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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Beano: 80 Years of Fun

If you thought The History of the Beano, released a decade ago to celebrate The Beano Comic's 70th anniversary was the definitive story of that great British institution, you'll have to think again. Although this celebration of its 80th year clocks in at only 100 pages there's an astonishing amount of new detail about the origins of the comic even compared to the book, which was three-and-a-half times the size.

The magazine has been available in WH Smiths for a couple of weeks (Lew Stringer reviewed it almost a month ago), but while it works as a standalone, it works even  better in its intended context, the gold-embossed box of the limited edition 80 Years of Fun Beano Box Set. Here you will find eight issues of The Beano Comic reprinted in full so you can read the background features in the magazine and see the content and context of the strips under discussion in a copy of the comic.

Digging deep into the vaults, Beano: 80 Years of Fun has uncovered the correspondence between editor R. D. Low and artist Reg Carter that resulted in the creation of Big Eggo – the ostrich who was forever losing his egg – who starred on the cover of The Beano for ten years. A few pages later we get to meet Low (along with a large photo of the stern-looking creator of DC Thomson's 'Big Five' boys' papers and the man behind The Dandy and The Beano... prevented from launching his second 'Big Five' set of papers by the Second World War.

The second comic – issue 272 from December 1945 – was the first issue to leapfrog the million sales mark as paper restrictions, in place since 1940, were loosened, allowing Thomsons more freedom for greater print runs. Unfortunately, it does give the writer the chance to repeat the story that the editor of The Beano was on a German death list, a story debunked here on Bear Alley ten years ago!

Not that the staff and freelance contributors had it easy and there is a letter from Eric Roberts and another from Reg Carter spotlighting some of their experiences during the blitz.

Over the next few issues, you'll discover the first episode of Dennis the Menace and how the character was literally worked out on the back of a fag packet by artist David Law; learn about the hugely successful Dennis the Menace Fan Club (replaced by the Beano Club in 1998); how Mark Hamill signed up as a member and how Dennis lost Gnasher for seven weeks in 1986 and how worried children reacted.

Along the way there are celebrations of some of The Beano's artists, including David Sutherland, the late James Hensen, Barrie Appleby, Nigel Parkinson and Jim Petrie – Jim's final episode of Minnie the Minx appearing in the reprinted comic from 2001. Minnie offers a good excuse to take a look at her creator, Leo Baxendale and his other famous Beano creation, the Bash Street Kids.

Editorial staff George Moonie, Harry Cramond, Euen Kerr, Alan Digby, Michael Stirling, Craig Graham and John Anderson all get a spread to themselves and the celebration concludes with a copy of issue 3,800, which was the 2015 issue with which The Beano was officially recognised (rather late, as it turned out) as the longest-running weekly comic in the UK.

And long may it reign as Britain's longest-running humour comic. The 80 Years of Fun Beano Box Set is a fantastic way to take a trip through The Beano's eighty years and I'm already looking forward to seeing what editor John Anderson can cook up for next summer's grand celebratory 4,000th edition.

80 Years of Fun Beano Box Set, D.C. Thomson, 2018, £25. Available at W. H. Smiths or via D. C. Thomson's online webstore. #ad.

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