In Search of My Father 2017 Writing Project

In Search of My Father 2017 Writing Project
In Search of My Father, 2017 writing project supported by The National Lottery through the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. 2018, this potential book project is in development. Currently working with guidance from a professional manuscript editor.

Sunday, 12 August 2018


As sure as death and taxes, whenever a current James Bond actor packs it in, the world and its cat digs into the debate about who will be next. I am at the stage where I couldn't care less how this spreadsheet/tick-all-the-boxes world decides on the next person to become 007. The important thing for me is that Bond movies should be bigger than Bond in terms of plot, action and entertainment, and as much attention should be paid to casting the villain.

But, here's a gallery of the actors who have played Bond in the past.

Barry Nelson in a TV version of Casino Royale (1954).

Bob Holness in a radio production of Moonraker (1955).

Sean Connery in films, Dr. No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967), Diamonds Are Forever (1971), Never Say Never Again (1983).

David Niven in the film Casino Royale (1967).

George Lazenby in the film On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

Roger Moore in films Live And Let Die (1973), The Man With The Golden Gun (1974), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Moonraker (1979), For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy (1983), A View To A Kill (1985).

Timothy Dalton in films The Living Daylights (1987), Licence To Kill (1989).

Pierce Brosnan in films Goldeneye (1995), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), The World Is Not Enough (1999), Die Another Day (2002)

Daniel Craig in films Casino Royale (2006), Quantum Of Solace (2008), Skyfall (2012), Spectre (2015), Bond 25 (2019)

And then ????????? But please, don't make a big deal out of it!

Tuesday, 7 August 2018


I missed completely the death of one of my TV western heroes - Clint Walker who starred as Cheyenne Bodie. He died at 90 on 21 May, 2018.

He made 108 episodes of Cheyenne from 1955 to 1962 in that golden age of television - alongside Maverick, Bronco, Sugarfoot, Laramie, Wagon Train, and several more. I loved them all. They were (and still are) a big part of my life.

Apart from this big TV hit, he impressed on the big screen in Yellowstone Kelly, None But The Brave and The Dirty Dozen, to name three.


 Farewell, old friend.


Robert Redford has said he is retiring from acting. He turns 82 later this month. How lucky are we to have lived in his time and been blown away by his movies, performances and directing triumphs? He made his screen debut in a 1960 episode of TV's Maverick. His proposed last outing as an actor will be in The Old Man & The Gun in September. His screen CV via IMDB is here. Click and marvel at this great man of the cinema.

Here's a random gallery.

Sunday, 5 August 2018


Katy Jurado

The story goes …..

….. that Katy Jurado, unafraid of becoming older, said: 
“You can’t put your finger in the sun and stop time”.
Born with a gift of a name for poetry – 
Maria Cristina Estela Marcela Jurado Garcia, a child from Guadalajara – 
who grew to be described as fiery-eyed, luscious, smouldering, passionate, strong,
and, according to one husband, a beautiful tiger. 
She was more than westerns but that is her place
in the loving memories of those of us who have watched her
hundreds of times in High Noon and Broken Lance and The Man from Del Rio
and The Badlanders and One-Eyed Jacks, and seeing
her tearful and distraught as she watches Slim Pickens 
dying in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.
“You can’t put your finger in the sun and stop time.” 
But in movies you can. Hit the rewind button
and the opening credits roll again, 
then repeat and repeat and repeat. 
On the streets of Hadleyville, Marshall Will Kane’s clock ticks relentlessly 
and Helen Ramirez will always be 28-years old,

just like Katy Jurado.

Thursday, 2 August 2018


Northern Ireland has never been short of creative and successful actors and directors. All of us from that part of the world can name at least a handful. But there are a few actors/directors who have achieved much but who are forgotten, and that is a great shame. So, in this post, I want to flag up an actor who doesn't automatically spring to mind when considering Ulster talent.

Noel Willman was born in Derry on 4 August, 1918. He was the son of a gentleman's hairdresser. He was educated at Foyle College and made his acting debut at 16 in a local production of The Barretts of Wimpole Street, followed by a role in Journey's End.

