Andy Boal checks out former BEANO editor Iain McLaughlin’s unofficial history of Britain’s longest-running comic…
“Never be without a Beano” – the slogan used to promote the comic I have read since before I even went to school – was joined in the 1980s by another slogan: “Everyone we know loves the Beano.”
Iain McLaughlin, long time writer for the Beano, including a time as editor, author of the new The Unofficial History of The Beano, clearly falls into this category.
Quite different from The History of The Beano – The Story So Far, the coffee table illustrated history of the Beano written by Morris Heggie and Christopher Riches in 2008, this is the story of the people who worked on the comic.
Iain intersperses histories of the decades the Beano has lived through with chapters on annuals and other special issues and pen pictures of some of the key characters – managing editor RD Low, first editor George Moonie, the Loon himself (Ian Gray), and two of the people that Ian reserves most warmth for, artists Dave Sutherland (the Bash Street Kids, Dennis the Menace, Billy the Cat and many more) and Jim Petrie (Minnie the Minx, the Sparky People).
Even then, to read Iain’s chapters dedicated to Dave and Jim isn’t enough. Their fuller story is told in the other chapters, especially from the 1970s to the present day where Iain mixeshis own first hand knowledge of them with the stories of former colleagues such as Euan Kerr, Craig Ferguson and Steve Bright.
Indeed, stories from artists and Iain’s former colleagues pepper the narrative. A 16 page photographic section includes pictures from inside and outside Meadowside with some of Steve Bright’s caricatures and a picture from 2019 of Lew Stringer, Hunt Emerson, Laura Howell and Enniskillen Comic Fest organiser Paul Trimble, which I have a funny feeling I took myself using Laura’s phone.
What I wasn’t ready for was to learn that the Dennis the not-menace of TV infamy was as long ago as 2009, and the restoration to his former self ten years ago – both feel so much more recent. Even as I remembered the strips Iain writes about, entirely in the third person even when quoting himself, the first time round, it’s a shock that the current Beano branding is as much as six years old.
Unofficial, unauthorised, and neither approved nor endorsed by DC Thomson it may be, but this is a book by a writer who loves the Beano and wants people to know why. Do not let a tiny number of typographical errors annoy you – this is a book to sit back with and imagine yourself in the old Beano office on the second floor in Meadowside, surrounded by the writers and artists whom Iain so carefully brings to life.
• The Unofficial History of The Beano by Iain McLaughlin is available direct here from White Owl, current price £15.99
• The Unofficial History of The Beano by Iain McLaughlin is available from AmazonUK here, current price £18.44
• Iain McLaughlin is online at www.iainmclaughlin.co.uk
• Follow Iain McLaughlin on Facebook
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