Monday 20 February 2017

New Book: Strange Times in Little Happining

As usual I update you all on the latest publications that I have illustrated but this one is particularly special for me. Twelve years ago I met an aspiring writer who I would marry eight years later, another four years would pass before she finally published her work and hired me to illustrate it for her! Strange Times in Little Happining by Beth Jones tells of a series of mysterious murders and strange occurrences in the quiet rural town of Little Happining that has Inspector Mandalay and the eager Sergeant Barnes completely flummoxed. Along with the help of local history expert Ellie Morgan, Mandalay and Barnes struggle to solve this unsolvable case. Think Doctor Who meets Midsommer Murders it doesn't matter what I say at this point it will only sound biased, but what the hell? I am proud of her and urge you to follow this link and order your copy because it really is a terrific read!

Join the Facebook group and buy it today, then tell everyone what you thought!

© Arfon Jones 2017. All images are copyrighted throughout the world.

Saturday 18 February 2017

Dine out before they die out!

When Mrs Jones and I are out and about on outings, we often find ourselves looking for place to eat and I have noticed that some of the familiars are not around as much as they used to be.... Case in point, Wimpy, all the good things that we expect from a hamburger-based eating establishment on the high street but with the added bonus of having it brought over to your table on a plate and you get to eat it with a knife and fork! Very upmarket! and typically British... Funny when you consider how “Wimpy Grills” was first established by a Mr Edward Gold of Bloomington, Indiana in 1934 who later licensed the Wimpy (inspired by Popeye's pal J. Wellington Wimpy) franchise to British restaurant chain J. Lyons and Co in 1954. Lyons and Co. opened their first UK based "Wimpy Bar" at the Lyons Corner House in Coventry Street, London as a novelty, having fast-food section served within their more traditional Corner House restaurants. Sure enough it was a success and it led to the establishment of separate Wimpy restaurants serving only hamburger-based meals and a British institution was born. At its height in the 1970 there were 500 restaurants serving hamburgers across the UK but sadly by 1989 the number of locations had dropped to 381. It seemed that Wimpy was loosing the battle to McDonald’s (who had opened their first UK restaurant in 1974). It was also during this time that Grand Metropolitan (whom owned the rights to Burger King) had bought the rights to Wimpy, and started converting their "counter service" restaurants to the Burger King's because it had a greater global brand recognition (interestingly the first UK Burger King was opened in 1977 in the same Coventry Street premises that Wimpy started out in 1954!). In 2002 there were approximately 300 Wimpy establishments in the UK and Ireland and now in 2017 there are only 81 still in business, now I am no mathematician but I have noticed that the numbers are going down! I must stress that I am not one of these Moaning Minnies that blames the bigger chains for the decline. A quick look up and down the high street tells me that it's a jungle out there and there are several restaurants competing for our appetite and money so I (personally) don't blame the Clown, The King and Colonel for this.

Moving on from the High Street we stop off at the roadside for another classic British institution (albeit inspired by an American concept) the Little Chef. First opened near Reading in Berkshire in 1958 as travellers had started to frequent the new and expanding road networks of the United Kingdom. English caravan designer, artist and philanthropist Mr. Samuel Alper OBE (1924– 2002) inspired by the small roadside diners he had frequented in America realised his vision of a family friendly place to stop and eat that provided a break from the usual roadside eating establishment inhabited by truckers and bikers and by 1968 there were 25 Little Chef restraints located beside the UK's roads 44 by 1970 and 100 outlets by 1972! By the time they added Jubilee Pancakes to the menu in 1977 there were 174 Little Chefs up and down the country! Little Chef was doing great, it only had one real roadside competitor, Happy Eater (which had been founded in 1973 by Michael Pickard) But the competition ended in 1985 when Happy Eater owners the Imperial Group conglomerate sold its brand and 75 restaurants to Little Chef owners Trusthouse Forte (later just Forte) and so both brands ran side by side into the 1990's.

