As the 75th birthday of the famous cartoon adventurer Tintin is marked at the end of this month by a special exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, Hergé’s biographer Michael Farr tells how his boyhood love of the character led to a special relationship with its creator.
My point of departure rests on two safe assumptions: that every child in the French-speaking world is familiar with Tintin, and that many aspiring reporters derive inspiration from the cartoon character who this year celebrates his 75th birthday. I spent the first four years of my life in Paris and so was introduced to Tintin, along with Babar the elephant, as my first reading. We moved to London in 1957, coincidentally the year of the first publication of Tintin in English. Years later, like Tintin, I became a reporter and, in due course, a foreign correspondent. I too had adventures in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
However, it was a singular lack of adventure in Brussels in the summer of 1978 which prompted me to pick up the telephone and ask for an interview with Georges Remi, better known as Hergé – his initials reversed in French – the creator of Tintin. I knew that Hergé did not relish publicity and was not in the habit of granting interviews. I anticipated a negative response but after a few questions – what was I doing in Brussels? What did I think of it? – he reversed the normal process and asked me if I would meet him for lunch the following week at Comme Chez Soi. I could hardly believe my luck.
Then, as now, Comme Chez Soi, had a reputation as Brussels’s premier restaurant, gastronomically memorable and beyond the range of most journalists’ expense accounts. In those days it had a menu, I knew, decorated by Hergé, with Tintin and Snowy racing across the À la carte and Captain Haddock and Snowy predictably taking over the wine list.