Anthea Bell – RIP

Translator Anthea Bell has passed away.

Anthea Bell
May 10, 1936 – October 18, 2018

From the above linked obituary:

In 1970 Anthea Bell found herself with the tricky task of translating Asterix in Britain. The eighth adventure in the comic book series about everyone’s favourite Gaul rested on a French view of the English that was not directly translatable, involving warm beer, rugby louts and tea. A whole strand of humour rested on the English inability to tell tu from vous, while the bowler hat did not lend itself to fruity puns in quite the same way as the chapeau melon.

So Bell transported the story to a Wodehousian England “with much: ‘I say, jolly good, old fellow, what!’” And though she herself was never very satisfied with the result, René Goscinny, co-creator of Asterix, was overheard muttering to himself, “Ah, vieux fruit. I wish I’d thought of that one!”

It was not the first time that Bell, who has died aged 82, had upstaged the creators of one of the world’s most famous comics. It was she, working with the academic Derek Hockridge, who changed the name of Obelix’s small, evil-tempered dog from Idéfix to Dogmatix and who named the local druid Getafix, giving rise to decades of debate as to the precise nature of his herbs.

But her 35 Asterix translations – culminating in Asterix and the Picts in 2013 – were only a fraction of an oeuvre that ran into several hundreds of titles…



It was Anthea, along with French society expert Derek Hockridge, who sealed my infatuation with Asterix. In my youth my knowledge of the French language was limited to one line in a Beatles song (and has not progressed much beyond that). So when I picked up my first Asterix comic book (album) I wasn’t expecting much, but I found so much joy in it I had to keep reading them. Anthea and Derek translated them perfectly, and hilariously, for the English speaking world.

(It was a major disappointment when Asterix and Obelix became a comic strip (1977-1979) utilizing Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo stories as translated by Anthea and Derek, but adapted to the daily comic format by someone with far less flair than the creators or the translators.)


[A] discussion of the translation of some of my favourite Asterix gags. The translators’ modus operandi was to include as many jokes in the English translation as existed in the original French text, and on occasions, this task required a great deal of ingenuity on the part of the incomparable Bell and Hockridge.

The Genius of Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge, An Appreciation


Oh, apparently her fame extended to translations other than comics.

The award-winning translator Daniel Hahn said Bell was “the best in the business – an extraordinarily good and prolific translator, as well as incomparably generous to her colleagues in the field”.

“She was an elegant stylist, but more than that, a startlingly versatile one,” Hahn said. “I first learned her name, as so many people did, because she wrote all those impossible Asterix jokes I loved so much; but to other people she was Sebald, or perhaps Kafka – or sometimes Freud. She was Cornelia Funke or Erich Kästner for children, Saša Staniši? and Stefan Zweig for adults, and so many others besides. Literature struggles to thrive without translation. Today I can’t help wondering how we readers and writers ever could have managed without Anthea Bell.”