, inspiring the new name.
  3. ^ Alf Wallace, now out of a job with Odhams, quickly joined the comics packager Martspress, started by a former colleague at Fleetway, Leonard Matthews.[13] Martspress took on the production of the 1969 relaunch of City Magazines' TV21;[14] that title, which also ended up being acquired by IPC, ended up using Marvel Comics reprint material in 1970–1971.

Citations edit

  1. ^ Murray, Chris. "Mergers and Marvels (1962–1980)," The British Superhero (Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2017), p. 173.
  2. ^ "Locally Listed Buildings in Watford". Watford Borough Council. 13 December 2010. Archived from the original on 29 September 2013. Retrieved 28 May 2013.
  3. ^ The Times (19 June 1959).
  4. ^ "George Newnes Co," Grace's Guide to British Industrial History. Retrieved 1 Apr. 2021.
  5. ^ "Odhams Press," International Catalogue of Super-Heroes. Retrieved 3 Mar. 2021.
  6. ^ Tatarsky, Daniel (2009), Eagle Annual: The Best of the 1960s Comic, London: Orion, pp. introduction, ISBN 978-0-7528-8895-8.
  7. ^ A Tribute to Frank Hampson 1918–1985, tameside.gov.uk, 12 September 2007, retrieved 24 June 2010
  8. ^ Seymour-Ure, Colin (2004). "Hulton, Sir Edward George Warris (1906–1988), magazine publisher and writer". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/40161. Retrieved 24 August 2013.
  9. ^ Birch, Paul. "Speaking Frankly," Archived 20 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine Birmingham Mail (14 December 2008).
  10. ^ a b Coates, Alan and David. "Smash!" British Comic World #3 (A. & D. Coates, June 1984).
  11. ^ Collins, Robert M. "The Economic Crisis of 1968 and the Waning of the 'American Century,'" The American Historical Review Vol. 101, No. 2 (Apr., 1996), pp. 396-422.
  12. ^ Martin, Patrick. "Eugene McCarthy, dead at 89, played pivotal role in 1968 political crisis," World Socialist Web Site (30 December 2005).
  13. ^ George Beal, Obituary: Leonard Matthews, The Independent, 5 December 1997
  14. ^ Stringer, Lew. "Flashback 1969: TV21 & Joe 90 No.1," Blimey! The Blog of British Comics! (25 November 2007).
  15. ^ "Printed and Published by ODHAMS PRESS Ltd. Long Acre, W.C.2—May 13, 1922". The Motion Picture Studio. Vol. 1, no. 49. London, UK: Odhams Press. 13 May 1922. p. 20. Retrieved 30 June 2023 – via Internet Archive.
  16. ^ Beacon Books (Odhams Press) - Book Series List, publishinghistory.com. Retrieved 23 January 2020.
  17. ^ Colourama + Odhams, worldcat.org. Retrieved 29 January 2024.
  18. ^ Hippo Books / New Hippo Books (Odhams; then Hamlyn) - Book Series List, publishinghistory.com. Retrieved 23 January 2020.
  19. ^ DUMPY and other pocket-sized books, collectingbooksandmagazines.com. Retrieved 23 January 2020.
  20. ^ Swift at the Grand Comics Database
  21. ^ Robin at the Grand Comics Database

External links edit