Derek Wall - Mustard comedy magazine

Derek Wall

The original Mustard man
Derek Wall, CovRad

I've often been asked why I called the magazine 'Mustard'. (Someone suggested that it's a combination of 'Musson', and 'bastard', but that's just a coincidence.)

Back when I was putting the first issue together I was trying to find a title that worked. It had to be unpretentious, quirky, and sound right without really meaning anything – so that the personality of the mag would be created by the content, rather than dictated by the title.

I went through a big list of titles, but nothing was quite working.


CovRad, next to Radford station, Coventry

Then my thoughts turned to Derek Wall and CovRad ('Coventry Radiators'), a factory I'd worked in for four years between school and University. During my apprenticeship there I worked mainly in the Drawing Office where, before CAD (Computer Aided Design), we stood at huge drawing boards with big set squares on moveable arms, using HB pencils to draw engineering diagrams on plastic sheets.

Of the many interesting characters in the Drawing Office, the king was undoubtedly Derek Wall, a grumpy misanthrope whose dry black humour masked a warm heart (or perhaps it was the other way around, it was sometimes hard to tell). Edging closer to retirement, Derek kept himself – and us – entertained as he, quite literally, crossed the days off the calendar. Derek took me under his wing, mentoring me, winding me up, and imploring me to get out of the industry whilst I was still had my youth.

Derek Wall, CovRad

The CovRad Drawing Office, circa 1991.
This is the only photo I have of Derek, he's the grey-haired figure, leaning over to talk to Ian Farrow.
The photo is taken from Derek's desk space - my desk was in front of his, out of shot to the right.

Derek was always playing practical jokes: crawling under the table to tie your shoelaces together, gluing down phone receivers and drawing spider's webs on your diagrams when you were away from your desk.

He also had a fine line in dry comments (me: "hey, 5 o'clock already"; him: "yep, soon be dead"), catchphrases ("you'd lose your balls if they weren't in a bag") and expletives – when he was surprised: "shag a cat!" and when he was happy: "Mustard".

Mustard is, I believe, an old Northern expression meaning "great" or "groovy".

Derek Wall, CovRad

One of the many Mustardman comic strips

Anyway, I had no interest or aptitude for engineering, so like Derek I was also working hard at keeping myself amused. I started drawing little comic strips in my notebook, starring Derek, often in the guise of "Mustardman", a grumpy clock-watching superhero who would stop working at 5pm and go home, even when in the middle of a mission.

I did lots of these, scribbled at break times or doodling them surreptitiously under my desk when I was supposed to be working. I have a box full of them at home, and whilst scanning them in for this page I noticed that the most interesting ones were when I dropped the superhero parody and just wrote Derek as himself. Below is part of the last one I did – just before my apprenticeship took me to another department – showing the Drawing Office gang saying their catchphrases.

Derek Wall, CovRad

My doodles of the Drawing Office gang: 'Deaf Geoff', Ian Farrow, Derek Wall, Bob and Dick.

At the end of my four-year apprenticeship I wasn't kept on, but this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I'd recently made friends with a colleague called Warren (we're still good friends now) who was on work placement at CovRad as part of his University course. He'd been convincing me to leave CovRad and go to University, and Derek joined in by shutting me in a side office with a phone, ordering me to ring up and get an interview for a course I'd liked ('Technical Comminication BA Hons', writing and designing with computers).

I got onto the course immediately, as it was Fresher's Week and someone had dropped out, leaving a free place. So suddenly I was off to a new world, but I kept coming back to CovRad every 6 months or so to visit Derek and the others.

Derek Wall, CovRad

An A4 cartoon I drew showing Derek's attitude towards the new CAD machines.
He kept a copy of this on his wall for years.

Then one time I came back for a visit and Derek had gone. He'd retired and moved away, and they'd lost my number so couldn't invite me to the leaving do. Worse, Derek hadn't left a forwarding address; he'd told Ian that he hated the company so much that he wanted nothing more to do with it after he left.

I was gutted. I didn't get to thank Derek or say goodbye, and now, many years later, I can't tell him how he influenced me or how his catchphrase became the title of a comedy magazine. But perhaps the power of the web will intervene – if you know Derek, tell him to get in touch.

- Alex Musson, Editor, Mustard magazine


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