Clifton volume 1: My Dear Wilkinson

By De Groot & Turk translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905469-06-9 (Album PB)

For some inexplicable reason most of Europe’s comics cognoscenti – especially the French and Belgians – are fascinated with us Brits. Gosh, I wonder if that’s still the case…?

Whether it’s Anglo air ace Biggles, indomitable adventurers Blake and Mortimer, the Machiavellian machinations of Green Manor or even the further travails of Long John Silver, or the amassed amateur sleuths of the Detection Club, the serried stalwarts of our Scepter’d Isles have cut a dashing swathe through the pages of the Continent’s assorted magazines and albums.

And then there’s Clifton

Originally devised by child-friendly strip genius Raymond Macherot (Chaminou, Les croquillards, Chlorophylle, Sibylline) for Le Journal de Tintin, the doughty troubleshooter first appeared in December 1959.

After three albums worth of short strip material – compiled and released between 1959 and 1960 – Macherot left the magazine to join arch-rival Le Journal de Spirou and the eccentric comedy crime-fighter floundered until Tintin revived and repurposed him at the height of the Swinging London scene courtesy of Jo-El Azaza & Greg. These strips were subsequently collected as Les lutins diaboliques in French and De duivelse dwergen for Dutch-speakers in 1969.

He was furloughed again until the mid-1970s when writer Bob De Groot and illustrator Philippe “Turk” Liegeois revived Clifton for the long haul, producing ten tales of which this –Ce cher Wilkinson: Clifton from 1978 – was the fifth.

From 1984 onward artist Bernard Dumont AKA Bédu limned De Groot’s scripts before eventually assuming the writing chores too until the series folded in 1995. In keeping with its rather haphazard but Diehard nature, Clifton resurfaced again in 2003, crafted by De Groot and Michel Rodrigue in four further adventures; a grand total of 26 to date.

The setup is deliciously simple: pompous and irascible Colonel Sir Harold Wilberforce Clifton, ex-RAF and recently retired from MI5, has a great deal of difficulty accommodating being put out to pasture in rural Puddington. He thus takes every opportunity to get back in the saddle, occasionally assisting the Government or needy individuals as a gentleman troubleshooter.

Sadly, for Clifton – as with that other much-underappreciated national treasure Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army – he is keenly aware that he is usually the only truly competent man in a world full of blithering idiots…

In this initial translated adventure first seen in 2005 – and at last available in digital formats – the forceful personality is seething at home one night, reading ghost stories when a sequence of odd events culminates in both he and his nationally celebrated cook and housekeeper Miss Partridge witnessing plates of food and glasses of wine flying about and crashing to the floor.

Fortifying themselves with the remaining sherry, the staunch duo repair to their separate beds unaware that a very live presence has been spying on them and playing pranks…

The next day finds the perplexed sleuth at the town library, scanning the stacks for reports of similar phenomena and tediously regaled by one of the whippersnapper counter-staff who just happens to be an amateur and closet psychokinetic: demonstrably and smugly able to move small objects with the power of his mind…

With proof of a rather more rational explanation for recent events and an appropriate reference tome, Clifton bones up and is soon made annoyingly aware of stage performer the Great Wilkinson who is reputedly the world’s greatest exponent of the art of psychokinesis.

A quick jaunt to London in the old red sports car soon sees the former spy getting along famously with a diminutive performer who happily agrees to come down to Puddington and recce the Colonel’s troubled home. To be perfectly frank, the smiling showman is far more interested in meeting celebrated chef Miss Partridge…

A pleasant afternoon is interrupted by old associate Chief Inspector John Haig of Scotland Yard who is drowning in an uncanny mystery and desperately needful of a second opinion from MI5’s most self-congratulatory alumnus. Giant safes are going missing, seemingly plucked from buildings as if by mighty, invisible hands…

Thus proceeds a wickedly fast-paced romp with a genuine mystery tale at its comedic core. Clifton and Co fumble their way past roguish red herrings and through a labyrinthine maze of clues to the lair of a canny criminal mastermind with what seems the perfect MO. However, long before justice triumphs, the tinderbox temper of the suave sleuth is repeatedly triggered by clodhopping cops, obnoxious officials, short-fused chefs, imbecilic bystanders and a succession of young fools and old clowns all getting in the way and utterly spoiling the thrill of the chase…

Delightfully surreal, utterly accessible and doused with daft slapstick in the manner of Jacques Tati or our own Carry Onfilms (sans the saucy “slap ‘n’ tickle” stuff), this light-action epic rattles along in the grand old tradition of Will Hay, Terry-Thomas and Alistair Sim – or Wallace and Gromit and Mr Bean if you’re a callow yoof – offering readers a splendid treat and loads of timeless laughs.
Original edition © 1978 Le Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard S. A.) 1988 by De Groot & Turk. English translation © 2005 Cinebook Ltd.