This year of 2013 will see its own crop of anniversaries. One of them will be to mark 75 years of ‘The Beano’, which first saw the light of day in August 1938. Contrary to popular belief, it is younger, by a year than it sister paper, ‘The Dandy’, which ceased printed publication last September and now comes out online.
The comics are published by D C Thomson of Dundee, which owned a string of comics in the first half of the 20th century. Comics, as was the case with the popular press, came into existence following upon various Education Acts in the late Victorian era. Many of the comic strip papers were quite serious in tone and content, if that is not too much of a contradiction but ‘The Beano’ was always into fun, with an emphasis on the lighter side. The term ‘beano’ means ‘a lively party’ or a ‘good time’.
The ‘Beano’ first appeared about a year before the outbreak of World War II. Because of wartime shortages of paper and ink they came out on alternate weeks. It was not until 1949 that the titles reverted to weekly publication. I learned to read out of ‘The Beano’. It came out on a Wednesday and cost 2d in those years.
A pound would have kept you in Beanos for well over two years. The first character to feature on the front page was an ostrich called Big Eggo. It was always taken for granted that Big Eggo was a gentleman ostrich, the character was invariably accompanied by a large ostrich egg which never came to be hatched.
For many years the front page was occupied by Biffo the Bear, later usurped by Dennis the Menace, arguably the biggest ‘star’ that the Beano has ever had. The name Biffo got something of a new lease of life as the nickname of the former Taoiseach, Brian Cowen. Biffo was an acronym for Big Ignorant Fellow from Offaly, or words to that effect. Dennis wore the standard Beano house-style of red and black striped jersey. An attempt, in the 1990s, to put Dennis into a shell-suit backfired seriously and popular resistance saw to it that Dennis was before long back in his standard garb. The black and red strip gansey was also favoured by such ‘Beano’ favourites as Roger the Dodger and Minnie the Minx.
The characters appealed to the mischievous and anarchic that is part of childhood. The kids contrived to place a tin tack, sharp end up on the teacher’s desk, or to knock a policeman’s helmet off with a snowball. Needless to say, authority always triumphed and the final frame of such stories inevitably featured the miscreant being the recipient of a tanning of his hide by an irate parent. The parental instrument of chastisement was, likely as not, a bedroom slipper. Teachers were always male, tall, angular figures of fun always with a toothbrush moustache, their tweed suits being set off with a gown and mortar board cap. They were frequently brandishing a cane. The archetype of the unruly school-kids was to be found in ‘The Bell Rings’: Plug, Smiffy, Fatty, Toots and Wilfred were some of them.
Another gang, though somewhat more upmarket, was Lord Snooty and his pals. Lord Snooty always appeared in the uniform of an Eton schoolboy, although some of his associates had proletarian nicknames such as Smudger, an appellation frequently bestowed upon anyone called Smith. Snooty (was his first name Marmaduke), lived in a big castle, under the supervision of his Aunt Matilda. Since 2010 the satirical magazine, ‘Private Eye’ has run a strip cartoon lampooning David Cameron and his cabinet colleagues, in a feature inspired by Lord Snooty and his pals. The strip also replicates the old Beano device of having characters occasionally speaking out of frame, addressing the reader face to face, as it were.
Not all the comic features depended upon humour, but they did frequently deal in fantasy.
There was ‘Jimmy and his Magic Patch’ in which a schoolboy, by virtue of the eponymous patch on the arse of his trousers, would find himself in the middle of the Battle of Waterloo, or some other such historic episode. There was a story called ‘The Iron Fish’ in which the hero steered a one-man submarine through various nautical adventures. I remember a strip feature in which the schoolboy hero got about by perching on the shoulder of an invisible giant, depicted in ghostly outline. At the other end of the scale there were the adventures of Tom Thumb.
Characters came and went: Little Plum, Have-a-Go Joe, and Ding-Dong Belle, a sort of middle-aged Calamity Jane, among them. There was also a character called Calamity James. The publishers conducted opinion polls to assess the popularity, or otherwise, of various comic personalities and if they fell into unpopularity, they were promptly pulled.
Among the artists who worked for ‘The Beano’ were Leo Baxendale and the legendary Dudley Atkinson. As with other Thomson publications, these draughtsmen worked on ‘The Dandy’ as well as other titles. The artists also worked on such features as ‘Oor Wullie’ and ‘The Broons’ for the firm’s ‘Weekly News’. The modus operandi was for the ‘story men’ to sketch the outline of the plot and send their narrative to the artists who would supply the drawings.
In the 40s and 50s the comic contained quite a few features, in which the narrative was carried by prose or text, with just one illustration. As the television age imposed a visual hegemony upon popular culture, the closely packed prose gave way to the drawings. The old frames, apart from the front cover were in black, white and gradations of red. With the coming of the seventies the old pulp newsprint gave way to glossy paper and all pages were printed in colour.
Every year, ‘The Beano’, like other titles, brought out an Annual, timed to catch the Christmas market. These came, backed and bound in stiff cardboard and containing all the favourites of the day. Eagerly anticipated in their day, the annuals have become collectors’ items. It is said that there are only a dozen copies of the original comic still in existence and when they come to auction they go for thousands of pounds.
In this age of television, aps, i-pads and all the other electronic media, it is a credit to the durability of ‘The Beano’ that it still continues to hold its own.
In evidence the court heard that the defendant was being pursued by suppliers of goods supplied and services rendered. They had provided these services in good faith but despite many pleas they had not received any payment.
The defendant had been operating an observatory where state-of-the-art telescopes provided an opportunity for amateur stargazers to observe the stars and the planets.
Unfortunately business had not been good lately and the proprietor was experiencing a serious cash flow. “You could not say” said the presiding judge, “That business was looking up.”
IN A FRENCH EATING-HOUSE
That was a great to-do altogether about the presence of horsemeat in hamburgers in Irish and British stores.
Paddy Mossey used to tell a story about two Irishmen who were eating meat in a French eating-house. Pat says to Mick, “I believe we are eating horsemeat?”
Mick replied, “How do you figure that out?” Sez Pat, “I think I’m after coming on one of his shoes.”
Everybody has a horse meat crack. Amongst the better ones are: ‘Filly mignon’ and ‘Tesco’ doesn’t put ‘Sell by’ dates on their burgers any more.
Instead the notices read, “They’re off.” “And what do you want on your burger?” “A tenner each way.”
The Irish Minister for Agriculture got a grilling on RTE, but was confident that the Irish beef industry was in “A stable condition.”
From Channel 4 quiz ‘1,001 Things You Should Know.’
Q. What is the name of the range of hills commonly known as the backbone of England?
A. (From a Geography teacher). Is it the Andes?