|Parent company||Fleetway Publications (1961–1963)|
IPC Magazines (1963–1969)
|Founded||1890 (as William Odhams)|
1920 (as Odhams Press)
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|Headquarters location||64 Long Acre, London|
|Key people||John Lynch Odhams, William James Baird Odhams, Julius Elias, Edwin Embleton, Alf Wallace, Pippa King Melling|
|Publication types||magazines, books, comics|
|Nonfiction topics||history, lifestyle, fashion, animals|
|Fiction genres||humour, adventure, superhero|
|Imprints||Odhams Books Ltd|
Power Comics (1966–1968)
Odhams Press was a British publishing company, operating from 1920 to 1968. Originally a magazine publisher, Odhams later expanded into book publishing and then children's comics. The company was acquired by Fleetway Publications in 1961 and then IPC Magazines in 1963. In its final incarnation, Odhams was known for its Power Comics line of titles, notable for publishing reprints of American Marvel Comics superheroes.
John Odhams; William Odhams; Odhams Bros.
According to Susan M. Penn's history of Long Street at Sherborne, Dorset, as verified by Harrop's historical house survey and by local census information, the house known since 1968 as Mistletoe Cottage was occupied in 1834 by John Odhams. His eldest son, William, grew up to be a compositor: possibly serving his apprenticeship with Langdon and Harker at the Sherborne Mercury Printing Office in Long Street, according to his great-granddaughter, although there is no other evidence to support this. However, at the rear of Mistletoe Cottage is a substantial brick-built shed. The flat flooring of this shed is very solid, complete with thick oak planking, well able to support and withstand heavy items of machinery such as a printing press. Earthworks next to the shed in or around 2002 revealed evidence of many-colored printing inks still visible in the soil.
In 1834 William Odhams left for London, where he initially worked for The Morning Post. In 1847 he went into partnership with William Biggar in Beaufort Buildings, Savoy, London; and in the 1870s he started the business known as William Odhams. Originally a jobbing printer and newspaper publisher, William Odhams sold the business to his two sons, John Lynch Odhams and William James Baird Odhams, in 1892. The business, then a small printing firm in Hart Street employing about twenty people, became known as Odhams Bros.
Magazine and book publishing
Odhams Limited was created in 1898. Julius Elias, who left school at the age of 13 before going to work as an office boy at Odhams Bros, worked his way up to become managing director and eventually chairman of the firm, which after a merger with John Bull in 1920 took the name Odhams Press Ltd. That same year, the company also founded Ideal Home and acquired the equestrian magazine Horse & Hound.
Odhams acquired a 51% share in the Trades Union Congress paper the Daily Herald in 1930 (by that point, Odhams was already publishing The Sunday People). A promotion campaign ensued, and in 1933, the Herald became the world's best-selling daily newspaper, with certified net sales of 2 million. This accomplishment set off a war with more conservative London papers, such as the Daily Express.
By 1937 Odhams had founded the first colour weekly, Woman, for which it set up and operated a dedicated high-speed print works. Later, Odhams expanded into book publishing, for example publishing Winston Churchill's Painting as a Pastime (1965), Rupert Gunnis's Dictionary of British Sculptors 1660–1851 (1953), and an edition of the complete works of William Shakespeare.
In 1954, Odhams Press Hall was built in Watford, designed by Yates, Cook and Derbyshire. The building was later protected by the Watford Borough Council because of the innovative clock tower, which houses a water tank for use in printing.
Throughout the 1960s, Odhams Books Ltd (likewise founded by Odhams Press) operated the Companion Book Club (CBC). This published a large series of hardcover novels.
Children's comics and acquisition by Fleetway/IPC
Odhams published Mickey Mouse Weekly from the 1930s (acquiring it from Willbank Publications), which featured American reprints as well as original British Disney comics material, including a number of non-Disney-related strips. Odhams lost the rights to Disney characters in 1957, and almost immediately launched the weekly comic Zip, which inherited the non-Disney strips from Mickey Mouse Weekly.