He left Derry to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, graduated and entered the world of repertory theatre in London, Liverpool and Stratford. He grew in stature and received high praise as Hamlet, his big break in 1939, directed by John Gielgud, as Judge Brack in Hedda Gabler, as Don Pedro in Much Ado About Nothing, as Antonio in The Merchant of Venice and as Pandarus in The Taming of the Shrew. He played an interrogator opposite Alec Guinness in The Prisoner. In 1951, he appeared on Broadway in Legend of Lovers along with Richard Burton.

Sir Tyrone Guthrie encouraged him to consider directing for the stage. He dipped his toe in the water as actor/director in a 1955 Stratford production of All's Well That Ends Well. But the biggest prize of his career came in 1962 on Broadway. He won a Tony Award for directing A Man For All Seasons, written by Robert Bolt and starring Paul Scofield. The play opened in 1961 and chalked up 620 performances. In 1966, Willman was nominated for an Emmy for directing a TV adaptation of A Lion In Winter featuring a young Christopher Walken.

With his theatre hat on, acting or directing, he worked with Tyrone Power, Robert Preston, Flora Robson, Nigel Stock, Michael Denison, Anthony Quayle, Claire Bloom, Ian Bannen, Geraldine McEwan, Peggy Ashcroft, Ralph Richardson, Stanley Baker, Leo McKern and Katherine Hepburn.

His screen career began in 1952 and included film and television roles such as The Pickwick Papers (1952), Beau Brummell (1954), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Carve Her Name With Pride (1958), Armchair Theatre (1958), Danger Man (1960), The Kiss of the Vampire (1963), Doctor Zhivago (1965), Paul Temple (1970), The Persuaders! (1971) and The Odessa File (1974).

He attracted a reputation as a rather sinister screen character in several horror films including one that is considered by fans as a classic Hammer production, The Reptile (1966). Here's a link to the trailer

Noel Willman's acting and directing CV is very impressive and his Tony Award is a glittering prize. He was a gifted man of many skills, a Northern Ireland man to be precise and a Derry man to  be even moreso. 

He suffered a heart attack and died at 70 in New York in 1988.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018



Here are ideas for August features. Some of them may be in your diary already. Some of them may be added to your diary after reading this. Some features may be written by in-house journalists. But maybe, just maybe, I can write something for you.

Let me know what you want, word count, deadline and fee and I will get to work. 

Here are some ideas and, if I can help, I look forward to hearing from you.


3 August - Terry Wogan was born 80 years ago (BBC TV & radio, and The Floral Dance) - Died 2016

4 August – Derry actor/director Noel Willman born 100 years ago (Theatre, film, TV) - Died 1988

6 August – Andy Warhol would have been 90 (Campbell's Soup art) - Died 1987

9 August - Robert Aldrich was born 100 years ago (The Dirty Dozen) - Died 1983

12 August - Guy 'Dambusters' Gibson was born 100 years ago (617 Squadron) - Died 1944

15 August - The horrific car bombing atrocity in Omagh 20 years ago (Multiple deaths and injuries)

16 August – Madonna will be 60 (Material Girl)

17 August - Mae West was born 125 years ago ("I used to be Snow White but I drifted!") - Died 1980

25 August – Richard Greene born 100 years ago. (The ONLY Robin Hood) - Died 1985

25 August - Leonard Bernstein was born 100 years ago (West Side Story) - Died 1990

26 August - Hey Jude by The Beatles was released 50 years ago (B-side Revolution)

26 August - Pope John Paul 1 died 40 years ago after only 33 days as Pope (Albino Luciani) - Died 1978

29 August – Michael Jackson would have been 60 (Thriller) - Died 2009

29 August - Cliff Richard's single Move It was released 60 years ago (UK number two)

31 August – The first Carry On film, Carry on Sergeant, was released 60 years ago. (William Hartnell, Bob Monkhouse and Kenneth Connor.)

31 August - James Coburn was born 90 years ago (The Magnificent Seven) - Died 2002

31 August - Alan Jay Lerner was born 100 years ago (My Fair Lady) - Died 1986

Tuesday, 31 July 2018


I swear to you that this is a true story, albeit embellished for entertainment value.  It happened in my presence and it illustrates that even after three decades of dealing with customers, there is always one to surprise you.  Here goes.

One day, in the phase of my career when I was a hypermarket general manager in the Midlands, I took a call from a Mrs. Parker (name changed to protect the insane).
“I’m really upset,” she began, positioning herself on the front foot and me on the defensive back foot.
“Oh, I’m sorry.  Please tell me about it and I’ll do everything I can to put things right.”
“I don’t know where to begin”, she replied with a slight choke in her voice and, I envisioned, a tremble on the lower lip.

