Online lifeline for Desperate Dandy …

17 08 2012

“Comics are essential to childhood and the food for imagination; they’re wide open spaces for children to explore the most crazy ideas and the most ridiculous characters. A place to escape to when the real world isn’t so attractive.”

Jamie Smart: ‘The Guardian on Facebook’

“But thank God for the dear old Dandy, and all it did to shape our national character and to show us that reading was one of the truly great escapes.” 

“It was built on an attitude where everyone, in the end, had goodwill towards everybody else. It celebrated an idea of friendship and a frighteningly cohesive society. And above all, everything in the end had its funny side.” 

 Simon Heffer ‘Mail Online’

December 4th is ringed in my diary – a reminder to visit the local paper shop and pick up the last issue of the UK’s longest-running comic The Dandy, before it disappears from newsagents’ shelves forever.

The final print version of the UK’s longest-running comic will be a special 75th birthday edition, including a facsimile of the first ever Dandy comic. Thereafter everybody’s favorite comic book cowboy, Desperate Dan, together with the rest of the Dandytown characters, will be relocating to a brave new online digital world.    

At the peak of its popularity, during the 1950s, the older, sister-comic to The Beano, boasted sales of 2,000,000 copies per week. In recent times, despite a 2010 re-branding as ‘Dandy Xtreme’, and a celebrity make-over, which enlisted real-life characters such as Harry Hill and Cheryl Cole, the readership has fallen to just 8,000.  

The slump in circulation has been roundly blamed on the popularity of children’s computer games and this has led the publishers to take The Dandy ‘in another direction’, with assurances from Ellis Watson, chief executive of Dundee-based publisher DC Thomson, that there are ‘exciting plans in the pipeline…Dan has certainly not eaten his last cow pie.’   

Desperate Dan, the wild west strong man who sleeps on a reinforced bed with a rubble filled pillow, shaves with a blowtorch and can lift a cow with one hand, is a hardy survivor from that first, 4th December 1937 issue, a rare copy of which was sold at a 2004 auction (only ten are known to exist), together with its original promotional free gift – a ‘metal whistler’, for a UK record £20,350.     

The Scottish Daily Record has disclosed that, cow pie munching, Dan is in transfer talks and could line-up alongside Denis the Menace in The Beano, which will continue in its current printed format. It’s hard to imagine a defection of such proportions, but maybe his enormous gait will bridge both titles, enjoying both a Beano print and Dandy online existence, if anyone can it’s Dan.

It is a shame that the traditional British comic, and in particular such an iconic title as The Dandy, finds itself in decline. It belongs to a bygone innocent age and is apparently not sophisticated enough to tickle the palate of today’s discerning youngsters so pre-occupied with their play station games.

I remember the six or seven-year old excitement of first discovering The Dandy and The Beano (which was always my favourite of the two) in the local barber-shop, sitting on a padded bench seat wading through piles of back-numbers. It made bearable my wait for the dreaded electric clippers up the back of my neck – as did the final peace-offering of a Brylcreem quiff!

My Dad’s choice as a suitable comic for a young son had been his own boyhood favourite, ‘The Eagle’. I did enjoy Dan Dare, 1950s ‘Pilot of the Future’ pitting his wits against super intelligent arch-enemy the Mekon, but much of the rest of it rather serious and dull compared with the anarchic humour of my new-found favourites. On top of that you could get both The Dandy and The Beano, at 3d each, at a time when the going rate for pocket-money was about a shilling a week – leaving a ‘tanner’ (6d) to be spent at the sweet shop or on a saturday morning matinée, at the local cinema.      

So after a bit of manoeuvring, the next time Mum went to pay the paper bill, the switch was made  and I looked forward with anticipation each week to Tuesday (Dandy) and Thursday (Beano), when my comic would plop on the mat, rolled up inside the daily newspaper. Comics really were quite a big thing for kids of the ’60s.

I enjoyed my weekly fix of the Dandy and Beano, pretty much all the way through junior school, and of course there were the Annuals too – a staple item in every Christmas stocking. I always found the Christmas and New Year issues the most attractive, with their snow-capped letters on the title page.  

The characters, apart from Desperate Dan – a given of course, who I most enjoyed in that pre-Bananaman era, were:

Korky the Kat: The Dandy’s original cover star who featured on the front page continuously for 47 years until replaced by Desperate Dan.

Corporal Clott: An accident prone soldier, a liability within the British army, who would crash, sink and destroy anything he came into contact with. 

Winker Watson: A  third form pupil at Greytowers boarding school, a ‘wangler’ – constantly playing tricks and trying to avoid unpleasant school activities – the nemesis of his teacher Mr Creep – ‘Creepy’.

Smasher: A sort of cross between Beano characters Denis the Menace and Roger the Dodger, in his red and black diamond jumper, a walking disaster area who smashed anything and everything he came into contact with – by accident rather than design, of course!

Dirty Dick: Not a name you could get away with these days!  He looked almost identical to Winker Watson, apart from he was always covered in smuts and smudges, and his misadventures always ended with him in some filthy mess or another.  

Black Bob: The Dandy wonder dog, a brave, intelligent and faithful, black and white border collie ‘owned’ by bearded shepherd Andrew Glenn. He had a nose for tracking and catching wrong doers and rescuing those in distress – and enjoyed such popularity that he had his own series of books.

Incidentally the 75th Birthday Dandy Annual is already on sale – I might just add it to my Christmas list, for old time’s sake!  

                            

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