In 1959, Odhams purchased George Newnes Ltd as well as its imprint C. Arthur Pearson Ltd. Notable comics titles originally published by Pearson and continued by Odhams included the romance comics Mirabelle and Marty, and the Picture Stories and Picture Library series.
In 1960 Cecil Harmsworth King, chairman of the Daily Mirror newspaper, made an approach to Odhams on behalf of Fleetway Publications (formerly the Amalgamated Press). Odhams' board found this too attractive to refuse and, in 1961, Odhams was taken over by Fleetway. In 1963 its holdings were amalgamated with those of Fleetway and others to form the International Publishing Corporation (known as IPC). Between 1964 and 1968 Odhams operated as a subsidiary of IPC.
Odhams' "juveniles" (i.e., children's comics) competed for readers with DC Thomson, publisher of such popular titles as The Beano, The Dandy, and Commando. Alf Wallace, who had found success at Fleetway with his line of War Picture Library comics, was brought over to oversee Odhams' comics line. He was, however, unable to reverse the declining popularity of Eagle and Swift, or succeed with Boys' World, launched in 1963. In fact, by early 1964, Swift and Boys' World had both been absorbed by Eagle, which, along with Girl, was then taken over by IPC.
In desperation, Wallace recruited veteran cartoonist Leo Baxendale, who had worked for DC Thomson for many years, to create a new, energetic comics weekly. Baxendale's Wham! debuted on 20 June 1964, breaking the mould of traditional British humour strips with its use of bizarre humour, outrageous puns, and surreal plots. With the success of Wham!, the next title in the new line, Smash!, debuted on 5 February 1966. With Odhams acquiring the Marvel Comics license in early 1966, The Hulk became the first Marvel superhero to show up in an Odhams title when he debuted in Smash! #16 (21 May 1966). The popularity of that strip led to Wham! adding Fantastic Four reprints beginning 6 August 1966. In late 1966, with two Odhams' titles featuring superheroes (and the third, Pow!, on the way), the Power Comics line was created. The line, which also came to include Fantastic and Terrific, was notable for its use of superhero material reprinted from Marvel, serving as an introduction of this new breed of American superheroes to UK readers.
Close of business
In 1968 Odhams encountered financial problems, partly due to unfavourable economic conditions in Britain. As a result of this, and of IPC's desire to rationalise its titles and eliminate duplication, the comics published by the Odhams Press imprint were closed or transferred to IPC Magazines Ltd, another IPC subsidiary. This contained the losses on the Power Comics range within Odhams, which was a limited company with separate liability, but, in consequence, Odhams became financially unviable. On 1 January 1969 it effectively ceased to exist as a publishing business, when publication of its last surviving comics title, Smash!, was taken over by IPC.[b] (In 1971, Smash! merged with the IPC title Valiant.)
