Lost photo agency: Transworld Feature Syndicate

Updated: 29 October 2018

This in from PPHP reader Robin Kirby who contacted us a few times looking for information on Transworld for a book he is writing which includes the history of the agency. If you have information for Robin please contact the PPHP first and we will put you in touch will@pressphotohistory.com

Hi Will,

I’ve been working on the book From Cents to Pence! which, for the first time, details the history of Marvel Comics in the UK. While I hope to finally complete this soon, as a result of many years of research I’m in the very fortunate position of now being able to shed at least some new light on the origins of the previously mysterious company known as Transworld Feature Syndicate Inc. and also some more information about their UK office: Transworld (UK) Ltd.

By necessity, what follows is only a brief overview, as the fuller story needs far more space than can sit neatly within a blog post… and I do have a book to sell (eventually) :)

The New York-based Transworld Feature Syndicate Inc. was formed in 1950 by Ida Landau, before later being run by her son Albert after ill health forced Ida to take a back seat. The core of the business was selling feature material and photos to publishers around the world, and as the name suggests they soon had offices located right around the globe from Paris to Oslo, and Stockholm to Buenos Aires, as well as many other major cities. During the latter years of that decade, Albert gained a new client in Martin Goodman, and began managing the distribution rights to reprints of material from both the Marvel Comics and Magazine Management parts of his business, before going onto to also do the same for other New York-based comic book companies of the era.

In 1968, the noted former sports reporter Ray Wergan (not Wergen, as posted above), then working in NY, was head-hunted to take over the running of their London office. Hugely impressed by the scale of Landau’s operation, in the book he records that, by then, Albert had turned Transworld in London into “the major supplier of material to the woman’s magazine market through publishers such as Odhams, Newnes and Fleetway”. They had also started to supply large scale illustrations, renting an out-of-London premises that top US illustrators could work out of, so as to make their contacts with the magazine’s editors easier to magazine in that era prior to instantaneous transfer of visuals via e-mail or electronic storage sites.

By 1971, things were going so well that, in line with company policy of ‘letting managers manage’, the business was sold to him, whilst remaining a key part of the international group. Now known as Transworld (UK) Ltd., it was at this time that Marvel Comics came knocking. They were fed up with licensing material to publishers over here, only for it to be refashioned in ways not to their liking, and having had a joint publishing venture crash with another company at the last minute, they were keen to get a weekly comic back on to British newsstands as soon as possible.

At a meeting in London in the spring of 1972, it was decided to create a new British comics division – a unique proposition which no US publisher had attempted before. The comics would be compiled mainly in New York, with London adding editorial material and advertising, as well as arranging the printing, and the business would be run out of Wergan’s offices at High Holborn (before a later move to Sevenoaks in Kent). Talk of employing a full-time manager never came to pass, and in the end he would continue to oversee the London side of their British comics division for the first six or so years of it’s decades long existence, making full use of his Fleet Street contacts to promote their growing range of titles in the press and on TV and radio.

Coinciding with former IPC and Williams editor Dez Skinn taking over running their British comics completely – and which would now be entirely produced in London with minimal US input – Ray Wergan had just won the contract to begin supplying material to TV Times magazine. Thereafter, Transworld (UK) Ltd. would continue to flourish, supplying materials for publication right across the print industry, until Wergan’s retirement in 1988 when their picture library was sold to Scope (which I can see from the PAN site has recently gone out of business).

As to the final demise of Transworld Feature Syndicate Inc. in New York, however, this remains a mystery to me. Did they sell-up, get bought out, or even go under? If anyone reading this who worked for the US division in the 1980s could enlighten me, I’d be hugely grateful.

I’d also love to hear from Rowena, who posted the first comment here (below on the PPHP, we have put them in touch), as I’d like to learn more about Pippa (Melling) – Marvel’s first London-based editor. Memories such as this are invaluable and need to be recorded. Anyway, all the best with the Press Photo History project. This is an invaluable endeavour and I hope your researches continues to go from strength to strength. As you’ll gather, I’m a great believer in the need to preserve modern history for the continued use of future generations, as it’s all too easy to see such history left unrecorded and its artefacts skipped and destroyed (or, indeed, buried under a building somewhere).
••ENDS••

Good work Robin! If you have information for Robin please contact the PPHP first and we will put you in touch will@pressphotohistory.com

Original post: Jan 29 2018:
This from a PAN reader back in 2012 – if you have any information on this photo agency please email will@pressphotohistory.com
Hi,
I used to work for the above company in their London office back in 1972.  Their address was located then in High Holborn.  I remember the boss was Raymond Wergen and his P.A. Linda Riley (from New York).  Tessa was head of the Photographic Library and Barbara Warner was Sales girl.  Pippa was in charge of Marvel comics London.  I’ve been having a dekko on Street View and I think I remember the look of the grand entrance at 52-54 High Holborn, if that’s any help?
Kind Regards,
Rowena
I remembered that Tessa’s married name was Ward, as she was married to the photographer Brian Ward who had his studio just off Regent Street in the 70’s.  I tried googling him but if he is the same one credited with David Bowie’s Heddon Street shoot, unfortunately he’s died.  Nothing comes up for Raymond Wergen, so I’m afraid there are no more leads.