“Why not start at the beginning?  It’s a very good place to start”, I suggested without the slightest hint of sarcasm, even though Julie Andrews was singing the do-re-mi song in the back of my head.

“Well, I do all the catering at home for my husband’s business clients.  We have dinners and he discusses things with them while I play host, do all the cooking and ensure everyone has a great time, and, of course, hopefully help my husband to agree some deals.”

“I see,” I said, silently slurping up the milk skin from the top of my coffee.

“Last week,” she continued, “I spent a lot of time working out the menu and I decided to start the meal with avocado pears, prawns and a light vinaigrette dressing.  So, as usual for my supplies I came to your store to do my shopping.  I picked up two avocado pears, did the rest of my shopping and went home.  The next day, the day of the business dinner, I prepared the avocadoes and on cutting the two of them open I noticed they were not pure green. They were mottled brown.  I was horrified, with two hours to go until my husband arrived with his clients.  What was I to do?  The whole evening was about to be ruined.  My husband always insisted on three courses, starter, main and dessert and then on to coffee, brandy and cigars.  But I had no starter.  It was catastrophic.  I could feel my blood pressure rising.  I could feel my nerves begin to jangle.  I was in pieces.”

“I’m so sorry to hear this,” I breezed in, thinking quietly that Mrs. Parker could have opened a tin of soup.  “So how did the evening go”, I ventured, realising that as soon as I asked, I risked the wrath of an answer similar to that experienced by a dark humourist who enquired of Mrs. Abraham Lincoln: “Apart from that, First Lady, did you enjoy the play?”

“How did you think it went?” blasted sparky Mrs. Parker, “it was a bloody disaster.  My confidence in the kitchen and as a dinner party host is shattered.  What are you going to do about it?”

“Well,” I began, not really knowing how to proceed and looking around the office for any object that would inspire me to resolve this tricky complaint.  I saw the stapler but, instead of screaming out a message of hope and reconciliation, all it did was encourage a thought my mental airspace to consider ramming my hand down the telephone to clamp Mrs. Parker’s lips together.  It seemed a great idea, but like most great ideas, impossible without much more time, money, research and determination.

“Well, first of all I am very sorry to hear about your troubled evening.  It is certainly never our intention here to upset customers.  I know from what you told me that the avocado pears looked perfectly fine from the outside, although I appreciate your disappointment when you opened them up.  Perhaps you can help me.  What would you like me to do for you?”

I would like to take a moment to give you a short history lesson, in the interests of context, about the avocado and attempt to illustrate how this inanimate object can ruin a supermarket manager’s day.  For the record, the avocado pear, also known as the alligator pear, was introduced to the USA in the 19thcentury in Fallbrook, California.  It is a town of approximately 29,000 citizens and calls itself the avocado capital of the world.  It hosts an annual avocado festival every spring when the good folks of the planet Avocado presumably descend for a feast fit for a Martian.  The pears come from trees that grow to about 65 feet and each tree yields 120 pears per year.  Each pear can be anything from 7cm to 20cm long and weigh between 100g and 1000g.  The pears are relatively cheap to produce and to buy, which is why I shudder at the thought of how I resolved Mrs. Parker’s complaint.

“I have calculated that each dinner party costs £75 and I will be happy if you compensate me that amount for the disaster.”  Mrs. Parker sounded aggressive and committed to her tactics.  I wondered, fleetingly, if she ever considered running a political party or a training school for nightclub bouncers.

“Oh,” I reacted, sounding faintly like an Alan Carr impersonator, “that’s a lot of money for a couple of pears.”

“It’s not about a couple of pears,” she erupted, with backing vocals and harmonies from her band mates Etna and Vesuvius, “ it’s about my confidence, my blood pressure, my husband’s business, my marriage, my, my, my trust in humanity.”

To cut this long story short, Mrs. Parker and I agreed on the £75 and I filed away a lesson for life, that a couple of insignificant, crinkly green fruits can have so much impact on a life.  It worked out at £37.50 per pear and pro rata. On the plus side, I had saved two loving souls from destroying each other and their livelihood, I had won back the trust of a disgruntled customer and I had developed an aversion to avocado pears for the rest of my life.

Monday, 30 July 2018


(A few more pics at the end.....)

