John Ryan

John Ryan is with us no longer. Rye’s hero cartoonist, who created the famous Captain Pugwash and many other children’s cartoons has died aged eighty-eight.

John and Priscila Ryan
John and Priscilla Ryan

John Christopher Gerald Ryan was born in 1921 in Edinburgh, the son of Sir Andrew Ryan, an Irishman and British diplomat. He was educated at Ampleforth College, near York.  On leaving school he joined the Lincolnshire Regiment, spending the Second World War in India and Burma.

After the War he took art classes at Regent Street Polytechnic, where he met his wife, Lincolnshire Regiment granddaughter of the architect Sir Reginald. They married in 1950, by then John Ryan was employed as assistant art master at Harrow School. Captain Pugwash was created during this time. Soon Captain Horatio Pugwash was appearing in the new ‘Eagle’ magazine. Eagle has become a ‘cult’ magazine and ‘Pugwash’ shares the same nomenclature.

Pugwash and his trusty crew — cabin boy Tom, Willy and Barnabas, and Master Mate, aboard his vessel Black Pig sailed into fame, ‘Eagle’ made a refreshing alternative to violent US comics of the period.

Captain Horatio Pugwash, who sailed the high seas hollering “dolloping doubloons” and “kipper me capstans”, was afterwards adopted by the BBC and has been watched by generations of British children.

When Owen Reed, a producer on BBC Children’s Television, took on Pugwash, John Ryan assisted by his wife Priscilla, made animated cut-outs with paper clip joints which were worked over about fifty background scenes to make one five minute episode. The couple’s children provided sound effects. It was a real family enterprise. Initially each episode was made in black and white, but when colour television came along in 1968 Captain Pugwash became an even more colourful person.

Despite the popularity of Pugwash, the Ryan’s had many years of financial uncertainty, but by working hard on John’s cartoon creations and supplementing their income by taking in paying guests they survived

John Ryan was a prolific artist, he created Lettice Leefe, “greenest girl in the school” for ‘Girl’ magazine, and Sir Prancelot for ‘Swift’ Sir Prancelot later became a television cartoon series.

Another television series Mary, Mungo and Midge, featured the voice of his 11-year-old daughter Isabel. He also wrote religiously styled books for children. A Bad Year for Dragons: The Legend of Saint George (1986) and Mabel and the Tower of Babel (1990) are two examples.

From 1964 until very recently, John Ryan produced a weekly cartoon for The Catholic Herald, including the popular Cardinal Grotti.

In 1988 Ryan and his wife moved to Rye. They both became very popular and involved themselves in local events. They raised thousands of pounds for charities in many different ways, from donating original cartoons to Auctions of promises to doing one off, signed cartoons of Pugwash for the public at fetes. John painted the scenery each year for the pantomimes of the Rye Players, and created two-panel scenes of the Magi based on the Renaissance painting of Gentile da Fabriano. These are displayed every Christmas in front of Rye Town Hall.

John Ryan drew his last cartoon only a short while ago, he worked on until he could no longer hold a pen.

Rye and the people of Rye are much the poorer for his passing. “Rye’s Own” send our sincere condolences to Priscilla and three children who survive him.

John Ryan, cartoonist, was born on March 4, 1921. He died on July 22, 2009, aged 88

From the August 2009 Rye’s Own Suppliment