Look out for lefty

"Look Out for Lefty", Action, 1976-77

Anthony John "Tony" Harding was born in West Ham, London, on 9 January 1942, the son of Leslie W. G. Harding and his wife Margaret, née Ashton. At the age of 16 he joined Link Studios in London as a trainee, working alongside Barrie Mitchell and Mike Lacey, and began working as a comic artist for DC Thomson and Fleetway as a comic artist by 1961, while studying at Saint Martin's School of Art in the evenings and playing football for Gartan Sports FC in East London. A talented footballer, he helped them to win a host of trophies in the mid sixties to early seventies. One of Harding's earliest strips was "Wonder Man" for The Victor in 1961-62. A revival of on an old prose serial from The Rover from 1946, it starred H. K. Rodd, a young man raised by scientists to be the perfect athlete.

He went freelance aged 20 and, with the encouragement of his agent, went to live in Guernsey aged 21 in 1963. There he played for St Martin's FC and between 1963 and 1965 won several more titles and trophies. Another of his early strips, "Bouncing Briggs", first appeared in The Hornet in 1963. Subtitled "the goalie who's good for a laugh", it featured Bernard Briggs, a young scrap metal dealer who became goalkeeper for Blackton Rovers after calling at the club grounds to collect some iron railings, and criticising their goalkeeper so loudly the team challenged him to have a go himself. The strip ran in The Hornet until 1976, and from then in The Hotspur until 1980.

By 1967 he had moved back to London, where he married Ann Morgan, the distractions of It was there he met his future wife, Ann Morgan, whom he married in London in 1967, having moved back after the distractions of life in Guernsey apparently caused him to miss deadlines. During this period he drew "Bobby of the Blues" (1970-71) for Scorcher. In 1972 he moved to Shanklin on the Isle of Wight, working freelance from home. On Saturdays he continued to play football, this time for Rookley FC, playing over 300 games in total and winning many more trophies, only hanging up his boots aged 43 with a dodgy knee. He was voted Life President of Rookley Football Club due to his many years of faithful service as player and captain.

Harding drew various strips for Roy of the Rovers between 1976 and 1993, including "The Footballer Who Wouldn't Stay Dead" and "The Safest Hands in Soccer", but it was only in the annuals that he got to draw the title character. In 1976-77 he drew the controversial football strip "Look Out for Lefty", written by Tom Tully, for Action, taking over from his friend Barrie Mitchell. Harding regarded it as a "cheeky", humorous story, but objected to some of the things he was asked to draw, for example refusing to depict Lefty sticking two fingers up to the crowd. He did draw a scene involving a character throwing a bottle from the crowd and hitting a player on the head, thinking the player was "such a horror" he deserved it. This story caused controversy, making the Daily Mail under the headline "Comic Strip Hooligans". He also drew "Twisty" (1976-78) for Bullet, "This Goalie's Got Guts" (1978-81), and "Roy's Action Replay" (1987) for All Action Monthly.

Originally a Catholic, he became a born-again Christian in 1980, joining the Isle of Wight Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship, of which he became Vice-President, and the Sacred Heart of Jesus Music Group. He became an Independent Arts teacher, using art to help people recovering from strokes and people with disabilities, and a carer at the Sevenacres mental health unit. He founded the Isle of Wight Re-Cycle project, collecting bicycles for Africa.

Work in comics began to dry up in the early 1990s after Roy of the Rovers and The Victor ceased publication. He did some work in the late 1990s for Football Picture Story Monthly and a soccer comic in the USA, and left comics in 2000. He suffered from an irregular heartbeat, and died suddenly on 12 January 2014, aged 72, while returning from work at the Afton ward at Sevenacres.


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