Television comedy is a funny old game, except that sometimes it isn’t. The most successful shows are the ones that leave you with memorable moments and no matter how many times you see or hear something, it is as fresh as the day you first saw and heard it. Terry and June was one of the most popular comedy shows starring Terry Scott and June Whitfield. In all of their sixty or so episodes, I cannot remember anything funny, no catchphrase, no stunt, nothing. It was a popular show, so it must have amused a sizeable audience. On The Buses was a clumsy, er, vehicle for Reg Varney and apart from Inspector Blake saying ‘I ‘ate you Butler’, it has not left a lasting impression. But, again, at over seventy episodes, TV bosses had faith in it. These are only two examples of forgettable shows but they are part of a long list of efforts now consigned to television comedy history’s dustbin.

But, thankfully, there is still much fondness around for moments that we relive or see again in repeats, that make us laugh, even though we know what’s coming. We mimic, we mouth and occasionally, if you are like me, we say the words out loud in tandem with the characters. Victor Meldrew’s seething ‘I don’t believe it’, still raises a laugh, as does Harold Steptoe’s ‘You dirty old man’. Further back, when Oliver Hardy berates Stan Laurel with a withering ‘Well, that’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into’, it hits the funny bone every time. Tony Hancock saying ‘dear, oh dear, oh dear’ is just plain funny. Del Boy falling through the counter in a wine bar never fails and we wait for him to chastise Rodney with his greatest put down: ‘What a 42-carat plonker you really are.’ It is always a treat see see Morecambe and Wise annoying maestro Andre Previn. ‘I’m playing all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order.’ Basil Fawlty beating up his Mini is comedy gold. There are many more fine examples.

But, the all-time champion of television comedy, the one that occupies the highest pedestal, is the one that has given us gems like ‘we’re doomed’, ‘don’t panic’, stupid boy’, ‘do you think that’s wise, sir?’, ‘put that light out’ and ‘they don’t like it up ‘em’. It is the one where a German officer takes offence at a remark from a young British upstart. ‘Vot is your name?’ Quick as a flash the upstart’s captain responds: ‘Don’t tell him, Pike.’ Sheer brilliance.

Fifty years ago, at 8.20 pm on 31 July 1968, after an episode of the popular western series The Virginian, a pilot episode of a new situation comedy was shown on BBC1. It was an unusual set-up, not a cosy family farce of excitable children and exasperated parents as was much of the usual comedy output at the time, or a light rom-com about relationships. This was very different in that a bunch of characters combined to form a wartime Local Defence Volunteer (Home Guard) unit, nicknamed Dad’s Army, shakily drawn together to defend the coastal town of Walmington-on-Sea. The job of the ‘army’ was to be on the alert for a possible German invasion across the English Channel, a real threat at the time of Dunkirk. The comedy twist was that most of the individual characters were inept and had little idea of what actual war was really like.

Dad’s Army was created and written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft and was loosely based on Perry’s wartime experiences. The first script was sent to the BBC and after improvements and name changes, a series was commissioned. No one had ever seen a television comedy quite like it. The Man and the Hour introduced us to the motley crew comprising the pompous Captain George Mainwaring, the fey and wispy but not altogether daft Sergeant Arthur Wilson, the excitable, panicky Corporal Jack Jones, the dour and gloomy Private James Frazer, the wily, fast-talking spiv Private Joe Walker, the bumbling, weak-bladdered Private Charles Godfrey and the young, na├»ve Private Frank Pike. 

Characterisation and script were vitally important but even more challenging was the selection of actors who could bring it all to life and laughs. I have included the actors’ ages at the time because it highlights that not all were actually that old at the beginning of Dad’s Army. But, over time, we grew to view most of them as old codgers, such was their performance talent.

