Classics from the Comics

Hello everybody,

I’m still deployed, but thankfully, it is proving to be pretty quiet. I’ve been working on my book in spare moments and making some progress.

Unfortunately my publisher has just put the kibosh on one chapter of the book. Not their fault – the problem is that the chapter relies very heavily on the ability to reprint certain material and that means needing to negotiate the rights with the copyright holders. And the copyright on these things is, to put it mildly, horribly complicated – in many cases, we simply cannot find out who owns it. It could be those who published it (in most cases it probably is). It could be those who originally produced it. It depends on contracts that have been lost or destroyed, and while copies of these may exist somewhere, we don’t have the resources to find them. It also depends on precisely what rights and reprint rights were negotiated and that seems to have varied a lot.

Still, these legal problems also create an opportunity. If I can’t share the material gathered for that chapter in the book, why not share some of it online (any lawyers reading this – yes, I am well aware that copyright applies just as much to online reproduction as to reproduction in a book as far as the letter of the law is concerned. I’m also aware that copyright holders are much more tolerant of certain types of reproduction than others. I know what I’m doing).

The chapter in question was going to look at the portrayal of school corporal punishments in British comics of the post war era. Comics like The Beano, Buster, Dandy, Whizzer and Chips, etc, etc, etc – anyone who knows these comics know there were a lot of them, some more long lived than others. These comics were typically released weekly (fortnightly or monthly in some cases) and each issue contained a number of different two page, full page and half page strips. Some of these strips were pure fantasy, or pure nonsense. Others sought to (to a greater or lesser extent) portray everyday life of the children who they were aimed at (often with a bit of a twist – the main character was an almost typical child – with just one or two unusual characteristics). Because they sought to potray everyday life, things that were part of children’s everyday experiences were included – including, with some regularity (there were some strips about particularly naughty children for whom it was a feature of almost every strip) physical punishment. It was presented as just part of life. Something that if you misbehaved, you could expect to happen.

This makes it very interesting from an historical perspective because of the insight it does give into children’s lives at the times these comics were published.

If children had been deeply traumatised by being caned at school, would it have been treated as the source of such great humour in the comic books being sold for their enjoyment? Personally I doubt it. It was, for most children, in most cases, just part of their everyday lives. Something you dealt with. That you normally deserved, but even when you didn’t – well, that happened sometimes.

The comics also reflect stereotypical images. Teachers are often depicted in old style gowns and mortarboards and routinely carrying canes, even in periods when that would have been unusual (at least in most schools). It was the archetype. And it’s an archetype that has now been lost.

Anyway, I built up quite a collection of images and strips to use (I wasn’t going to use all of them, I wanted to have a good range to choose from), and so now that I can’t use them in the book, I thought I’d share them here.

It’s up to the people here to decide if they want them to continue. Let me be blunt. If you comment on what you see, I’m more likely to post more of them. I’m not talking about mindless, simple comments either – I think a lot of these strips actually have real value to illustrate points about the way corporal punishment was (or perhaps wasn’t) used in British schools. Comments that use them to discuss points of genuine interest would be valuable. Nor am I asking people to comment if they have nothing to say just to get more strips. I’m not expecting comments all the time, or every time, but if I just send them out and there’s never any feedback, I have to wonder if I’m just wasting my time. At some stage, I might share a strip that doesn’t directly reference corporal punishment if I think it shows something else of relevance to its place in British children’s society of the time.

Clear?

OK – to begin.

Two strips from the 1st August, 1970, issue of Cor!!

(Note – this is a 32 page comic – within those 32 pages are 24 separate strips. 3 of these contain scenes of children experiencing corporal punishment – two at the hands of teachers, which I’m sharing, one in which a boy gets it from his father and his scout leader. I’m mentioning this, just because it gives some idea of the prevalence of such punishment in these comics – three strips out of twenty four is certainly not unusual).

The first strip is Whacky. Even the name refers to corporal punishment. Whacky tends to get a lot of it – sometimes deserved, often not. It’s just part of his life and the whole strip revolves around how he deals with that reality.

