Cartoonist Lew Stringer reminds us that The Bash Street Kids first appeared 68 years ago this week in The Beano, in the strip ”When the Bell Rings”, back in 1954.
Created by Leo Baxendale, the strip and its iconic characters was originally called “When The Bell Rings“, and also ran, briefly, as illustrated text stories in The Wizard, in 1955.
Strangely, some at DC Thomson today would have you believe the strip was the brainchild of DC Thomson comic editor George Moonie, claiming he was inspired by the antics of school kids in the High School of Dundee playground, opposite his office. In fact, the catalyst for Leo’s creation of Bash Street was a Giles cartoon of January 1953, “of kids pouring out of school, heads flying off and sundry mayhems”.
“Straight away, I pencilled a drawing of ‘The Kids of Bash Street School’ and posted it from my home in Preston to R. D. Low, the managing editor of DC Thomson’s children’s publications in Dundee. I received an offhand response, a dampener.
“It was only after I’d created Little Plum (April 1953) and Minnie the Minx (September 1953) that the Beano editor George Moonie travelled to Preston on 20th October 1953 and asked me to go ahead with Bash Street (he gave it the provisional title of ‘When The Bell Goes’; when it appeared in The Beano in February 1954, it was titled ‘When The Bell Rings’).”
(We have an interview here with the late Leo Baxendale, conducted by Pádraig Ó Méalóid, documenting the origin of all his BEANO creations, and more).
Over time, the Bash Street School’s large number of students was slowly reduced. When they first appeared, the strips consisted of the kids outside school; the settings were increasingly inside the school, and the strip was retitled “The Bash Street Kids” in the issue cover dated 11th November 1956 with “the kids” preparing for a pantomime.
David Sutherland took over the strip, which is currently written by Andy Fanton, in 1962 – and has drawn almost every episode since, over 3000 of them, although others, including Nigel Parkinson and Lew Stringer, have drawn the characters, for both the weekly comic and various BEANO projects.
Both the cast and characters have, of course, evolved over the years, with characters like Dennis (the Menace) and Minnie the Minx, for example, making occasional guest appearances, and new characters added to reflect changing times. The names of some of the cast have also changed, to the dismay of some, the updates however always led by actual readers, not journalists, or knee-jerk politicians.
The current line up of eleven comprises, Danny,’Erbert, Freddy (previously “Fatty”, his name changed in 2021), Plug, Sidney, Smiffy, Scotty (previously, “Spotty”, a recent name change, last December), Toots, Wilfrid, Cuthbert, Harsha and Mandi (these new girls introduced last year) – all still taught by long-suffering Teacher. There’s a huge supporting cast to call on for stories, too.
“I always look forward to reading the current week’s script,” 89-year-old artist David Sutherland told The Sunday Post last month. “It could be a busy one or a nice easy one. If it’s a busy script, then there is less time available to spend on humour. Afterwards, I enjoy opening the Beano and having a good chuckle and hope that the children are having a laugh along with me.”
“Having a script with a clear visual image helps,” he acknowledges. “I have worked with many scriptwriters over the years and I try to personally interpret their written ideas and create the visuals to match. Each writer has a unique style and so I try to match the expressions to their script. It helps when a script makes you laugh or creates an exciting visual in your mind, then I can’t wait to draw it.”
Of the changing line up, David notes “It takes time developing new personalities and that can be challenging. However, I always try my best to bring the characters to life as if they have always been there. It was strange to begin with, as I have known the original characters for more than 50 years but times change. I am happy to go with what is required.”
In whatever form you first encountered “The Bash Street Kids”, those stories are still “out there” and certain auction sites do a roaring trade in back issues of The Beano, if you want to re-read them.
Or you could head to Somerset House in London, for the “Beano – The Art of Breaking the Rules” exhibition, running until March, where the Kids entire history is revisited.
Meanwhile, the team behind the strip at the BEANO today are still bringing us new, fun stories, and long may that continue.
Happy birthday, Bash Street Kids!
• Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules runs until 6th March 2022 at Somerset House, London
Bash Street Kids copyright DC Thomson Media/ Beano Studios
With thanks to Lew Stringer