Who is Terry Powis? by James Zee

Beyond the NSW Bookstall Comics

Terry Powis is credited with nearly half of the comics published by the NSW Bookstall Company when it established its ground-breaking line of Australian comics. Yet there is virtually no information about him.

John Ryan in Panel by Panel acknowledges Powis and Will Donald as 'real pioneers of Australian comic books', before largely dismissing Powis' work:

"Powis shared Donald's ability to produce dramatic covers but if there was a gap between the promise of Donald's covers and their contents it was even more accentuated in the work of Powis. He specialized in comics with a war background…While his sombre renderings may have reflected the mood of the wartime years the effects were negated by his use of text boxes to describe actions in the panels and his minimal use of speech balloons."11John Ryan in Panel by panel. Stanmore, NSW: Cassell Australia, 1979. Page 161. Ryan also refers to Powis 'joining Donald...  

And the amount of information doesn't improve over time. Annette Shiell's Bonzer illustrates Powis' work without commentary. There is no biography at Design & Art Australia, Australian Dictionary of Biography or AustLit. And just a basic list of work at Lambiek Comiclopedia. There appears to be no one named Terry Powis that was born, married or died in Australia.

However, someone, at some time, possibly knew something more. The National Library of Australia credits Tigers of Tobruk to "Fred Powis".

Fred? Is that a mistake? —Probably not!

Australian artist Frederick Thomas Powis (1894-1978) signed his work in the same way as the Powis signatures on NSW Bookstall comics. And while there are variations, at times NSW Bookstall comics have a distinctive 'W' (see The Terror, Tigers of Tobruk and The Secret Cave). Fred Powis' daybills use the same stylised 'W' in many places, including general text on The Prodigal and in the 'Goldwyn' name on Tarzan the Ape Man. 'Goldwyn' appears stylised that way only on Australian daybills of the period.

Interestingly, The Death Ray is credited to "F" on the cover, possibly for "Fred" (although it doesn't explain the "M.E." on Sabotage).

Fred Powis was born to John Bartlett Powis (b.1848) and Anne Powis, in Brighton England around June 1894.22AustLit provides a (probably incorrect) birth date of 1893, but it helped open up research for a lot more...   Twenty-one years and two months later he was in Melbourne, still a single man and working as a mechanic, when he enlisted in the army on 3 August 1915. He had previously been rejected on the basis of heath.33Fred had no Australian address at the time, and his father's address was 3 Church Street, Brighton, England. See

Powis moved to Sydney after the war and possibly studied art. He married his first wife Edith Mabel McAdam (MacAdam) in 1922 at Petersham. She died in August 1928,44Three separate notices invite Frederick's family, Edith's family and Edith's friends to the funeral. 'Family Notices' (28 August 1928). The...   leaving Fred to look after two young children Frederick (192?-2016)55This is probably Frederick Bartlett Powis who joined the Department of the Attorney-General and of Justice in August 1938 as...   and Joy. He married again the following year in Woollahra to Ethel Eleanor Brown, probably a work colleague.66Fred and Ethel had at least one son, Jon Bartelett Powis (1930-2009). Jon was a noted journalist who joined The...   They had at least one child Jon in 1930 and divorced in 1945.77Divorce papers Frederick Thomas Powis - Ethel Eleanor Powis [Incorporates 3058/1943] State Archives & Records. Retrieved 1 October 2017....  

By 1923, Fred Powis was handling all art for Paramount Pictures Corporation in Sydney. He worked with Sir Nathaniel Bernard Freeman, Paramount's Sydney Sales Representative, and moved with Freeman to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's new Australian office88Around 1920, Sir Nathaniel Bernard Freeman represented Paramount Pictures Corporation in Albany, New York, learning film publicity and distribution. He...   to become artistic director, some time before February 1926.99In February 1926, a lunch was held to celebrate Freeman's wedding including Messrs. Ferguson, Lake, Powis, Sol Freeman, Kirkup, Curtis,...  

