front- as it came folded in the post
This is the edition of Spy that gave its name to the retrospective exhibition and catalogue organised by John’s widow and designed by Mark Harris and Rory Snookes.
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My favourite image in this issue of Spy is the Mhairi Macaroon illustration. It’s so seedy and cheesy, and so beautifully done. Redolent of some war-time cabaret, it was probably created mostly with John’s trusty Berol RollerBall pen. He could make that little bit of shitty plastic sing!
John Watson (1960-2000) was my friend. I first came across his work while doing a bit of visiting lecturer work at Brighton. Raymond Briggs came into the staff room and showed me photocopies of John’s work. Raymond had been judging the Macmillan Children’s Book competition (the first one) and John had won it. I loved his drawings and said to Raymond “We must get him teaching here!” Quite a demand for someone who was only passing through. But sure enough they did get John in and we became good friends. He was very shy as a person but the students loved him (they felt it was their responsibility to look after him). He became a successful children’s book illustrator as well as continuing his role as the drummer in the band Hackney Five-0. I later introduced him to Spitting Image and he designed the puppets for a programme called Bigg New World.
He was so prolific, always drawing. He used to regularly send me photocopies of fold-out A4 magazines called ‘Spy’ or ‘Cuckoo’. He made me so jealous! But he was so generous. While Linton Bocock and I were trying to get published as comedy writers John mentioned to me that he had a friend in another band who was a comedy writer and his writing partner was a plasterer. He offered to arrange a meeting with them but I was reluctant to schlep all the way up to north London to meet such uninspiring sounding people. More fool me…they turned out to be Charlie Higson and Paul Whitehouse.
John got married and had two lovely children and everything seemed to be going well when I heard that he had suddenly died. His widow, Mei-Hsien, organised a terrific retrospective exhibition of his work and I helped her get it into one or two art schools around the UK. Then she too sadly died a few years later. While there is the catalogue for the show (“My Mouth Is Quiet But My Mind Is Noisy”) I am not aware of any website that is devoted to John’s work. If there is one I will gladly publicise it. Until then I will be posting here some of the many images I have of John’s from over the years. I hope you like them.
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