Dennis the Menace or Dan Dare
Dennis the Menace or Dan Dare
Bobby has been both, in other people’s imagination. I am only telling you this because his own imagination went AWOL at Somerset House the other week. Suddenly he was twelve again. Living in the comic world of the 1950s. A time of rivalry between numerous publications and who read them. And why. Each selling well over a million copies a week.
Decades later, he met Diddley. Together and, by Civil Service standards, they represented an extrovert couple, gaining a reputation together as Dennis the Menace and Beryl the Peril! Not surprisingly, they enjoyed the attention. The Civil Service can be somewhat dour, but not when they were around.
Years before, a much younger Bobby, slimmer, debonair and with a shock of dark hair had been likened at the Legal and General to Dan Dare. Pilot of the Future. He of the chiselled jaw and zig-zag eyebrows. Not surprisingly, that didn’t do his fading ego any harm either. (When he was likened to George Harrison there, he wondered if they were taking the Mick).
And so to Somerset House for “Beano – the Art of Breaking the Rules”. He had passed that colourful pennant many times on the top of a 341, and knew that there was only one week left.
The exhibition was great. Very colourful. How he loved those characters. But never bought the Beano – or the Dandy for that matter. For him there was only one comic and to his considerable annoyance reference was made to it in a dingy cabinet with an explanation that defied belief.
WHHHAATT? You must be bleedin’ joking! In trivialising his favourite comic of all time, and suggesting in his eyes it was for goody-goody boys compared with the rough and tumble world of lovers of the Beano, he was visibly mortified. So much so, he told the room attendant in the red beret that the exhibition was “bloody rubbish”…
He smiled. The attendant, that is, and told Bobby that he had a wonderful grandad who had kept many of his boyhood comics. He too was an Eagle lover and shared that joy with his grandson. But he also liked the Dandy and its main character Desperate Dan.
And there was another revelation. WHERE WAS BERYL THE PERIL? Mr Red Beret explained. She wasn’t in The Beano, but was the star attraction of “The Topper”. The Beano’s outrageous naughty girl was Minnie the Minx.
And here she and Dennis are at their colourful exhibition.
So to clarify:
Now you know. But, as usual, this had sparked off something unstoppable in Bobby. He bought a vintage Eagle comic. A Dan Dare T-Shirt. And studied his Eagle Club membership card.
Stanley Matthews: One of our greatest footballers.
Trevor “Stonewall” Bailey: England cricketer. Batsman.
Stirling Moss: Racing driver.
Denis Compton: England cricketer and Brylcream. Batsman.
Godfrey Evans: England cricketer. Wicket keeper.
Neville Duke: Test pilot and WWII hero.
Leonard Cheshire VC: WWII hero.
And now, of course, he could see where the “goody goody” image could be levelled at the Eagle. It was nothing of the sort.
It was for boys who sought adventure. Who dreamt of rockets into outer space well before anyone had actually gone there. Who wanted to know how things worked. It was full of inspiration that life could be really exciting. All from a once a week comic.
The Eagle was of its time. A world of post war Britain, full of austerity. Sid and Dorothy (Bobby’s Mum and Dad) never owned a car. In the mid fifties, they didn’t have a fridge, a TV, washing machine, telephone.
That’s how it was for many people in those years gone by. Not poor. They owned their own modest terrace house. But short on what nowadays people think indispensable. Holidays, for example.
Money was tight, but you only spent what you had. Credit was unheard of. Hire Purchase had come in, but you almost felt ashamed to go through the process with the accounts department of a big shop like Shinners in Sutton.
And, it’s worth noting that women could not undertake a Hire Purchase arrangement without their Husband or Dad being in attendance. Honestly! That’s how it was.
As far as he is aware, the only credit they ever had was the mortgage. So that’s how it was for most working class people. And how it was, was this… imagine the scene…
Sid gets up early to light the coal fire. Makes himself some toast on the fire with his home-made toast fork. And cycles off to work. Dorothy shouts up the stairs “Hurry up, you will be late for school” …. “Where’s my bike clips?”
Apart from FRIDAY. Back then, everybody bought daily newspapers. They had radios, but the only pictures were at the “pictures”. Cinema newsreels.
And so the daily newspaper assumed a great importance. Usually delivered by an army of paper boys. Sid’s paper of choice was the Daily Herald. A socialist leaning newspaper, portraying his working class ethos. We found this website you might be interested in:
Apart from FRIDAY. When Bobby heard the letterbox rattle as the newspaper boy shoved the paper through. Leaping out of bed to rush down stairs and extract the Eagle. Go straight to the central pages to find what this week’s “cutaway” was.
Flicking through the other pages, before cycling off to school. That evening and weekend would be engrossed in his comic. And now he wonders if the Eagle gave him his sense of adventure or much more likely fed what was already there.
To him the Beano and Dandy stories were boring. Even puerile. To this day, he will never forget the Eagle.
But, the Eagle was most definitely of its time and didn’t survive the changing world. The Beano did both, in print and digitally, and is now the world’s longest running comic. Clearly the Beano is of its time and possibly all time.
And finally both still have “fan clubs”, which appear to be more like marketing outlets:
It seems that Dennis the Menace and Dan Dare will live for eternity. And many of the characters associated with them. The Mekon has established himself as an evil, derogatory character to whom anyone with a gleaming bald head in politics is compared to. Only a few weeks ago, one of our cabinet ministers was christened The Mekon for the day.
And so we celebrate the exhibition at Somerset House that awoke so many memories. Too many for one week. So soon there will be a Cutaway Special, plus some interesting postage stamps.
But first Dan Dare has his own song sung extravagantly by Elton John. Dan Dare (Pilot of the Future).
Not forgetting Rocket Man. Both written by Bernie Taupin, who has written the lyrics for Elton John’s early songs. Like Bobby, he was inspired by Dan Dare. Pilot of the Future.
Remembering the Eagle
George Cansdale, once superintendent at London Zoo. He had a stand at the Schoolboys’ Exhibition. Said hello to Bobby and wrapped a Python round his neck. Never quite got over it.
Just an advert. Triang’s factory was at Merton and billed once as the largest toy making
factory in the world. The story of it’s rise to greatness and a household name was followed
by seemingly inevitable collapse to cheap imports from abroad. This history from the
Brighton Toy Museum is well worth reading.
The text reads: You can spot an engine-spotter on most railway platforms throughout Britain. Engine-spotters are those bright boys and girls with little notebooks who hang around railway stations spotting all the different kinds of British engines.
Really expert engine-spotters don’t just go by the numbers on the engines – the recognize the “look” of the engines and know them at a distance.
You can be an expert engine-spotter if you collect the new series of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes Back Panels – a series of splendid colour prints of British Locomotives, with descriptions of each one shown.
Ask your mum to buy Kellogg’s Corn Flakes regularly so you can collect this wonderful new series.
Lighting a Candle for Diddley