Thursday, 5 January 2012

News, Views And Music Issue 128 (Top Five): AAA References in The Beano/Dandy

It’s really hard trying to relax when you’re a monkeynuts album reviewer, dear readers – everywhere you look there seems to be a mention of an AAA group somewhere! This week there I was looking through some old (and I really do mean old) Beano and Dandy comic strips (kindly collected into some excellent reference books by publishers D C Thompson) and to my astonishment in the 1960s volume alone there are four references to The Beatles and one about The Beach Boys. Is it the fascinating music the cartoonists wish to pay worship to? The way these two bands shaped popular culture for the better? The wit, wisdowm and intelligence of their media coverage? Err, no, it’s usually the hair-styles that are being attacked...For the purposes of reading these comic strips and see what I’m writing about you need either a) the excellent ‘Classic Years’ book ‘Swinging Round The Sixties’ or b) a large pile of pristine comics from the years 1964-67. Alas comics famously never have page numbers, so I can’t point you to the pages directly, but nevertheless here for the collector who has to have everything are the top five Beano/Dandy AAA cartoon-music crossovers!

1)    Korky The Cat from ‘The Dandy’ edition of February 1st 1964:

More than any other month, February 1964 was the one when the fab four were on everybody’s lips (and gramophones). The band still hold the record for the most TV viewers ever during their segment on ‘The Ed Sullivan’ show and had just released their third (or fourth depending which chart you use) number one with ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’. Even cartoonists knew The Beatles weren’t a phenomenon that was going to fade and make their strips incomprehensible to future readers and that must be why there are so many references to The Beatles that particular month. The first features perennial favourite Korky The Cat (bring him back, Dandy!) who is plagued, as ever, by the noisy mice that live in his bedroom. Fed up of listening to Korky’s tuneless guitar playing, the mice sneak up to his instrument and cut their own acoustic instruments out of it (not very likely, I know, but this is a cartoon remember – don’t try this at home because it won’t work and your guardians will be angry!) Next day Korky comes back from work (what work did he actually do by the way? He’s a cat!) and is surprised to find an awful noise coming from his windows and a load of swooning female mice outside his door. All becomes clear when he sees a sign saying ‘Beatle Mice’ and a small band singing that memorable hit ‘She loves cheese, yeah yeah yeah!’. I think I need a lie down now...

     2)  Dennis The Menace from ‘The Beano’ edition of February 22nd 1964:

Softy Walter’s a credit to his family. There he is, off to his music lessons with violin in hand (presumably grade eight knowing Walter) alongside his dad and who should they bump into than Mr Menace? (well, Dennis’ dad anyway – does he ever actually get a name in all the 60-odd years he’s been in the Beano?!) He sighs whilst listening to endless gossip about how well Walter’s doing – by comparison all Dennis has a talent for is ‘getting into trouble’ – and decides that he’d rather fight his son than risk another bout of crowing from Walter senior. Dennis, of course, isn’t buying the idea of becoming a musical genius, fixing his flute with peas to act like a ‘pea-shooter’ and when told to choose something else asks for a ‘cornet’ (because, naturally enough, he thinks its something to do with an ice cream – what a silly name for an instrument, no wonder he’s so confused). Along the way he picks up Walter’s violin and gives a quick rendition of ‘I’m a menace, yeah yeah yeah!’, complete with a Beatle wig he’s got from somewhere about his person (before The Beatles came along, Dennis must have had the longest hair of any person in Britain anyway, so I can’t say it makes all that much difference!) Of course, it all ends in tears with Dennis expelled from his music lesson and his dad using his behind as a drum-kit (about 90% of these cartoon strips seem to end in some form of corporal punishment – there must have been a Coalition Government in power back then too as ours are already talking of repealing that law!)