The second strip is Teacher’s Pet. Patsy is a girl who wants to be really nice to Miss, her teacher. Too nice. She’s annoying. She overdoes things. They cause problems. Sometimes entirely her fault. Sometimes, not. Sometimes she pushes Miss too far.

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I hope all is well on the military side of things.

Whats a fascinating series I look forward to seeing more in print. A few bits of perhaps interesting information. The sociology of the media is not an area in which I have much personal expertise, being a long way from my niche in academe, but I do know something of it through contact with a longstanding friend who is a prof in European studies.

It may be about six months maybe a little more ago since he mentioned in passing an article about D.C.Thompson the publishers of the Beano. A truncated version was reproduced in ‘This Week’ , but as their so called archive lacks the functionality of a search engine I am afraid I can’t reference it with the time available . In the article the journalist concerned had worked on putting together an edition of the Beano, but made some detailed observations about the morality and the marketing of the comic.

Apparently in the 50’s 60’s , 70′ etc Thompsons required that characters like Dennis and Beryl always ‘ got their just desserts’. Crime was not to be allowed to pay ! More interesting was the marketing of the magazines . Strangely it was not aimed at the ‘rough , tough boys ‘ of Bash street , but seen as a moral stabilizer actually intended to deter kids from what in Texas they call ‘ making bad choices’.The target readership, thus were those children for whom this escapism represented the safety valve, ‘what they WOULD so if only they DARE do ‘ Hence the reason for the required moral ending and just desserts for the culprits!

Of course many of the homes at which Thompaons fancifully aimed the Beano were the very homes, who whilst probably happy to pay the weekly cost , would encourage their offspring to engage in more ‘improving’ comics like ‘The Eagle’ . But the mantra continued because, it was suggested of the rather moral ‘Presbyterian ‘ backgrounds of the publishers.He also brought a photocopy of a rather longer and more erudite professional paper making many of the same points.

As his area of interest has included the socio-cultural imperatives of Toni Negri’s work and autonomia you might be surprised at him bringing me these articles. But we were together at university……….

Dean I have great sympathy with you on the copyright thing. Many years ago when I was an officer in the Student union , we had a dispute with the University over access to student files. the usual thing, ‘secret comments ‘ , transparency. Anyway it escalated and of course we took the usual action of occupying the senate and V.C.’s offices to make our point, and assess the offending files for ourselves.

During the occupation we issued a ‘news sheet’ daily. We chose Dennis and Beryl as the character mastheads for this organ, and put out a couple of rather puerile cartoons about university management. One ended with Dennis saying something like ‘ I wonder what Beryl will say …..see tomorrow’s edition ‘ No one ever found out . D C Thompson’s lawyers ( tipped off doubtless by our rather pugnacious VC ( Sorry to say of Aussie extraction!)) issued a ‘cease and desist’ writ against us that night. Someone clearly didn’t have a sense of humor!

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If children had been deeply traumatised by being caned at school, would it have been treated as the source of such great humour in the comic books being sold for their enjoyment?

Dean, I think you have got right to the heart of the matter here! We didn’t like the experience of being punished at the time it happened, but as is the nature of childhood, it was soon forgotten along with the other bumps, grazes and other unpleasant experiences that were a part of everyday life.

Today children are almost encouraged to dwell on every slight and every unhappiness. It isn’t healthy, as human beings we need to look forward and not let past problems ruin our lives. From my own experience of a heartbreaking bereavement, it is something you have to put behind you if you are going to move on.

In terms of the comics, although the Dandy and Beano were from a Scottish publisher, it was most common to see the cane or slipper being used. It is interesting that images of the tawse were rare. Indeed, it was only much later, when I had learnt what a tawse was, that I remembered the odd rare cartoon depiction.

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I spent most of my pocket-money between 1958-63 on the weekly fix of Beano & Dandy, later Buster & Hotspur. The latter 2, Buster was short-lived, Hotspur was on the Eagle trail, morally improving, in which athletes & war heroes put Johnny Foreigner in his place-which was behind the English-gallant corporals called Taffy & Jock catered for some of the rest of the UK and usually got shot before the English captain finally wiped out the evil Huns or Japs.

Now there’s stereotyping for you. I didn’t recognise it as such then, but stopped buying Hotspur when they had a quiz in which Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians was an answer in its’ original title.