In 1924, Metro Co., Goldwyn and Louis B. Mayer had amalgamated in the US to form Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Marcus and Arthur Loew of the new company persuaded Freeman to leave Paramount and become MGM's first managing director for Australia and New Zealand. He established the first office in January 19251010'Gossip' 24 July (1926). Smith's Weekly (Sydney, NSW: 1919-1950), p. 13. Retrieved 28 September 2017, from nla.gov.au/nla.news-article234441602 and and announced 42 films due for release.1111'Business Changes in Filmdom' (12 February 1925). Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic: 1885-1939), p. 20. Retrieved 30 September 2017, from The firm expanded aggressively, building cinemas exclusively for its films1212'Film War in Earnest' (28 December 1933). The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld: 1933-1954), p. 9. Retrieved 1 October 2017, from and establishing a reputation for high standards.

From 1927, Powis produced numerous Australian daybill posters and later, from about 1930, the MGM head office provided some black and white art for theatre advertisements in newspapers, which had become increasingly text-oriented. Before that time, many theatres did their own original artwork, with Eileen Farquhar at the Haymarket Theatre1313Straight from art college in 1919, Farquhar secured a job at Haymarket Theatres as assistant to Virgil Riley. After his...   and Wynne W. Davies providing art mainly for the Lyric Wintergarden and Lyceum,1414Wynne W. Davies drew 'The Strange Adventures of Percy the Pommy' the 'The Funny Side' (10 May 1925). Sunday Times...   including MGM promotions.

In 1927—the year of the expensive and successful Ben-Hur film—MGM's Australian office produced a lavish colour Announcement Book for the season under the direction of Powis, including many paintings by him with text by W.J. Kirkup, director of publicity.1515'M.G.M. Announcement Book' (29 August 1926). Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW: 1895-1930), p. 26. Retrieved 28 September 2017, from nla.gov.au/nla.news-article128135816;...  

Between then and 1932, the vast majority of Australian MGM promotional material was by Powis, often signed or credited. During 1931 and 1932, when newspapers across Australia printed many of his portraits of current MGM stars, he was frequently described as a 'leading Australian artist'.1616See for example, untitled (28 August 1931). The St George Call (Kogarah, NSW: 1904-1957), p. 6. Retrieved 30 September 2017,...  

Some daybills were signed "E. Brown" in 1927 and 1928, such as Across to Singapore. This credit is for Powis' second wife Ethel Brown and the posters show his contribution through the distinctive Powis 'W' and other design elements.

A range of non-cinema work by Powis is also likely, but not confirmed. He painted at least one travel promotion poster for the Canadian National Railways (1929?). Some undated art credited to a 'Fred Powis', possibly the same one, has been sold at auctioned in recent years.

After March 1932, Fred Powis disappears from records until 1944. It is possible he worked overseas for MGM or moved into general commercial art, which was routinely uncredited. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he does not appear to have done newspaper or magazine illustrations, unless he worked under another name.

Toward the end of that 12 year gap 'Terry Powis' worked on comics for NSW Bookstall—from 1941 for about four years. Looking at the available information on those comics, most just report 'Powis' and two have 'Terry & Powis' and 'Powis & Terry'. It is possible 'Terry Powis' is a misunderstanding, with this work done by Fred Powis and an unknown collaborator called Terry. Perhaps it is just a pseudonym or a later move to own the early Bookstall work published anonymously under the name "Terry".

After NSW Bookstall ceased publishing comics, Terry Powis did just a few comic stories for Offset Printing. Perhaps this was work he had already started, sold instead to another publisher. He then appears to have stopped creating comics. I haven't seen the OPC issues to confirm credits or signatures. The covers and pages I've seen are unsigned.1717John Ryan also reports Powis' OPC work in Panel by panel. Stanmore, NSW: Cassell Australia, 1979. Page 161....  