Little Chef introduced the Olympic breakfast in 1994 and a spin-off brand called "Little Chef Express" in 1995 to rival fast food outlets which had started to become more commonplace before the chains were bought up in an aggressive takeover by Granada in 1996. At its peak in 2000 there were 450 restaurants trading but all good things... In 2006, it emerged that Little Chef was undergoing serious financial problems and had lost nearly half of its branches in five years. Little Chef was taken into administration, and the company was rescued in 2007 by RCapital, a UK private equity group, which paid less than £10 million however 38 of the 235 branches were not included in the sale and were closed immediately the decline of Little Chef was blamed on the increased numbers of pub restaurants and service stations having Marks & Spencer Simply Food sections and coffee chains such as Costa and Starbucks and of course the Clown, The King and Colonel. In 2012, Little Chef announced that it planned to close 67 of its failing restaurants and year by year another restaurant would close and now at the time of writing this, with only 70 restaurants remaining it has been revealed that Little Chef is facing yet another takeover that could see it completely disappear from our roads forever! Euro Garages already in partnerships with Starbucks, Subway, Greggs and Burger King are in “advanced talks” to buy the brand and its restaurants this has left many Little Chef employees fearing for the restaurant's future! 

So Arfon, this is all very interesting but where are you going with all this?” Well, feeling some what saddened at the apparent decline of these classic eating places I, Arfon Jones, have decided to make it my mission to seek out the remaining Wimpy and Little Chef establishments I will frequent and document them on this site, we've lost Woolworths and British Home Stores and now it looks like we might loose the Bender Burger and Olympic Breakfast too! So join me in this little segment that will hopefully have you salivating and savouring your memories and encouraging you to revisit! First two.

Wimpy, 160 Streatham High Road
Streatham, London, SW16 1BJ
Conveniently adjacent to Streatham ODEON is one of the oldest Wimpys in Britain, having been open for 42 years! Nice and clean and everything you expect of a Wimpy Bar. On the first leg of my mission I had the Mega Burger comprising of a 100% beef burger, cheese, onions and ketchup finished with the the trademark bender frankfurter sausage with a side order of chips. Followed by desert the classic Brown Derby, a doughnut served with ice cream, chocolate and nuts. Very nice it was too, being an establishment that has been open and in the same hands for 42 years the staff were friendly and professional. I highly recommender a visit.

The Mega Burger (complete with trademark bender sausage) with a side order of chips. The other Wimpy classic
the Brown Derby, a doughnut served with ice cream, chocolate and nuts.


Little Chef Northop Hall, A55
Little Chef in Northop Hall located on the A55 their website informs us, “We are on the border of England and Wales which makes it easy to access lots of popular attractions with Chester Zoo and the Blue Planet aquarium less then 20 minutes away there's plenty to keep the kids entertained” (can't argue with that), “around 1 hour away from Holyhead restaurant a perfect stop off on your way from Ireland” again quite true, as the other 3 Little Chefs you once would have passed on your way to Holyhead (Penmaenmawr, Menai Bridge and Gaerwen) have long since closed. We both had the 'Early Starter' Breakfast comprising of a rasher of back bacon, British pork sausage, a griddle-fried free range egg, two hash browns and Heinz baked beans served with toast opting for the additional extra griddled tomato, mushrooms (Mrs Jones also had the black pudding slice) To once again quote their website, “Our staff here at Northop Hall are friendly and helpful. We pride ourselves on being a happy team” no argument here, very friendly staff, nothing was too much trouble. Bonus points for the free T-shirts and lollipops!

'Early Starter' Breakfast and free lollipop!

My sincere thanks to former Little Chef employee Adrian Atkins for very kindly correcting some errors and providing further information. Many thanks Adrian!


© Arfon Jones 2017. All images are copyrighted throughout the world.

Monday 6 February 2017

Around the Studio: My Grandpa Munster (inspired) Electric (reading) Chair

Following on from my recent radio interview I have had requests to see the items featured in the interview, the studio is still currently being renovated but I will endeavour to answer the request, so first up, my reading chair.

