Email Address

The Making of "Mr. Crabtree Goes Fishing" - 02/06/19

Bernard Venables was born in Catford in 1907 and started a career as a graphic artist in the Daily Express newspaper in 1937.  He had a chance meeting in a pub with Sylvester Bolam who was Deputy Editor of the Daily Mirror, and they discussed fishing. Subsequently, in 1946 he joined the paper.


The Daily Mirror was running a competition for readers to describe their dream trip, and Bernard drew a cartoon strip to illustrate their stories.


When interest in this had petered out, it was decided to produce a cartoon strip on gardening. The text was written by another famous angler, Jack Hargeaves and the fictional gardener featured was given the name of Mr. Crabtree. The series wasn’t enthusiastically received, even when the writer was changed for a much more knowledgable gardener, and so it was cut.


It was decided that this should be replaced with a fishing cartoon strip and so was born the Mr. Crabtree we all came to love. Bernard was an enthusiastic fisherman and so didn’t need a script writer and created Peter as Mr. Crabtee’s son to help explain different techniques of fishing across various venues. Bernard often said that Mr Crabtree was written just as he would have fished and they were basically the same person.


It was at this time that the existing Editor of the Daily Mirror retired and Bolam was appointed to the position. One of his first actions was to appoint Bernard as “Angling Correspondent” and said he should only come into the office one day every week, and that his output would not be screened by sub-editors.


It was the first position of this type and Bernard said he saw his new role as raising the profile of the sport and serving the brotherhood of anglers everywhere.


In 1948, the idea was conceived to collate the cartoons into a book which was then published in 1949, accompanied by atmospheric colour illustrations and additional text.


The first edition of the book ‘Mr. Crabtree Goes Fishing’ was produced with a picture of a chub held in what became known Crabtree-style net on the front cover and a leaping pike on the rear, and these are highly collectible.


Such was the demand that it was subsequently re-published to meet the huge demand with the chub on the front and the rear. These are still sought after by the millions of anglers who remember the book from their childhood.


This iconic book, now celebration its 70th birthday became a classic publication, perhaps the most famous fishing book after The Compleat Angler.


It quickly sold more than two million copies, and the plates used in production, started to wear out (after Bernard had left the paper) so it was reproduced as “Fishing with Mr. Crabtree in all Waters”. The badly worn chapters were omitted and replaced by conventional text and photographs about sea fishing. Bernard wrote about how he found these changes awful and utterly out of keeping with the original book.


Despite the book being a runaway success, Bernard was employed as a member of staff and so all his work was the property of the Daily Mirror and he received no additional monies for its creation, in fact the Daily Mirror exploited it by producing books such as ‘Mr Crabtree’s Guide to Good Fishing Tackle’ in 1969, long after he had left.


Bernard left the daily Mirror to create the Angling Times and while working there produced the cartoon strip of Mr. Cherry and Jim. This was along very similar lines but never reached the heights of Mr. Crabtree.


In 1961 Bernard had a disagreement with Angling Times and they parted company. He went on to create Creel, in July 1963, one of the first colour angling magazines with contributions by anglers who were then household names.


In 1995 he was awarded an MBE


Bernard died in 2001 and was buried in a wicker (creel style) coffin. He was one of the outstanding contributors to the angling scene in the twentieth century, but to generations of anglers he will always be fondly remembered as Mr. Crabtree.

Keith Armishaw