At this time, Fred Powis illustrated two children's books about animals by Hery B. Raine (also previously published by NSW Bookstall) for Wirraway Publishing (1944)1818The Offset Printing Coy. Pty. Ltd. and Wirraway Publishing were both at 75 Pitt Street, Sydney, at this time.This building...   and Taro Publishing (1945). For Wirraway, Fred also illustrated a children's book of Nursery Rhymes by Eve Pownall (a former colleague at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer], and wrote and drew a children's book Billie the Beetle (1946) for Invincible Press.

Terry Powis is also reported doing a range of book covers and interior illustrations for Invincible Press (1946-1947). The latest of these I can identify is a reprint of Murder at Horsethief by James O'Hanlon. This alignment of publishers also suggests Fred and Terry are the same person.

From 1947, I've found no evidence of further published artwork by Fred or Terry.1919In 1951, he is reported living in Bellevue Hill when his son Jon Bartlett became engaged to Barbara Leonie Clapp...   Fred would have been in his mid-50s, recently divorced, with children old enough to be in the workforce, so it is possible he retired. He died aged about 83 on 10 May 1978.2020Fred is described as a 'retired commercial artist'. 'In the Supreme Court of New South Wales…' (21 July 1978). Government...  

Despite strong circumstantial evidence, I've found no difinitive proof that Terry Powis is Fred Powis. But if he is, his skill at dramatic comic covers was honed through years working on cinema posters for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Australia.