3)    Korky The Cat from ‘The Dandy’ issue dated June 13th 1964:

If you’re of a nervous disposition, dear reader, look away now. Korky The Cat is being a barber this week (why?!) and thinks American style crew cuts are going to be the ‘new’ in-fashion to have. So he puts a board up outside his shop (where did he rent that from?!?) and encourages some long-haired mop topped Beatles fans in. There seems to be an awful lot of them around in Beanotown – more evidence that Beatlemania really did get everywhere! Korky then sticks a colander over his customer’s heads (where did a cat get a colander from?!?!? Oh, Never mind...), plays a scary movie on a projector (perhaps it was a music video of ‘The Mice Girls’ some thirty years early?) and when his ‘customers’ / ‘victims’ are sufficiently shocked cuts all the hair that sticks out through the holes. Ingenious, but not actually recommended, unless you want to have blotches of hair left behind (perhaps that’s what happened to The Human League’s Phil Oakey in the band’s early days and nobody told him?!)

4)    Corporal Clott from ‘The Beano’ issue dated  September 5th 1964:

The bumbling Corporal Clott is clearly only three letters and not many genes away from Pink Floyd’s damning 1968 song ‘Corporal Clegg’ (a song that’s taken on a whole new life since Nick joined the coalition!) But this cartoon actually references The Beatles yet again in another of The Beano’s cartoons obsessed with hair. The Sergeant Major’s on the warpath once more, this time obsessed with his patrol’s moptop haircuts. Corporal Clott is ordered to wait in the barber’s shop with a pair of scissors (he should know not to put Clott in charge by now – surely the name gives it away as much as anything!) until the men come along peacefully. These being soldiers, of course, they fail to do anything peacefully and instead kick up a right fuss (involving ‘friendly fire’ somewhere we’ll bet). Trapping the platoon with the lure of, erm, cigarettes (times really have changed in the past 50 years haven’t they?!) Clott drops a wooden board with head-shaped holes over the men and starts hacking away. A second group of men are fooled by Clott in a lion suit who makes them run into some railings, leaving their heads stuck long enough for the lion to give them a quick back and sides (frankly they deserve it – The Beano’s always doing that gag and they should be used to it by now). A third group of men are lured by the promise of a super-duper hair cream that will give them all the ability to grow their hair super-quick and look just like The Beatles – only Clott is really handing them super-glue and is ‘forced’ to cut their hair off from the roots. Nice to know our armed forces are in such safe hands isn’t it? Mission accomplished, Clott feels rather pleased with himself, until an angry mob realise they’ve been fooled and stick a rather fetching Renaissance wig on his bonce, giving that timeless joke about it being a ‘permanent wave’ (see the Ringo Starr album ‘Old Wave’ and the Kinks song ‘Permanent Waves’). Oh, how we laughed. Some of us. When we were really really bored and we weren’t allowed to watch the telly and it was raining outside and you had your maths homework to do and oh you get the picture... (Quite honestly the Corporal Clott cartoons were the worst thing in the Beano, apart from the text stories – did anyone actually read those?! – and simply filled in room where my own favourites The Bash Street Kids, Little Plum or Minnie The Minx could have fitted).

5)    Korky The Cat from ‘The Beano’ issue dated February 25th 1967:

Finally, Korky The Cat is at it again, starring in his strip with ‘The Bleach Boys’ this time (the illustrator clearly knew their music, because the haircuts are spot on!) Actually this cartoon strip is highly revealing, offering an insight into the up and down nature of the record industry in early 1967 and the fickleness of fame at a point in time when the public at large had assumed The Beach Boys were passe (ha! If only ‘Smile’ had come out at Xmas 1966 they’d have all been eating out of their hats!) Korky promises new-found success to the band if they follow his suggestions which include – you guessed it – a haircut, sending the band to sleep with sleeping pills and hacking all that hair off. Again. Left bald as a coot, each band member (for some reason they’re a trio – perhaps it’s just The Wilson brothers left in this era) is incandescent with rage until they realise that being bald is beautiful and begin a whole new career as ‘The Bawled Boys’ (yes, I know, it’s an awful pun isn’t it?! I’m surprising you’re still reading this article to be honest!) I’m impressed to say the compiler of these cartoons in book form about five years ago clearly knows his stuff, suggesting that this whole cartoon strip was an inspiration for The Beach Boys track ‘She’s Goin’ Bald’, released on ‘Smiley Smile’ late in 1967, the same year as this cartoon!

And that’s all for another issue – see you next time at Alan’s Album Archives!

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