Beano Celebrates 70- Years
BEANO cartoonist Leo Baxendale tells how he invented the BASH STREET KIDS.
At grammar school during the 1940s, I did read the Beano and the Dandy (published on alternate, paper-rationed weeks), but mostly out of professional interest – to study Lord Snooty and Desperate Dan, the creations of cartoonist Dudley Watkins. I knew by then that as an artist, I meant to deal in comedy.
Later in the war, November 1944, a crucial event: the comedian Max Wall came on the wireless as the star of a new series, Hoopla. Wall unsettled my father, who switched off the radio, but I seized on his surreal, dry drollery and absurdist humour. I knew I had to listen – and learn.
And then, in 1953, when I was working as a freelance cartoonist, the dam burst: I created a Red Indian called Little Plum for the Beano in April of the year, Minnie the Minx in September, and the Bash Street Kids in October.
At the end of the year, in this headlong rush, I drew a strip that proved pivotal: Bash Street School visiting an Army display in the park, carrying off the heavy weaponry as booty. In the background, sundry Kids shelled Bash Street School and machine-gunned the fleeing teachers (this was 15 years before the similar scenes in Lindsay Anderson’s film If, and long, long before the horrors of Columbine and Dunblane).
I realised that I could draw a strip like this for years and the readers would love it. But at that very moment, I abruptly decided to change the structure of Bash Street: to get rid of the focus on the school as a whole, and concentrate on a smaller group of named protagonists, so that I could bring them closer to the readers.
One of these was Plug – I gave him his name from the phrase “plug ugly” (he took after his mum – his dad was a raving beauty). It took a little while for me to work out his true nature. Then the answer came: at the heart of Plug’s comedy must be an inner vision of himself as a radiant being.
The worlds of Little Plum, Minnie the Minx and the Bash Street Kids all differed from each other, but they were all built on a bedrock that offered rich pickings for producing comedy. Disasters could happen for no apparent reason, but more often, the crises and “marmalizings” had been set in train unwittingly by the ambitions, desires and actions of the characters themselves.