References

  • 1John Ryan in Panel by panel. Stanmore, NSW: Cassell Australia, 1979. Page 161. Ryan also refers to Powis 'joining Donald to draw comics for Offset Printing Company', which shouldn't be read to suggest they worked together on comics—just at the same company.
  • 2AustLit provides a (probably incorrect) birth date of 1893, but it helped open up research for a lot more information, especially at NSW Registry of Births Deaths & Marriages.
  • 3Fred had no Australian address at the time, and his father's address was 3 Church Street, Brighton, England. See Australian Imperial Force—Nominal Roll (service number: 4293) and the National Archives of Australia profile, retrieved 1 October 2017. The Church Street address is Regent Tavern and John Powis was publican while Fred was a child, from around 1899 to 1915. A historical street directory of London and UK Pub history research. Retrieved 1 October 2017. Earlier 1881 records indicate John Bartlett (age 32) was previously a 'Beer Shop Keeper' down the road at the Sir Robert Peel, 48 Church Street, Brighton. His wife is reported as Ellen Powis (age 32) with a daughter Eliza Ellen Powis (age 3). Sir Robert Peel. Fred also appears to have had a brother William (Brighton Boozers: History of pubs in Brighton).
  • 4Three separate notices invite Frederick's family, Edith's family and Edith's friends to the funeral. 'Family Notices' (28 August 1928). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842-1954), p. 9. Retrieved 1 October 2017, from nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16489814.
  • 5This is probably Frederick Bartlett Powis who joined the Department of the Attorney-General and of Justice in August 1938 as a Junior Clerk on Probation ['Appointments' (19 August 1938). Government Gazette of the State of New South Wales (Sydney, NSW: 1901-2001), p. 3365. Retrieved 1 October 2017, from nla.gov.au/nla.news-article225068017], appointed 1939 ['Appointments' (25 August 1939). Government Gazette of the State of New South Wales (Sydney, NSW: 1901-2001), p. 4277. Retrieved 1 October 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article225731606] and resigned on 1 May 1951 ['Resignations' (11 May 1951). Government Gazette of the State of New South Wales (Sydney, NSW: 1901-2001), p. 1455. Retrieved 1 October 2017, from nla.gov.au/nla.news-article220111808]. He married Marjorie Smith at North Sydney in 1958.
  • 6Fred and Ethel had at least one son, Jon Bartelett Powis (1930-2009). Jon was a noted journalist who joined The Sydney Morning Herald as a cadet journalist in 1948 and worked in Sydney, Canberra and Darwin. In 1956, he married Mary Sargeson Metcalf and relocated to Europe, initially with the Herald and later the Australian Financial Review and The Telegraph. In 1960, he worked with Radio Free Europe before returning to Australia in 1972 to become feature writer for The National Times. He subsequently became a freelance public relations consultant and was press secretary to Treasurer John Howard until 1984. He retired in 1999. Peter Lucas, 'A Man at Home behind a Typewriter' (24 June 2009) The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842-1954). Retrieved 1 October 2017, from www.smh.com.au. At the time of his death he was "survived by Mary, his children and children-in-law Elisabeth, Gabrielle and Phillip, Crispin and Beth, grandchildren Ella, Alice, Sally and Matthew, and brother and sister-in-law Fred and Pat."
  • 7Divorce papers Frederick Thomas Powis - Ethel Eleanor Powis [Incorporates 3058/1943] State Archives & Records. Retrieved 1 October 2017.
  • 8Around 1920, Sir Nathaniel Bernard Freeman represented Paramount Pictures Corporation in Albany, New York, learning film publicity and distribution. He become Paramount's special representative at its Sydney Office by 1923. He wrote a series of short articles on the Australian industry in Parament Pep beginning in v.7#38 Wednesday 28 March 1923. He reports that after Australia and New Zealand releases are used two prints of each film are sent to our 'far eastern branches', one to Batavia (Jakarta, Indonesia) and the other to Singapore. Publicity materials (lithographs, photos etc) were also imported at a lower cost than could be manufactured in Australia. Supplies were limited, however, and Australia passed on to Indonesia and Singapore only what was left over. From 1923, the Sydney branch made Press Books similar to the American ones on each production, which are forwarded to exhibitors when a booking is made for the film. Prior to that time, they had produced Service Books on a whole month’s releases, which had been sent to all exhibitors monthly. Freeman reports that "Mr. Powis is the artist and responsible for sketchings, designs for slides and all work necessitating art. Under Mr. Powis is his assistant, Mr. S. Bodking, who does all title cards work and turns out, personally, sixty to one hundred title cards per day. The majority of this work is for our Batavia territory, and is in the Dutch language." 'Talks by "Bernie" Freeman' (25 April 1923). Paramount Pep v7#42 (New York), p. 6. Retrieved 1 October 2017, from archive.org. For an interesting glimpse into simlar processes, see Marks, Walter Moffitt, et. al. (1928). Report of the Royal Commission on the Moving Picture Industry in Australia. Retrieved 2 October 2017, from nla.gov.au/nla.obj-52787365 (digital copy on-line).
