There was a time when not only was the world treated to MAD Magazine, there was a British version too – a title that, back in 1975, brought us “Doctor Ooh”, an affectionate parody of Doctor Who, written by Geoff Rowley, with art by Steve Parkhouse.
The UK edition of MAD magazine debuted in late 1959, first published by Thorpe & Porter, an importer of American comic titles, under their “Top Sellers” brand. it was initially edited by Brighton-based David Climie, who was also a TV writer. Dez Skinn, perhaps best known as the editor of Warrior, became the title’s editor with Issue 166 in 1976.
It was Dez who pushed the focus of the monthly UK MAD toward focusing on film and UK TV spoofs, also dropping the parent US title’s single frame gag covers in favour of content tie-ins.
MAD’s wonderful Doctor Who parody, “Doctor Ooh”, actually featured in Issue 161, just before Dez’s tenure, written by Geoff Rowley, who’d also previously written scripts for the short-lived underground comic Rock n Roll Madness, his story for #2 drawn by Dave Gibbons. He’s also, according to some dedicated MAD magazine sites, the writer of many a TV comedy script, on series ranging from Please Sir! to Goodnight, Sweetheart.
Steve Parkhouse, perhaps best known today as co-creator of strips such as “The Bojeffries Saga” (with Alan Moore) and Resident Alien (with Peter Hogan), drew the strip. Steve, who would later go on to write the “Doctor Who” strip for Doctor Who Magazine, also drew seven MAD UK covers, and drew spoofs of other British TV series for the title, too, including the ITV prison drama Within These Walls, as “Without These Walls (We Wouldn’t Have a Series)”, which ran in Issue 156.
“Doctor Ooh” centres on the Tom Baker’s scarf-wearing incarnation of the Doctor, and, indeed, his scarf, but also includes wonderfully-observed cameos by previous incarnations. In a five-page story drawing on the Fourth Doctor’s debut season, along the way, we’re treated to a swipe at BBC effect budgets, and a perhaps unfair dig at Sarah Jane Smith’s role in the show. Meanwhile, companion Harry Sullivan goes more maritime than he ever did in the series, and a resolution to the short strip that involves the arrival of Peter Cushing’s movie “Doctor Who” to save the day… sort of.
The Doctor Who connection apparently makes this particular issue of UK MAD quite a collectible, although during Dez’s tenure as editor, the magazine ran many other fantastic spoofs, including “The Omenous”, a parody of The Omen, and more, some better received by the film’s directors than others.
When Thorpe & Porter closed its publishing division in the late 1970s, Ron Letchford, previously MAD UK’s Production Director, partner in a company called Suron International Publications (also known as Suron Enterprises), acquired the rights to publish MAD UK, taking over as editor with Issue 198.
“Ron elected to ‘double up’, taking on the editorial role himself, in addition to publishing,” recalls MAD UK contributor David Robinson. “One of Ron’s plus-points was his success in developing Harry North as a British MAD contributor. (North provided original work for both British and American MAD issues, with the result that results on both sides of the Atlantic would be comparable in terms of professionalism.)
“Ron also ‘discovered’ Dave Stoten, whose sometimes loosely-drawn (but otherwise on-the-money) caricatures led him to be a senior designer on TV’s Spitting Image; and, later, Maurice Mechan.”
Effectively a one-person operation, Ron handled all editorial and other duties on the title. Sadly, as sales of the magazine fell, a reflection of general publishing trends of the time, he sold the UK rights to London Editions, staying on as editor.
In turn, London Editions later merged with Egmont-Fleetway, who proved an inept and apparently disinterested publisher.
“They just didn’t get it,” Dez feels. “Sales were down… so in 1994 new publisher Jon Davidge did a foolish double whammy… he increased the cover price and made it non-returnable by the newstrade (aka: firm sale) at the same time. Orders went through the floor, coming in at around 8,000, so it was canned with issue 381.
“For no known reason the numerous attempts since to pick up the UK license have all been rejected by MAD US’s parent company DC Comics.”
MAD magazine itself is today far from its original self, so a new UK edition appears very unlikely, but not forgotten, and gems like “Doctor Ooh” will hopefully be long remembered by some of us.
But spotlighting this Doctor Who parody does make us ponder another, erm, mad idea…
What if someone could negotiate through the rights quagmire that such a project might generate, and produce a collection of Who parodies, from “Doctor What and his Time Clock” in Boys’ World, first published in 1964, episodes drawn by Artie “Danny Dare” Jackson, or Giles Dalek cartoons; through to samples of modern spoofs such as “Doctor Poo” from Monster Fun (and VIZ, albeit a far more scatological take), or Lew Stringer’s “Doctor Flu” in BEANO (2014)?
Who knows what fun that could be. Although not, we admit, much joy for the poor editor of such a project…
• A MAD Magazine UK Cover database searchable by artist