Back in October I wrote about Keith Wells, a British journalist who was living in Kuwait back in the 70s. Keith used to work for Arab Times and in his spare time he also used to write books about Kuwait, including a witty series on a character named Wizr who was Kuwait’s greatest driver. Between 1979 and 1984, Keith released three Wizr books which I’m lucky enough to own all three. A few days ago Keith got in touch with me and I asked him if he could tell me how it all started. This is what he shared with me:
I originally wrote the stories for the Arab Times which became very popular. Then I met Peter McMahon at a party, and he hadn’t read any of the stories and asked, “Who is this Wizr character?” “I said, he’s the young, trendy Kuwaiti guy with the scarlet Transam with the eagle decal on the bonnet.’ So Peter picked up a sheet of paper,scribbled away for a minute or two, then held it out and asked “Him?” It was perfect. Thereafter we became close friends. I’d write a story, take it to his flat every Friday, and he’d give me the cartoon from the week before’s story. He somehow drew exactly what I’d imagined. The combination became very popular indeed and after a month or two we were approached by Tony Jashanmal, who owned a department store on Fahed Salem St, and Bashir Khatib, who owned the Kuwait Bookshop to publish a book full of the stories. We had a 3 way partnership to print the book at The Arab Times and Launched it at the British Embassy Garden Fete in November 1979, a week or so before I married Suzi. We sold 428 copies in about two hours… amazing.
We carried on for just over a year, then Peter was murdered by Saddam Hussein’s goons, long sad, sad story… but the upshot was that I sort of lost the fun, we put out the second Wizr book with cartoons we hadn’t used in the first one. And the third book with odd scraps and recycled pics. By then it was getting a bit heavy with the Iran Iraq War getting very dangerous and I left the Arab Times and took a very low profile job teaching at the university of Kuwait. After 4 years there I went back to the paper and wrote more stories with an Indian cartoonist called Edgar, but they were never collected in book form. I left Kuwait in June ’87. We emigrated to Oz in Oct 1989, and the following March I had a massive heart attack in a small town in southern Queensland. After recovering, we spent the rest of our working lives doing PhDs in Communication Studies, and setting up Comm Depts in various universities and colleges in Macau, Singapore, Morocco, The Bahamas and Puerto Rico.
I’ve been a bit of a hermit since retiring in ’07, but am beginning to re-emerge and was very surprised and grateful for the interest in Wizr and Dozi and his pals. Someone told me a few years ago that the fabulous cartoon of Dozi with the two rubber stamps “PERHAPS” and “PERHAPS NOT” is to be found in many offices to this day. Peter would have loved that.
– Keith Wells