Magazine article The Spectator

Lord Snooty May Be Dead, but Dennis the Menace Is Still Chortling

Magazine article The Spectator

Lord Snooty May Be Dead, but Dennis the Menace Is Still Chortling

Article excerpt

This is the way the Nineties end: exactly as the Fifties did. Cliff Richard is the toppermost of the poppermost, while the publishing successes of the season are The Beano Book 2000 and The Dandy Book 2000, either of which might be more accurately titled Walking with Dinosaurs. Much has been said and written about Sir Cliffs indestructible appeal, but the enduring popularity of the Beano and Dandy seems, to me at least, remarkable.

The reason, Messrs D.C. Thomson would have us believe, is that they have kept themselves up to date. The Millennium Dome appears on the cover of the Dandy annual and in a full-page cartoon inside the Beano book. "Oo needs the Millennium Dome? I've found another dome! Hee-heehee!' exclaims Dennis the Menace's brattish kid sister, Bea, as she decorates the pate of her sleeping papa. There are also references to Anthea Turner, the National Lottery and the Sydney Olympics.

But the quest for topicality is oddly selective. Cow-heel pies, complete with horns protruding from the crust, disappeared from the Desperate Dan strip at the start of the BSE scare and have never returned. (Quite how Dan maintains his splendidly Prescottian physique is not explained: squid and polenta, perhaps?) In the interests of consistency, however, the Beanotown police should long ago have muzzled or even put down the dreaded Gnasher, Dennis the Menace@s mutt, under the terms of the Dangerous Dogs Act. As it is, the only victims of the Major years were Lord Snooty and his pals, killed off in the summer of 1992. 'Maybe it's something to do with John Major's classless society,' the Beano's editor, Euan Kerr, said at the time. 'Snooty is quite out of date, really.'

Where have we heard that before? Ah. yes: 'There is no political development whatever ... There is no facing of the facts about working-class life, or, indeed, about working life of any description . . . The outlook inculcated by all these papers is that of a rather exceptionally stupid member of the Navy League in the year 1910.' Thus George Orwell in his famous and grumpy essay about boys' weeklies. He was writing in 1948. two years after Lord Snooty had his first fight with the Gasworks Gang.

Of course boys' comics are out of date. What both Orwell and Euan Kerr fail to notice is that they always have been - and that therein lies their charm. Is the allure of P.G. Wodehouse's books in any way diminished by the fact that they are set in a fantastical pseudo-Edwardian dreamscape? As Orwell himself acknowledged, 'It was a great day for Mr Wodehouse when he created Jeeves, and thus escaped from the realm of comedy, which in England always stinks of virtue, into the realm of pure farce.' Why, then. did Orwell come over so earnest when he turned to Chums or the Magnet, suddenly yearning for the pong of social realism?

Frank Richards, the creator of Billy Bunter, was quick to answer Orwell's complaint that his stories made no mention of strikes, slumps or unemployment. 'Are these really fit subjects for young people to meditate upon?' Richards demanded. 'Even if making miserable children would make them happy adults, it would not be justifiable. But the truth is that the adult will be all the more miserable if he was miserable as a child. Every day of happiness, illusory or otherwise - and most happiness is illusory - is so much to the good. …

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