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Richard and Bill c. 1956

Wagons Ho!

Richard Bell’s Wild West Yorkshire nature diary,  Wednesday,  19th  March 2009

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Richard aged 6 or 7
knights jousting
bearded man
1953 diary

“WHAT WOULD you like to do when you grow up?” Hmm. An engine driver was one of my first choices (the Leeds to London mainline ran along the embankment at the end of the field beyond our back garden at Wrenthorpe) but I could have carved out a career as a cowboy; the hat is perfect and the Aran sweater is an innovation that the Range Rider never thought of.

But I never wanted to be the proverbial knight in shining armour. I realised what a tough life it would be, riding through woods and fields in all weathers, so I was convinced that a real working knight would have dented, rather rusty armour.


The Viking life also had its attractions, partly because of the chance to wear long hair and a beard. We lived in a small town where the one and only haircut for the male population was short back and sides while the regular garb was a grey raincoat with a flat cap. Occasionally you’d see a trilby, but never a helmet with cow’s horns.

Drawn when I was about 13 - I was given a multi-colour ballpoint pen as a Christmas gift.

The Essential Beard

A beard - something I lacked as a 7 year old - seemed essential if I was to escape the Lowry-esque landscape of my home town. Beards seemed to be part of the colourful widescreen world of historical and biblical epics of that time which always took place in sweeping, sunlit landscapes in contrast to the dour mills and homely council estates of my everyday world. Even Charlton Heston - who was normally clean-shaven when he took on the might of the Roman, Egyptian or Moorish empire - had to grow a beard before he could lead his people to freedom by parting the Red Sea.


Beards seemed essential too if you wanted to be a naturalist - like Gerald Durrell or Graham Dangerfield who had their own television series - or an artist like Adam Boone, the reclusive sculptor in the Carol Day cartoon strip in the Daily Mail.


Joking apart, cowboy, knight and Viking were imaginative escapes from life in a small industrial town. Drawing enabled me to build my own world of romance and reality. I soon decided that I’d like to be an illustrator . . . or a dinosaur fossil-hunter . . .


My earliest surviving drawings are in a National Coal Board desk diary. My Dad used to bring his old one back from work at the end of each year, hence the word ‘Leave’ in the drawing of covered wagons (top of page).

covered wagon by Bill aged 3 or 4

‘Cheyenne Bodie must have died!’ quipped our big sister, Linda when she saw my brother Bill’s drawing of a covered wagon. Cheyenne (Clint Walker) was the tall, slow-talking drifter-hero of a 1950/60s television series.
‘Wagons Ho!’ was  the catchphrase of
Wagon Train, starring Ward Bond.

Drawn when I was about 7.

Being a knight appealed to me too. Sadly I never had a helmet with plume and visor so,
as a young squire, I had to make do with a wooden sword and an old pair of curtains
(right, with brother Bill  who  has improvised a page boy outfit from the dressing-up box.).