Bryn Parry is best known as the creator of Mrs Aga, Wocker Cocker and other cuddly countryside caricatures that adorn aprons, mugs and mouse mats. But he hasn’t picked up a paintbrush since July, when his life was turned upside down by Help for Heroes, the charity he founded with his wife, Emma. In eight dizzy weeks, they have raised £1 million towards a swimming pool and gym at Headley Court, Surrey, the services’ rehabilitation centre. Their Big Battlefield Bike Ride is over-subscribed, footballer Ronaldo and Jeremy Clarkson sport Help for Heroes wristbands, and The Sun, businesses and the public have weighed in, as has Country Life. Plans include the Great British Hero Ride from Blackheath to the Cenotaph on June 1, and even a national pub quiz.
‘When the Game Fair was cancelled [in July], we faced ruin, yet suddenly we were running a charity, born in just two weeks. Stress levels were pretty high,’ is how Mr Parry assesses a dramatic change of life which has left him and his striking, red-haired wife both exhausted and exhilarated by their success. Bryn Parry has something of the hero about him, too; he is self-deprecating yet articulate, funny yet impassioned. In June, he cycled to Paris for Macmillan Cancer. ‘In between squirting Champagne at the finish, Emma suggested: “Why don’t we do something ourselves, for the wounded?”‘ The trigger was a visit to Selly Oak Hospital, and a ward with 40 young soldiers lying on top of their sheets, their stumps and shrapnel wounds exposed. ‘I defy anyone not to have been moved. The men were so determined and modest. They have been in a place where people want to kill them in a war of which everyone disapproves. The least we can do is look after them when they come home.’
The Parrys’ only son, Tom, 22, passes out of Sandhurst next summer. His mother dreads it, ‘but it’s in his genes’. Bryn Parry’s father, a colonel in the Gurkhas, was killed on exercise in Germany. Bryn joined the Green Jackets, with the idea of being a war artist ‘in the style of Terence Cuneo’. He caricatured fellow soldiers, selling the results for a fiver, and produced the regiment’s Christmas card, turning 50 into limited-edition prints. In 1985 the Parrys returned from Australia, where he had been teaching jungle warfare, to Wiltshire and poverty. ‘On Valentine’s night, Emma cut her hand scraping ice off the inside of the kitchen window and I was shaking so much with cold that I dropped our only drink, a mini bottle of whisky. I know I’ve made it now because we’ve got unopened bottles in the house.’ The breakthrough was a commission for the new Lloyd’s of London building.
He is best known for his fieldsports work, but describes himself as ‘a frustrated countryman. I didn’t shoot properly until Peter Dalton, a legendary local vet, invited me to come on the day he was presenting one of my cartoons to a retiring agent. I missed everything until the last drive when I hit a bird which had soared over the whole line of guns. Someone said, “It’s a bath bird”, which had me worried, until I realised it’sa term for the sort of bird you dream about lying in the bath.’
He hopes his characters, inspired by real people, are affectionate. ‘But one officer said, “There are two things you need to understand: I’m not fat or pompous”. That was like a red rag his caricature was probably less affectionate, but his colleagues liked it.’ Mr Parry usually gains inspiration for a book in the shooting season he has produced eight, including 101 Shooting Excuses, Sex in the Country and, his latest, Shooting Top Tips which are launched annually at the Game Fair. ‘That won’t happen next year, and I hope people will stick with us despite the slowing down. I will go back to drawing but, in the meantime, Help for Heroes is worth mucking our lives up for.’
To help, telephone 0845 673 1760 or visit www.helpforheroes.org.uk