Arthur Lowe, 53, a veteran of theatre and television, including nearly two-hundred episodes as Leonard Swindley, the boss of a clothing business in Coronation Street, landed the role of Mainwaring. No one knew at the time but we all know now that he and his co-stars were perfect casting. The equally experienced John Le Mesurier, 56, played Wilson. He had played dramatic as well as comedy roles and had made many guest appearances in television shows. Clive Dunn, 48, was Jones. During his Dad’s Army years, he had a number one chart single with Grandad. John Laurie, 71, was Frazer. In 1935, he had played a spooky crofter in The 39 Steps. James Beck, 39, was Walker. He had a CV of small screen bit parts. Arnold Ridley, 72, was Godfrey. He was also a playwright with around a dozen plays to his name. His most famous one, The Ghost Train, is still a regular favourite in UK theatres. Ian Lavender, 22, was Pike. He was a young actor cutting his teeth in small television roles. Later in life, he joined the cast of Eastenders.There was excellent support from Bill Pertwee as Chief Warden Hodges. It was unmissable television. It still is. Dad’s Army’s original eighty episodes ran from 1968 to 1977. All of the main players featured in every episode, except James Beck as Private Walker who died at 44 in 1973.

Dad’s Army, the feature film,arrived in 1971, and it held onto all the charm and buffoonery of the small screen version, all the characters we had now grown to love were on fine form. Mainwaring to Wilson: ‘Just a minute Wilson. I intend to mould those men out there into an aggressive fighting force and I'm not going to get very far if you keep inviting them to "step this way" in that nancy voice.’ Mainwaring to Hodges: ‘We’re the Local Defence Volunteers and I’m their appointed commander and I must ask you you keep your hands off my privates.’ Tee-hee. The script, the timing, the facial expressions, the ridiculous situations, all combined beautifully. Unlike the dire remake in 2016. 

Someone should have twigged that it was a dreadful idea to take perfection and mess with it. The casting (and this is a man of the older generation speaking) was at best haphazard. The original actors are etched into my memory. So cinemagoers like me had to endure Toby Jones as Mainwaring, Bill Nighy playing Bill Nighy (for that is his forte) playing Sergeant Wilson, Michael Gambon just wrong as Godfrey, with Tom Courtenay as Jones and Bill Paterson as Frazer, both awkward and ill-cast. Catherine Zeta-Jones’s glamorous German spy and the storyline were okay up to a point but the biggest failing of all was the absence of the thing that made the original series so good – the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard was hopeless and couldn’t defend a rice pudding. The comedy was in their collective ineptness. The introduction of a Mum’s Army in the remake was an unnecessary nod to modern times. The beach gun and grenade battle at the end was not in keeping with the show's original premise. In spite of the immensely talented cast, the film was a dud.

But, forget about that movie and rejoice that the BBC continues to show Dad’s Army from time to time. Fifty years on, the looks of contempt on Arthur Lowe’s face, the quirks of the other characters, the daft exploits, the sight of Jones’s chugging butcher’s van, his slipping of an extra sausage to a lady friend, the sound of Bud Flanagan’s opening song, all the aforementioned catchphrases, the marching troop during the end credits: ‘You have been watching…..’  it all adds up to television’s best comedy show bar none.

The exterior scenes for the show were shot in and around the market town of Thetford in Norfolk. A few years ago I visited the Dad’s Army Museum there. It is run by volunteers. Part of the museum’s charm is a reconstruction of Captain Mainwaring’s church hall office and I had a chance to sit there, don a military cap and pretend to be the old curmudgeon, not a great leap according to some of my family members.

In Thetford, as a great and deserving tribute, there is a wonderful statue of Arthur Lowe as Captain Mainwaring.

So, in the spirit of John Le Mesurier’s Wilson, I ask you if you would mind awfully stepping this way to salute the timeless, the wondrous, the hilarious Dad’s Army.


I have a great sense of humour. I have moody moments too but, when on form, I can whip out a witty one-liner and slay the room, as they say in Las Vegas. I have no precise idea where it came from but I would hazard a guess that the humour seeds were sewn by reading comics when I was young. It wasn’t until I was ten or eleven that I read my first grown-up novel which happened to be the western Shane by Jack Schaefer. Comics are responsible for igniting my young imagination and making me laugh out loud.

We were a household of seven children, four boys and three girls. We had comics delivered every week, usually the Bunty for the girls, the Valiant or Hotspur for the boys and the Dandy, Topper, Beezer and Beano for all of us. Of the last three titles, my favourite was the Beano. It seemed to have better characters and be more colourful than the others. But I loved all of them including the Bunty, launched in 1958, which featured The Four Marys, tales of life at St Elmo’s boarding school. I don’t know why. It just caught my interest.

