DARWEN Heritage Centre had a lot of interest recently when it published a striking cartoon of Darwen Grammar School staff members of over 60 years ago, created by the art master.

John Leonard Higson, who started teaching there before the Second Word War, was probably the most popular staff member the school ever had. Comments to the Centre’s website all wrote warmly of his enthusiasm, skill and patience.

One, from Beryl Barker, mentioned that “he drew the cartoon Wee Slavey in the Judy comic.”

Indeed he did - for over 20 years! A bit of digging, and help from school archivist John Dalton, revealed that he began the cartoon when Judy was launched in 1961. The strip proved very popular with pre-teen girls.

Higson also did other work for the DC Thomson comics and newspaper empire and his hand was to be seen in Bunty and a serialisation of David Copperfield – names scratched on to a school door along with character James Steerforth were, rather mysteriously, several of his DGS colleagues!

It was unusual in those days for anyone with what might be called a responsible position to undertake a second job. But John Higson confided in a friend that drawing cartoons provided rather more handsome rewards than teaching.

He was born in 1911 and lived with his parents in Downham. He joined Darwen Grammar in what became the town’s Technical School after the move to new premises close to Blackburn boundary.

He served in the RAF throughout the war, finding time in 1942 to marry the school’s Latin teacher Hannah Hill, of Todmorden, at St Leonard’s Church, Downham. They had three sons. After the war he wrote the school’s beautiful Book of Remembrance; Hannah embroidered the ribbon for it.

“Higgy”, as he was known, retired in 1971, the year before the school went comprehensive and became the Vale, but he continued with his cartoon output. He was living in Gib Lane, Blackburn, when he died in 1987.

So, what was Wee Slavey all about? Well, she was Nellie Perks who worked as a maidservant for the Shelby-Smythes in the late Victorian era.

Nellie was smart and loyal and always ended up saving the day no matter what problems she faced and in spite of the rather snooty sisters in the household.

n The cartoon hung in the staff room for many years and among teachers portrayed in Secret lifeh teacher Miss Annis asked him why? “Too dangerous,” he confided.