Page last updated at 10:47 GMT, Monday, 3 August 2009 11:47 UK

Pugwash, pop charts and pussy cats

By Nick Serpell
BBC Obituary Unit

Our regular column covering the passing of significant - but lesser-reported - people of the past month.

Jill Balcon
Jill Balcon loved theatre

Jill Balcon had acting in her blood. The daughter of the Ealing Studios film producer, Michael Balcon, her career began in the cinema although her real passion was for the stage. A noted beauty, the sculptor Jacob Epstein once asked her to pose for a bronze. She met the poet Cecil Day-Lewis in 1948 and the two began an affair. It was a complicated relationship, not least because Day-Lewis was not only married but also in an ongoing relationship with the novelist Rosamund Lehmann. The couple eventually married in 1951, much against the wishes of her father whose opposition to the relationship was so strong her mother had to arrange to meet her secretly. Despite her husband's continuing infidelities the marriage lasted until his death from cancer in 1972. It also produced two children, the actor Daniel Day-Lewis and the journalist and chef Tamasin.

Gordon Burn
Burn won the Whitbread Prize

Few modern writers had such an eclectic range as Gordon Burn, whose books ranged from studies of serial killers, to footballers and a fantasy involving a dead pop singer. Born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, he spent an unforgettable summer in Los Angeles with his cousin Eric Burdon, lead singer of the band The Animals, which introduced him to the sleazy side of the celebrity world. He also worked as a journalist on features for a variety of publications, including Rolling Stone. The critics lauded his first book, Somebody's Husband, Somebody's Son, a scholarly study of Peter Sutcliffe, The Yorkshire Ripper. His second book, Alma, which visualised how the life of pop singer Alma Cogan might have turned out, had she not died of cancer, won the Whitbread Prize. He also wrote a book about the murderers Fred and Rosemary West as well as biographies of the footballers Duncan Edwards and George Best.

John Ryan
Ryan created Mary, Mungo & Midge in 1969

Children raised in the era of computer generated images would probably feel the work of John Ryan now looks very old fashioned. His most famous creation was Captain Pugwash, who first appeared in the boys comic The Eagle, in 1950. It was quickly dropped when the editor decided it looked too childish alongside the comic's other characters such as Dan Dare. But Pugwash's ship, The Black Pig, sailed to the Radio Times and, in 1957, the BBC commissioned the first of what would be a 20-year-long series of animated cartoons for children's TV. The real time animation process involved much sticking and pasting with each episode taking around a fortnight to make. Ryan created Mary, Mungo & Midge in 1969 and this was followed by Sir Prancelot in 1971.

Peter (right) and Gordon (left)
Peter & Gordon topped the charts in April 1964

The magnificently named Gordon Trueman Riviere Waller provided the deeper harmonies alongside the lighter toned Peter Asher in the 1960s pop duo Peter & Gordon. They started singing together while still at Westminster School and their first single, A World Without Love, topped the UK charts in April 1964. It was written by Paul McCartney who was then dating Peter's actress sister Jane. Over the next four years they released a string of singles including Nobody I Know, To Know You is to Love You, a reworking of an old Teddy Bears hit and a cover of Buddy Holly's True Love Ways. The duo split in 1968 and Gordon tried, unsuccessfully, to continue as a solo artist before pursuing a career in music publishing.

Hugh Millais should have had painting in his blood but this great grandson of the pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais could not, as his father once complained, draw anything, including a salary. Instead his life, funded in part by a legacy from his mother, consisted of a Boy's Own series of adventures which included sailing into the middle of a revolution in Cuba in 1954, accompanying the author Ernest Hemingway to bull fights and building a replica of an 18th century village in Spain. His mighty frame, he was 6ft 6in tall, attracted the attention of the film director Robert Altman. This led to a number of cinema appearances including a role in Altman's thriller, Images, and parts in The Wicked Lady and McCabe & Mrs Miller. In between all this activity he found time to become a chef and play guitar well enough to get an appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in the US.

Sybill the cat
Sybil was named after Sybil Fawlty

The pinnacle of any cat's ambition must be to become the resident Downing Street feline and that dizzy height was reached by a black and white mouser named Sybil, who took up residence in 2007. She was the first cat to enter the corridors of power since the controversial removal of her predecessor Humphrey amid dark rumours, strongly denied, that Cherie Blair disliked cats. The move was seen in some quarters as a blatant attempt to recapture the cat lovers' vote for New Labour. Sybil, named after Sybil Fawlty, belonged to the Chancellor Alistair Darling's wife Maggie, who had brought her down from Edinburgh. But the London high life was not to Sybil's taste and she returned to Scotland where she died, after a short illness.

Among others who died in July were actress and pussy owner, Mollie Sugden ; Academy Award winner Karl Malden ; former US defence secretary, Robert McNamara ; author of Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt ; US TV news anchor, Walter Cronkite and old soldiers Henry Allingham & Harry Patch , veterans of WWI.

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