- Geographical (1965–1968)
- Horse & Hound (from 1920)
- Ideal Home (founded 1920)
- John Bull (1920–1964)
- Kinematograph Weekly
- Leader Magazine
- News Review (c. 1940–1950) — merged into Illustrated magazine
- NME (1962–1968)
- Rugby World (from 1960)
- Woman (from 1937)
- Beacon Books
- Britain Illustrated
- Colourama Series
- Famous Criminal Trials
- Hippo Books
- Man's Book Series
- Modern Living Series
- New Educational Library
- Odhams Owner-Driver Handbooks
- The People's Home Library
- Popular Library
- University Series
- The War in Pictures
|Title||Odhams' pub. dates||Fate||Notes|
|Mickey Mouse Weekly||1936–1957||Cancelled||Odhams lost rights to Disney characters in 1957|
|Zip||1958–1959||Merged into Swift||Contained many strip originally from Mickey Mouse Weekly|
|Eagle||1960–1963||Taken over and continued by IPC||Originally launched by Hulton Press in 1950; merged into Lion in 1969|
|Girl||1960–1964||Merged into IPC's Princess||Originally launched in 1951 by Hulton Press|
|Robin||1960–1963||Taken over and continued by IPC||Originally launched by Amalgamated Press in 1953; merged into IPC's Playhour in 1969|
|Swift||1960–1963||Merged into Eagle||Originally launched by Hulton Press in 1954 as a junior companion to Eagle|
|Boys' World||1963–1964||Merged into Eagle||Published under the Longacre Press imprint|
|Wham!||1964–1968||Merged into Pow!|
|Smash!||1966–1969||Taken over by IPC||Absorbed Pow! and Wham! and then Fantastic and Terrific in 1968; merged into Valiant in 1971|
|Pow!||1967–1968||Merged into Smash!|
|Fantastic||1967–1968||Merged into Smash!|
|Terrific||1967–1968||Merged into Fantastic|
- Odhams' headquarters were at 64 Long Acre, London, inspiring the new name.
- Alf Wallace, now out of a job with Odhams, quickly joined the comics packager Martspress, started by a former colleague at Fleetway, Leonard Matthews. Martspress took on the production of the 1969 relaunch of City Magazines' TV21; that title, which also ended up being acquired by IPC, ended up using Marvel Comics reprint material in 1970–1971.
- Murray, Chris. "Mergers and Marvels (1962–1980)," The British Superhero (Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2017), p. 173.
- "Locally Listed Buildings in Watford". Watford Borough Council. 13 December 2010. Archived from the original on 29 September 2013. Retrieved 28 May 2013.
- The Times (19 June 1959).
- "George Newnes Co," Grace's Guide to British Industrial History. Retrieved 1 Apr. 2021.
- "Odhams Press," International Catalogue of Super-Heroes. Retrieved 3 Mar. 2021.
- Tatarsky, Daniel (2009), Eagle Annual: The Best of the 1960s Comic, London: Orion, pp. introduction, ISBN 978-0-7528-8895-8.
- A Tribute to Frank Hampson 1918–1985, tameside.gov.uk, 12 September 2007, retrieved 24 June 2010
- Seymour-Ure, Colin (2004). "Hulton, Sir Edward George Warris (1906–1988), magazine publisher and writer". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/40161. Retrieved 24 August 2013.
- Birch, Paul. "Speaking Frankly," Archived 20 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine Birmingham Mail (14 December 2008).
- Coates, Alan and David. "Smash!" British Comic World #3 (A. & D. Coates, June 1984).
- Collins, Robert M. "The Economic Crisis of 1968 and the Waning of the 'American Century,'" The American Historical Review Vol. 101, No. 2 (Apr., 1996), pp. 396-422.
- Martin, Patrick. "Eugene McCarthy, dead at 89, played pivotal role in 1968 political crisis," World Socialist Web Site (30 December 2005).
- George Beal, Obituary: Leonard Matthews, The Independent, 5 December 1997
- Stringer, Lew. "Flashback 1969: TV21 & Joe 90 No.1," Blimey! The Blog of British Comics! (25 November 2007).
- Beacon Books (Odhams Press) - Book Series List, publishinghistory.com. Retrieved 23 January 2020.
- Hippo Books / New Hippo Books (Odhams; then Hamlyn) - Book Series List, publishinghistory.com. Retrieved 23 January 2020.
- DUMPY and other pocket-sized books, collectingbooksandmagazines.com. Retrieved 23 January 2020.
- Swift at the Grand Comics Database
- Robin at the Grand Comics Database
- The IPC Media website
- Howard Cox and Simon Mowatt, "Technology and Industrial Change: The Shift from Production to Knowledge-Based Business in the Magazine Print Publishing Industry", paper presented to the 2001 Association of Business Historians Conference, 2001 (Research Papers in International Business no. 27).