Four years ago after ten years faithful service I had to dispose of my old leather reading chair. I was genuinely sorry to see it go but vowed to replace it with something even better and set upon the idea of constructing my very own reading chair that would not only be a practical piece of furniture but also something to sit in during my twilight years (well I am pushing 40 now) and recount how I had crafted it with own hands. I had a specific idea in mind and two years later with that specific idea in mind I happened to discover this wooden chair (standing at around 4 foot) outside a second hand furniture shop, I wouldn’t call it's construction amateurish but it had almost certainly been someone’s wood craft project at one time and the shop (that evidently didn't want it) sold it to me for £5. I was delighted, I had snagged the bear bones needed for creating the reading chair that I had always wanted for a bargain price. Having brought the chair home with me I found a corner for it and revealed my plans to my family, I was going to customise it into a Grandpa Munster (inspired) electric chair. They were not convinced.

(left) The great Al Lewis (1923– 2006) as the imortal Grandpa sitting in his chair
(right) Yvonne DeCarlo (1922 – 2007) as Lilly in the same chair on the Munsters set
© Universal
I've been a life long fan of The Munsters and even though I had long given up actually living in the house I hadn't ruled out owning parts of it such as Grandpa's electric chair. As there doesn't seem to be a definitive look for an electric chair I opted for making it look as close to Grandpa's as I could and with next to no information available about the original prop on the internet, it gave me the perfect excuse to re-watch the series and make notes.

I altered the back of the chair and added some additional sections made up from offcuts from previous projects and the chair soon started to take shape. Now with the bear bones and initial shape I set about adding the details that would define the chair, vintage style nails and wood stain were added and removed accordingly to give an aged/worn look (paying particular attention to areas where flaying or attempts of escape might have taken place). As I wanted all the leather straps/restraints to look original and match I taught myself leather belt making and with a length of dark 'antique look' full grain leather and some 'antique style' half single roller buckles I fixed the aged/crackled straps in place with vintage style, brass upholstery staples. The metal hasp shackles were created using an old plastic pipe that I cut and then added hinges, spray painted and then attached to the arms with mirror screws. For the all important electrical insulators I called upon the skilful talents of Mr Andy Dingley of Atelier Fabry-PĂ©rot who laser cut a few for me, I painted them white and spray varnished them to make them look porcelain adding that essential electrical look to the chair. Spare lengths of black cable was threaded through the chair, wrapped around and then connected to the insulators. The only part of the project that I strayed away from the original design was the head piece itself. Even though I already had an industrial style ceiling light shade for the headpiece I found a Holme Angled standing floor lamp that provided a rather nice frame to hang over the chair and so I opted for using it instead, removing the lamp's standing base I secured it to the back of the chair with an bracket clamp (designed for securing aerials to caravans) then added smaller insulators on the headpiece before attaching a line switch on the mains cable and removing all traces of chrome with a can of gun metal grey spray paint and a dash of black paint and popping-in a vintage Edison filament bulb! Having resisted the urge to layer the chair with cobwebs the entire project was finished off with a Gothic/Lily Munster inspired cushion customised by Mrs Jones to assure that I would be comfortable while I sat in my electric chair. So there you have it, I'm rather pleased with the end results and delighted that I finally have my very own electric chair and often get a 'jolt' when visitors to the studio ask to sit in it!
© Arfon Jones 2017. All images are copyrighted throughout the world.

Thursday 2 February 2017

BBC Radio Cymru interview with Aled Hughes, 02/02/2017

“Who will be the next Doctor Who? Al Hughes chats with Arfon Jones."
It's been just over a fortnight since I featured on Aled Hughes's BBCRadio Cymru (Radio Wales) show and oh my giddy aunt I've been on again! This time in my professional capacity as a Uber Geek and Doctor Who fsuperfan/ know it all. I was invited to the studio to discuss Peter Capaldi's shock announcement that he will be leaving the show at the end of the year. Our conversation has been posted on the BBC website but I thought I would translate it for the benefit of all you non-welsh speaking readers!