Valiant was a bit more macho for boys and it boasted heroes like Captain “ragin’ fury” Hurricane and Kelly’s Eye in which the eponymous character became invincible by wearing a Mayan jewel around his neck. It was rugged, action stuff and it certainly did stir my  imagination. The Hotspur, eventually incorporated into another comic called the Victor, was okay. The most memorable character was The Wolf of Kabul, a British intelligence caper. The hero was Bill Sampson who carried just two knives on his person, no firearms, and his Oriental sidekick, Chung, who favoured a cricket bat (“clicky ba”) as his weapon.

But away from the rough and tumble of derring-do, much lighter entertainment was provided by the the Dandy, Topper, Beezer and Beano. The Dandy was almost as good as the Beano. It was launched in 1937. It starred Desperate Dan, a big fella with a bristled chin, who gained his strength and considerable bulk from consuming vast quantities of “cow pie”, a strange looking dish that had two horns sticking out of the crust. The other star of the Dandy was Korky the Cat who had human characteristics and, bizarrely, was accepted by human beings as perfectly normal.

The Topper first appeared in 1953 and it featured Beryl the Peril, Mickey the Monkey and Sir Laughalot. There was also a strip called Dopey Joe! The Topper eventually merged with The Beezer. The Beezer’s first issue appeared in 1956. It featured Pop, Dick and Harry, Mick on the Moon, Nosey Parker and Hornet Wilson and His Educated Insects. But my favourite was “the short-sighted gink”, Colonel Blink, a walking disaster with no idea where he was going or his whereabouts at any given moment.

By the way, all but one of the comics mentioned came from Dundee-based D. C. Thompson.  Valiant was an IPC product.

But, it’s hats off in 2018, to celebrate the best of the bunch, The Beano, first published on 30 July, 1938, is 80-years-old. I have a copy of the first issue in front of me. (Thanks to my sister, Mary. X) Sadly, it is not an original but it is a good enough illustration of the kind of printed children’s entertainment of the time. No. 1 contained a free gift – a whoopee mask which was basically a strip of cardboard with two eye holes, a nose arch and two loops of elastic to attach to the ears. The cover price was 2d. No. 2 promised “a packet of sugar button sweets FREE”. 

Now, in this modern era of increasing political correctness, ultra-sensitivity to almost everything and retrospective apoplexy, there are some images, text and story plots that would make some people recoil in horror, but this is the way it was in 1938. The cover features a drawing of a young black boy in dungarees eating a slice of melon. Why? I have no idea. Someone seemed to think of this image as a mascot. It might have had some connection to the British Empire but it’s hard to think that through to a sensible conclusion. The cover strip featured Big Eggo, a daft ostrich who sits on what he thinks is his egg only to find out with a mighty nip that he had helped hatch a baby crocodile.

Inside, we find Here Comes Ping, a boasting “Elastic Man”, with the storyline: “The crowd tied poor Ping in a knot, to prove he wasn’t talking rot”. Next up was Brave Captain Kipper and an encounter with a whale. But on page three, there was the very first appearance of Lord (Marmaduke) Snooty and His Pals – Rosie, Hairpin Huggins, Skinny Lizzie, Scrapper Smith, Happy Hutton and Gertie the Goat. The premise was that aristocratic Snooty preferred the company of, for want of a better phrase, ordinary people. He had little time for snobby Algernon, Percival and Vernon. The first story was all about a birthday party that went wrong. Even now, I found it quite amusing. Lord Snooty and his Pals lasted longer than any other strip in the Beano.

Then it was a more serious Morgyn the Mighty, The Strongest Man in the World, fighting a giant eagle and wrestling with a shark. “The strong man had won battles in the air and in the sea.” Readers were told that he could make good of the skin and the flesh of the shark. It is assumed the eagle got away with a punch to the beak. 

There was a pause in the illustrated strips for The Adventures of Tom Thumb, a two-page story of a mischievous tiny person. “Except for his size, Tom was just like an ordinary little boy. His tiny body was perfectly shaped. He had sturdy little arms and legs, and he looked a proper little dandy in his bright-coloured doublet.” The story was of a wood-cutter, Tom’s normal-sized father, having a spot of bother with boar hunter Jasper, the son of the Black Baron. Tom Thumb saves the day. The trailer for the next story: “Next Tuesday, Tom Thumb in a fight with a great big rat.” They omitted to add: ”But don’t have nightmares, kids.”