The Dandy was a bit hit and miss re CP, but it did have Desperate Dan-not only a dead ringer facially for my Dad, but totally barmily surreal. The town where Dan lives, Catcus Gulch, ought to be somewhere in Texas given the way Dan dresses.

But Dan’s nephews, Katie & Danny, his Aunt Aggie & everybody else dresses like the Scots’ working class of the 1930’s! Not only that, the teacher always had a strap for Danny & Katy & never a cane AND Catcus Gulch was the only Texas town I’ve seen with a regular Dundee Corporation tram service and Corporation lampposts!!!

I remember one episode where Danny puts a tack on Teacher’s chair. DD spots this with his super-vision & throws a clod of earth to stop Teacher sitting on it. Dan’s so strong it knocks teacher through the wall, so Danny gets one of the strap(on the bum)for placing the tack & six for making Dan trying to save him.

The Beano, by contrast, was bloody spanking-MAD. My icon, Dennis The Menace, shared its’ pages AND slipper-happy Fathers with Roger The Dodger and Minnie The Minx, plus the Bash Street Kids, where Teacher started off(in 1954) with cane and strap side by side, but later it was cane only & for girls as well as boys.

Back in 1985, I purchased a whole run of Beanos from 1955 from a shop in London(OK, it WAS Soho, but not that sort of shop!!). Not a week went by without the Big Three already mentioned getting slippered & on one memorable occasion, Roger tries to hypnotize his Dad into doing his Maths homework.

Roger’s Dad pretends, gets everything wrong & Roger gets a 12-stroke caning this time. I think Prof might have something there about the moral improvement undertone-cribbing was always a big sin at primary!

And one of those issues from 1955 had 11 comic strips-in NINE someone got spanked or caned-see what I mean re fladge-mad? God, there was even one, Cat & Dog, featuring those 2 animals. Cat misbehaves & gets spanked by the expedient of Master holding a bone in front of Dog, whose wildly-wagging tail has a carpet-slipper tied to it!!!!!!!!

And did the inevitable slippering Dennis got encourage me to behave? NO! I think the hiding-place for the catapult I took to school that I posted before on here tells you it only made me more devious!

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Those strips brought back memories.

I remember seeing the Whacky strip as a child but I don’t remember the character being Whacky. I have an idea it was Roger the Dodger or one of the Bash Street Kids. Does anyone else here remember that strip with a different character?

I have a vague recollection of Teacher’s Pet too so I probably read Cor!! when I was younger but I don’t clearly remember it: nor any of the characters therein.

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I am currently involved in a family history project. The names, events and places only come to life when put into context – not so much the big events of history but the everyday. I am sure the same applies to understanding the social history of school CP. Comics were one small but important part of history and the context. They certainly helped normalise school CP for me and made it much less traumatic.

Dean, please post more and keep the chapter in your book if you can.

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As a child in the early 70s, miniskirts were still popular. In fact, a lot of the older women started to wear them and looked hotter than the younger gals. The teachers still had the bun hairdo. The burr (or the military cut, as I affectionately called it) was on almost every white boy, and the blacks wore moderately sized Afros. And of course, we still had spanking in school, but most of the teachers did it by hand and the paddle came later. As for weed, that was used from 5th grade on, but thankfully, I never experimented with the stuff. Some students were even using “the Columbian leaf” for their art projects.

Cartoons have often been morphed into something bawdy as in the third link that shows a reddened bottom that may be offensive to some but not pornographic by a long shot. There were no school corporal punishment scene in Archie but Betty and Veronica deserved and received rightly got them at home during the age of the innocence. Clothes were not removed unless you were running for congress as a tea party republican in Las Vegas. Maybe in Catholic Schools of the seventies in Australia but never in front of boys.

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Great to hear from you and I’m pleased to hear that you are getting at least some opportunity to work on your book. It is sad if the extracts from comics do have to be omitted from the book as judging from the examples you have published in this thread there must be some interesting material available. I had no idea that school CP was so widely used in publications for children. My own juvenile ephemeral reading matter was confined to the Eagle comic and Arthur Mee’s Children’s Newspaper and I don’t recall much CP in either of them