(Doctor Who theme plays)
Aled:Well there has been quite fuss this week, like no other. Peter Capaldi, the actor has announced that he will be leaving the role of Doctor Who. After this years' Christmas special I believe. Someone who knows much more about this than me is Arfon Jones. Good morning Arfon.”
Arfon: “Good morning Aled.”
Aled: “You've watched them all, a huge fan of the series. Was this announcement a surprise to you?"
Arfon: "It was rather, I did think that Peter Capaldi would have done more BUT there is a tradition within Doctor Who that the actor only does three years.”
Aled:Explain this to me, I was saying just before we switched the microphone on. James Bond, a new actor is selected and then the production team will announce that they are ready for a new actor for the role, in Doctor Who it seems as though its the actor that announces that he's had enough and quits. Each time.”
Arfon: “Well this goes back to the 1980's, the story goes that Patrick Troughton, the second Doctor took Peter Davison (the Doctor at that time) to one side and advised to him to only do three years in the part. That was his advice, to safeguard that he get other work afterwords.... So that is the 'tradition', three years for each actor." 
Aled: “Its regular work, you are known to millions yet, its seems as though the actors are scared off by it half way through."
Arfon: “It is strange, because Peter Capaldi is such a fan of the show I thought he would have stayed for a bit longer- Like Tom Baker - and stayed for as long as he could. But no, it would seem that he too has decided to go after three years.”
Aled: "yes indeed, after Christmas and the Bookies have already opened the books. Helena Bonham Carter, Olivia Colman are two favourites to win. What do you make of that idea?”
Arfon: "I need to be careful in what I say next..."
Aled: "Oh-oh! What are you going to say!?”
Arfon: "Unfortunately, I (personally) don't want to see the character being played by a woman....”
Aled: "Oooooooooohhhh.”
Arfon: "I know I won't be too popular after saying that...”
Aled: "Why not? Its 2017 explain yourself Arfon Jones!”     
Arfon: "errr... It's to do with the character. Right, two years ago they brought back the Master. This character has been in the series since the 1970's. He's been a man throughout, but when they brought him back in the new series they turned him into a woman. I felt that I was watching a completely different character. I didn't feel it was the same 'person' that I had been watching all this time. BUT that's my preference. Its nothing to do with sexism or anything like that! It just so happens that with Doctor Who, I would rather if he remained a man.”
Aled: "But a woman would add a little something to it, a new angle? Having a woman leading cast and crew would make the production interesting.”         
Arfon: "I've dug myself a hole here haven't I?”
Aled: "I think so! I'm just asking a question, don't you think so though?”
Arfon: "Well, yes it would certainly make it different. But its just that I've been a fan from the start and I don't want things to change.”
Aled: "I think that Doctor Who is like Marmite, you either love it or hate it. What is it about it, that grabs you? A time traveller that travels to different worlds and galaxies, what is the appeal?”
Arfon: ”There is a lot to it, it sounds like a simple premise but at the end of the day you can go to ANY time and ANY planet... anywhere. SO its not going to be exactly the same each time.”
Aled: "Stepping into a blue police box and travelling. Does it not sound somewhat old fashioned these days?”
Arfon: “Well, they introduced it the first time round so I guess its within their right to keep it that way. But they did try and change it a little in the 1970's by having him stranded on Earth, Jon Pertwee but that was because of their budget.”
Aled: ” yeah”.
Arfon: "But they have tried changing it in the past...”
Aled: "But in this day and age, sci-fi blockbusters where we have ideas that weren't around in the 1970's is the Doctor old fashioned now?”
Arfon: "I don't think so, I think it would continue on if it had their budgets.”
Aled: "Is this new ground then? an important milestone for the Doctor following on from Capaldi's decision to leave? Where will they go next? Do they need to think of something fresh?”
Arfon: "I'm sure they will think of something. (after all) there is a new production crew lined up along with a new actor... or actress!”
Aled: "There was a gap wasn't there in the 1980's when the original series was cancelled?”
Arfon: " Yes, it ended in the 1980's. They (the BBC) decided to stop making any more. They tried it again in America in 1996, they tried it as a pilot but sadly it wasn't picked up and we had to wait until 2005 for it to get a new series.”
Aled: "So its been as long as that since it had its second breath. People were apprehensive back then.”
Arfon: ”Yes. But we had been saying for years that it was worth bringing it back.”
Aled: "And then there's all the things that surrounds it. I've been to your home and seen your collection, we had a chat about it a few weeks back. The Daleks... there's a brand around the name 'Doctor Who'.”
Arfon: "Yes, even when the series had ended, these things were still being produced and the fans kept it alive.”
Aled: "Who is the best Doctor?” 
Arfon: "hmmmmmm.... Id say that its a matter of taste. I would say, Tom Baker will be remembered as the best. But William Hartnell was the first. So its difficult, it depends who you grew up with. Its happening now, there are children out there that watched David Tennant first and not aware of the others.”
Aled: "would you recommend that they watch the originals?”
Arfon: "yes, undoubtedly.”
Aled: "So have you a name? Who do you think should the next Doctor Who be?”
Arfon: ”I would like to see... I've given this some thought, Alan Davis. As the Doctor.”
Aled: ”Has he not been in it before?”
Arfon: "No.”
Aled: "Alan Davis, who was in Jonathan Creek?”
Arfon: "Yeah, I would say that he would be a great one.”
Aled: oooh, that's interesting. The Bookies haven't got his name. They think Tom Hiddleston.”
Arfon: "Right. I wont argue with them”
Aled: ”But then usually they know something we don't. 
Arfon: "Well, I'm always wrong so.... Don't hold me to it!”
Aled: "No not all, but that's an interesting name".
Arfon: "But that's just me. That's who I would like to see in the part. I would like to see him
Aled: "And the last question, who's the worst Doctor Who ever?”
Arfon: "no-no! I'm not going to answer that one!”
Aled: "Arfon...Arfon! Who made the least impression on you, work wise? ”
Arfon: ”I wouldn't say that... my own preference... I'm not as big a fan of... What with the comments made about women and this I wont be able to leave the building! Errr, Peter Davison isn't MY favourite... I will say that much, I wouldn't say he was the worst but I find that I don't go back to his stories as much as I would the others...”*
Aled: "Interesting, Hey you were honest I couldn't ask any more of you! Arfon Jones talking about Doctor Who, thank you very much.”
Arfon: "You are most welcome”