Wee Peem, :”He’s a Proper Scream”, played practical jokes on people; Little Dead-Eye Dick – “He’s a fun-man with a gun-man” – walked around dressed as a cowboy and toting a loaded pistol; Hairy Dan competed in a boat race and used his extra-long beard as a sail to give him an advantage; Whoopee Hank, The Slap-Dash Sheriff – “Star on his Shirt, slugs in his gun, laugh at the Sheriff, he’s chock-full of fun” – foiled some bank robbers; Cracker Jack, The Wonder Whip Man sorted out a bunch of gun-blasting gangsters with his “30-foot lash”; Hooky’s Magic Bowler Hat was a take on genie and lamp stories. This was about Hooky Higgs who is given a bowler hat and suddenly out pops wispy Mikki, “the slave of the magic bowler hat. I will do anything you ask”. The story was about a charging bull and an instant suit of Hookey-sized armour. 

Other characters included Contrary Mary, a clever donkey; Smiler the Sweeper, a canny labourer in dungarees; Helpful Henry who actually is unhelpful; Rip Van Wink coming to terms with the modern (1938) world after a long seven-hundred-year sleep; Uncle Windbag, a tall-tale teller who gets his comeuppance; and Tin-Can Tommy, The Clockwork Boy about an inventor father who mourns his dead son and decides to build himself a metal replacement. Yes, really. Finally, a strip called Big Fat Joe – “He hasn’t been weighed since the age of three, the weighing machine always broke you see.” In the story, Big Fat Joe plunged into a swimming pool and soaked a bullying busy-body.

The first issue of The Beano was a curious mixture indeed. It contained some quite funny slapstick comedy with reasonably good fiction and it is easy to appreciate its appeal eighty years ago. Some of the jokes are corny and some just fall flat but no one can deny the variety of material on offer. There is enough between the covers to make young readers laugh as well as think. The illustrations ranged from the basic to the quite stylish. The stories, written by adults for young readers, make up a menu of oddities. Cheeky characters, scammers, criminals, gunslingers, adventure heroes all featured.

Over the years, the comic found its feet and most of the original characters faded away to allow room to introduce the Bash Street Kids, Dennis the Menace and Gnasher his dog, Minnie the Minx, Pansy Potter, Roger the Dodger, Billy Whizz and many more. It was always a treat to get the weekly comics but Christmas was never Christmas without annuals. They looked brilliant and the smelt gorgeous with that freshly printed ink aroma. The family rule was that no one could read anyone’s annual until the recipient had had first dibs. And woe betide anyone who broke the spine of another person’s annual.

If only my copy of the first Beano was the genuine article. In 2015, an original copy was sold at auction for £17,000. From two old pennies to seventeen grand in just under eighty years is some going. But, putting my financial disappointment to one side, the entertainment and education provided by the comic, and the imagination it stirred make it priceless and a significant player in my early life. Thank you, Beano, from Joe, not quite as big and fat as your guy.

Thursday, 26 July 2018



Here are ideas for July/August features. Some of them may be in your diary already. Some of them may be added to your diary after reading this. Some features may be written by in-house journalists. But maybe, just maybe, I can write something for you.

Let me know what you want, word count, deadline and fee and I will get to work. 

Here are some ideas and, if I can help, I look forward to hearing from you.


30 July - 80 years ago, The Beano comic was launched. In our house, we had the Bunty for the girls (although I was quite partial to it too), the Hotspur for the boys and the Beano, Dandy and Beezer for all of us. The extra treat was getting the annuals at Christmas. Dennis the Menace and Gnasher, Minnie the Minx, The Bash Street Kids, Roger the Dodger and Billy Whizz. Brilliant stuff.

31 July - 50 years ago, the BBC aired the first episode of Dad's Army, as fresh and funny today as it was back then. The chemistry and comedy is so good that it could not be replicated, evidenced by the awful 2016 film version. Why has it kept its freshness and hilarity for half a century?


4 August – (Largely forgotten but interesting) Derry actor/director Noel Willman born 100 years ago

6 August – Andy Warhol would have been 90.

16 August – Madonna will be 60.

25 August – Richard Greene (the only Robin Hood) born 100 years ago. TV gold.

29 August – Michael Jackson would have been 60.

31 August – The first Carry On film, Carry on Sergeant, was released 60 years ago. It starred William Hartnell, Bob Monkhouse and Kenneth Connor. In this age of thin-skinnery, what do we make of this series of films nowadays?