When Gordon, who lives in Helensburgh, Scotland, retired from his painting and decorating business, he joined a local writing group and the art club. He is a former president of the Helensburgh Rotary Club and is well-known for his charitable work and as speaker on all matters related to local history.
Learning to Read
Janet, John, dog Rover, and the ball were soon mastered and relegated to the been there, done that, file of our collective memories. We needed more interesting reading material, preferably illustrated.
Comics proved to be the answer. Our parents allowed us one comic each on a regular basis. My brother favoured the Beano which featured the doings of Lord Snooty and his pals. My comic was the Dandy and I revelled in the antics of Korky the Cat and Desperate Dan. He came complete with illustrations of Aunt Matty’s cow pies, horns and tails sticking out of the crust. This diet gave Dan the strength to bend iron bars with his teeth. Due to wartime paper shortages the Beano and the Dandy were available on alternate Tuesdays for the princely sum of two pence.
Our sister subscribed to a magazine called Girls’ Crystal but it was too grown up for us and, anyway, it was meant for girls.
Our weekly ration of cartoon characters was augmented, on a Saturday, by the adventures of Ba Bru and Sandy, who appeared in the Bulletin, a Glasgow daily paper. Barr’s the manufacturers of
Irn Bru, Scotland’s other national drink, very cleverly kept advertising throughout the war years. They apologised for the fact that Irn Bru was not available, but assured the public that it would be back after the war.
We were fortunate that, on a Sunday, our father bought the Sunday Post and we were able to keep up with the lives of the Broons and Oor Wullie. The Broon characters were Grandpaw, Paw, Maw, Hen, Joe, Daphne, Maggie, Horace, the Twins, and the Broon Bairn. Oor Wullie sat on his upturned bucket and had many adventures with his friends Fat Bob and Soapy Soutar. The avuncular P.C. Murdoch kept an eye on their antics and ensured that they always ended up doing the right thing.
Lord Snooty, Desperate Dan, the Broons, and Oor Wullie were, at that time, all drawn by the talented hand of Dudley D. Watkins. It is appropriate that his middle name was Dexter.
Two or three times a year our mother would take us by train to Glasgow. On these occasions we were allowed to buy a comic from the station bookstall. In an attempt to elevate our sights we were introduced to Arthur Mee’s Children’s Newspaper. Our taste lay more towards the Mickey Mouse comic.
The entry of America into the war, and the arrival of American troops in the area, meant that, very quickly, American comics began to circulate and were covetable. We soon became familiar with the adventures of Superman and Batman and Robin.
In Primary School Friday afternoon was the time when the teacher read to the class. By the time we were hearing about Ratty and Mole and the Wind in the Willows for the third time we were happy to sit at the back of the class following the adventures of Superman partially hidden under the desk lid.
As we got older we graduated to the big boy’s comics, Wizard, Hotspur, Rover and Adventure. These paid more attention to the written word as distinct from illustrations. We became familiar with Wilson of the Wizard’s slow beating heart which allowed him to perform all manner of athletic feats impossible for ordinary mortals. We also learned of the anti hero Jack Bowers. He was very suspicious as he wore a tweed jacket with leather covered buttons.
Schooldays successfully negotiated , a new hero came on the scene, in the form of Bud Neill’s brilliant creation, Lobey Dosser. Lobey was the sheriff of Calton Creek and fought battles against Rank Badyin and Toffee Teeth while astride his two legged horse El Fidelio. Lobey Dosser and his horse are commemorated by a statue in Woodlands Road, Glasgow. The adjacent pub sold, and may still sell, Lobey Dosser mugs and ties. Desperate Dan is honoured by a statue in Dundee. Oor Wullie has been given the accolade of having life sized images distributed prominently throughout Scotland. Success indeed for cartoon characters.
Other publications which crossed our paths were Rainbow, Film Fun and Radio Fun. Radio Fun included Pet’s school days. Pet.was the abbreviation of Petula Clark’s name. She had acquired fame as a juvenile singer and later had a very successful adult career. We were familiar with Our Ernie, his proximity to Wigan Pier and his grandfather’s catch phrase “daft I call it.” Our father, who was born in 1901, told us that the comics which he read as a child were Chips and Comic Cuts. Chips continued to be published until 1953. The Eagle, featuring the adventures of Dan Dare, started publication in the early 1950’s by which time I thought that I was too old for comics. Longevity seems to be a feature of favourite characters. Popeye has been featuring since 1929. Flash Gordon, Superman and Batman all saw the light of day in the 1930’s.