There you go, if you do in fact understand the language of the land of my fathers you can hear the interview here, be sure to tune in and catch Aled's show on BBC Radio Cymru

*As is often the case, I had more time to think about my answer and in hindsight I should have said Christopher Eccleston.

© Arfon Jones 2017. All images are copyrighted throughout the world.  

Wednesday 1 February 2017

From the Vaults: 1997- 1998 The Vincent T. Vulture Cambrian News strip

As I mentioned in the 'From the Scrapbook' when I was 18 and at Art college I had a weekly comic strip in The Cambrian News. The strip promised to have its readership around mid, west and north Wales “in stitches every week” and featured my own creation Vincent T Vulture, a vulture too proud to scavenge that tries to use his superior intellect to capture his prey, a pair of kangaroo rat brothers. Naturally the balance of nature would not allow such things and so he was doomed to failure. I make no secret of my cartoon influences in the strips that featured in the paper for 31 weeks. It was great fun, writing and drawing the three panel strip on a Sunday, posting it (Internet in its infancy then kids!)to the paper's head office on the Monday and it would be in the paper that Thursday. Sadly the paper was bought by media entrepreneur Sir Ray Tindle in 1998 and the format of the paper's underwent some changes and one of the things they dropped was my strip. Never the less I look back on those days with great fondness as it was my first step into having my work published (not to mention being paid for it!). Here are a few random strips from the 31 produced that were used, hope you like them...


© Arfon Jones 1997-1998 -2017. All images are copyrighted throughout the world.

From the Scrapbook: July, 1997

Young, Optimistic and strategically positioned to hide
the naked Madonna poster on my door...
A new segment for 2017 not too dissimilar to my irregular 'from the vaults' feature only focusing on my appearances in the press over my career. Our first one takes us back to Thursday the 3rd of July 1997 when I was featured in the Cambrian News the second largest newspaper in Wales.
An 18 year old me featured in their press pack segment announcing that I was to have a weekly comic strip in the paper the following week called, The Adventures of Vincent T Vulture (more on that in the 'from the vaults' post). 

© Arfon Jones 1997-2017. All images are copyrighted throughout the world.


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