  • 9In February 1926, a lunch was held to celebrate Freeman's wedding including Messrs. Ferguson, Lake, Powis, Sol Freeman, Kirkup, Curtis, Floyd, Savage, Malone, Lawson and Worboys. 'Personal' (17 February 1926). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842-1954), p. 14. Retrieved 28 September 2017, from nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16278598. A picture of the company's second sales convention in July 1926 includes Messers. W.J. Kirkup, director of publicity; D. Lake, special representative; N.B. Freeman, managing director; T.E. Ferguson, secretary and treasurer, and F. T. Powis, art director. 'A Motion Picture Conference' (13 July 1926). Evening News (Sydney, NSW: 1869-1931), p. 1. Retrieved 28 September 2017, from nla.gov.au/nla.news-article114387483.
  • 10'Gossip' 24 July (1926). Smith's Weekly (Sydney, NSW: 1919-1950), p. 13. Retrieved 28 September 2017, from nla.gov.au/nla.news-article234441602 and Australian Dictionary of Biography, retrieved 1 October 2017.
  • 11'Business Changes in Filmdom' (12 February 1925). Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic: 1885-1939), p. 20. Retrieved 30 September 2017, from nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146561614.
  • 12'Film War in Earnest' (28 December 1933). The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld: 1933-1954), p. 9. Retrieved 1 October 2017, from nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1155110
  • 13Straight from art college in 1919, Farquhar secured a job at Haymarket Theatres as assistant to Virgil Riley. After his departure in late 1923/early 1924, Farquhar took over. 'Speaking of Movie Aids' (6 July 1924). Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW: 1895-1930), p. 22. Retrieved 30 September 2017, from nla.gov.au/nla.news-article128141478 . For examples of her MGM work, see 'Married Flirts' (30 May 1926). Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW: 1895-1930), p. 24. Retrieved 30 September 2017, from nla.gov.au/nla.news-article128124273 and 'The White Sister'(13 June 1926). Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW: 1895-1930), p. 26. Retrieved 30 September 2017, from nla.gov.au/nla.news-page13782760. Farquhar also supplied paintings for other film studios. For an example, see 'The Jungle Woman' (5 June 1926). The Newcastle Sun (NSW: 1918-1954), p. 7. Retrieved 30 September 2017, from nla.gov.au/nla.news-article163377446. Farquhar later worked for The Australian Women's Weekly, see 'The Rest Cure' (8 July 1933). The Australian Women's Weekly (1933-1982), p. 11. Retrieved 30 September 2017, from nla.gov.au/nla.news-article51189398 and 'A Menace on the Roads' (15 July 1933). The Australian Women's Weekly (1933 - 1982), p. 11. Retrieved 30 September 2017, from nla.gov.au/nla.news-article48075268.
  • 14Wynne W. Davies drew 'The Strange Adventures of Percy the Pommy' the 'The Funny Side' (10 May 1925). Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW: 1895-1930), p. 4. Retrieved 30 September 2017, from nla.gov.au/nla.news-article128158282; and later 'The Strange Adventures of Percy Plantaganet' in Pranks, the Children's Newspaper, also from Sunday Times. He painted some covers for western comics from Consolidated Press, such as Roy Rogers Comics #2. However, the focus of his career was film poster advertising throughout the 1920s and later magazine illustration. For an example of his MGM film advertising art, see 'Confessions of a Queen' (25 April 1926). Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW: 1895-1930), p. 24. Retrieved 30 September 2017, from nla.gov.au/nla.news-article128132308. From 1933, Davies regularly provided illustrations for The Australian Women's Weekly—'Son of Ephraim' (23 September 1933). The Australian Women's Weekly (1933-1982), p. 11. Retrieved 30 September 2017, from nla.gov.au/nla.news-article47807424.
  • 15'M.G.M. Announcement Book' (29 August 1926). Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW: 1895-1930), p. 26. Retrieved 28 September 2017, from nla.gov.au/nla.news-article128135816; and Untitled (22 September 1926). The Register (Adelaide, SA: 1901-1929), p. 8. Retrieved 28 September 2017, from nla.gov.au/nla.news-article54866927.
  • 16See for example, untitled (28 August 1931). The St George Call (Kogarah, NSW: 1904-1957), p. 6. Retrieved 30 September 2017, from nla.gov.au/nla.news-article232200606.
  • 17John Ryan also reports Powis' OPC work in Panel by panel. Stanmore, NSW: Cassell Australia, 1979. Page 161.
  • 18The Offset Printing Coy. Pty. Ltd. and Wirraway Publishing were both at 75 Pitt Street, Sydney, at this time.This building at 75-77 Pitt Street was completed 31 May 1937 as the Australian head office of the Royal Exchange Assurance Company. At twelve storeys, it was the first modernist high-rise building in Sydney. It is now the Thai Airways office. It is possible that there is some relationship between OPC and Wirraway, although it is also easy to envisage Powis dropping into two publishing companies in the same building.
  • 19In 1951, he is reported living in Bellevue Hill when his son Jon Bartlett became engaged to Barbara Leonie Clapp of Balgowlah. The marriage probably didn't occur and Jon married Mary Sargeson Metcalf in 1956. 'Family Notices' (24 November 1951). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842-1954), p. 44. Retrieved 1 October 2017, from nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18240935.
  • 20Fred is described as a 'retired commercial artist'. 'In the Supreme Court of New South Wales…' (21 July 1978). Government Gazette of the State of New South Wales (Sydney, NSW: 1901-2001), p. 3146. Retrieved 1 October 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article219956454.