Wednesday, 26 November 2014

What's Happening, Baby?

Earlier this year I made a reference to a comic book called 'Teen-In', which was one of several spin-off titles of TIPPY TEEN, dubbed "America's Swingiest Teener" by its New York-based  publisher Tower Comics. The strips are on the whole typical of the teen characters set in the world of the American 1960s four-colour comics like Archie, Debbi, Patsy & Hedy, Josie, Betty, Veronica, Bunny, Chili, Harvey, Millie the Model etc. 

Although much of this stuff is bathed in 'with-it' language and graphics of the era, it's inevitably just rather sweet and mainstream popular culture. But there are some ridiculously funny moments - like this cluster of panels from a story called "What's Happening, Baby?" in TIPPY TEEN No.19 from June 1968:

"We're at one with our Ethnos!"

The last panel could easily be one of those parody pop-artworks that are tweaked with Situationist-style rants that end up illustrating political pamphlets and articles, or posters and T-Shirts...

Friday, 21 November 2014

Property of Strand Libraries

Following on from my previous post about the 1957 Corgi Book edition of No Mean City, I've picked out some more of my old Corgi paperbacks - and there are several which have a little story attached to them.

In 1960, the firm published Road Kids by the US writer Bud Clifton with a rather stylish biker cover illustrated by John Richards. My copy's a bit shabby - and it's stamped on both the top and bottom edge PROPERTY OF STRAND LIBRARIES. The bottom stamp has been crossed out in what looks like a blue felt tip pen. It's obviously passed through several readers - and owners - but I've never seen another copy of this title since I picked this book up in a charity shop in Dundee, Scotland sometime in the early 90s.

Bud Clifton was a pseudonym for writer David Stacton (1923-1968)

In 1961, Corgi Books published the paperback edition of Brendan Behan's classic autobiographical novel Borstal Boy. This copy is probably one of the very first 'vintage' paperback I ever bought. It had most probably gone through a few sets of hands before it found it's way to me - including being sold on at one time by BOOK BARGAINS in London's Shepherds Bush Market. But unlike Road Kids which probably had limited sales back in 1960, this 'five bob' paperback edition of the original 1958 hardback of Borstal Boy must have done roaring business for Corgi Books.

A Behan masterpiece for 2s 6d

5s in 1961 

I remember first watching the film of It Always Rains on Sunday on television along with several other of these kinds of British neo-realist films that came out in the late 1940s. Located in the Bethnal Green area of East London, it's perhaps one of the less well-known titles produced at Ealing Film Studios. The film came out in 1947 - the very same year as when A.J. LaBern's novel was published. One decade later, Corgi issued a paperback edition, again with a startling cover by John Richards. It is in fact, a direct copy of an actual scene from the Ealing Film - except that Richards replaced the film's Anderson Air-raid shelter setting with a solitary twelve-paned window hovering in the background.

cover signed Richards in bottom left-hand corner

John McCallum and Googie Withers in the 1947 film. In real life the two actors were married for over 60 years!

The back cover is graphically rather interesting too, with a black and white photo of a cobbled street and cerb, integrated into a smart green, yellow and gold design. The word murder! inevitably printed in bold to encourage sales - which I expect were not that high. Indeed, as with Road Kids,  I don't think I've ever seen another copy of this book on my travels...

My copy of the book looks like it could well have been chomped by the Corgi Dog...

And back to the title of this post - PROPERTY OF STRAND LIBRARIES - I wonder if there is more information out there about this library service?

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

No Mean City

There's a small group of old paperbacks produced by Corgi Books which stand out on the bookshelf. They’re all a couple of centimetres shorter than traditional paperback format of the classic Pan’s and Penguin’s of yesteryear. One title catches the eye even more so, because it’s a bit thicker than the others, and has a bold and menacing title - No Mean City.

The edition was published in 1957 with a tremendous painted cover by John Richards which perfectly reflects a 50s youth style - even though the book is set in The Gorbals in Glasgow before World War 2. The area’s name is thought to derive from the Gaelic for ‘the town's field’ – and was situated south of the River Clyde, within walking distance of the City centre.  The Gorbals was originally built for the middle-classes at the end of the 18th century, but 50 years later, its elegance faded when Irish, Highland and European migrants crowded into the city. The once-smart houses were subdivided, and deteriorated.  Though probably no worse than many other so-called ‘slums’ in Glasgow, the Gorbals became infamous - synonymous with urban poverty, overcrowding, razor gangs and prostitution...

Corgi Giant, 1957, issued by Transworld Publishers, London NW10
Thanks to Alexander McArthur, an unemployed baker, whose pulpy accounts of his locality were bought up by a major London-based publisher. It secured the services of journalist H Kingsley Long, to help McArthur re-write his manuscripts. The result: No Mean City, “a stark novel of the Glasgow Slums” was first published in 1935. It focuses on the world of Johnnie Stark, the son of a violent father and downtrodden mother, who becomes the 'Razor King' of a Gorbals gang.

H. Kingsley Long, who earlier had ghosted a book on New York street gangs, chose the novel's title from the Bible 'I am...a Jew of Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city', and was credited with so much of the book's success that the royalties were split three to one in his favour.

The edition's remarkably action-packed back cover
No Mean City enraged Glasgow. No local bookshop would sell it, and libraries were forbidden to stock it. The Glasgow Herald even refused to review it. But it created a huge stir beyond the city. The Times Literary Supplement called it 'a story of appalling savagery' – and its instant notoriety made it a quick big-seller.

The success encouraged McArthur to write more, but without Long, he could not repeat the success of No Mean City. His subsequent stories were turned down by publishers, and meanwhile McArthur was drinking away his royalty cheques. In 1947,  he jumped off Rutherglen Bridge, and was found unconscious on the footpath by the river. McArthur died in hospital, with a ration book, and 1s 3d to his name...  

A book once famed for its sensationalist vision of slum-life, has since inspired countless other memoirs of the lives and times of The Gorbals. Its title has since been re-appropriated by the people of the City who now wouldn’t be able to even spot where the original slums stood (torn down, twice!).  Today, some 80 years after its publication, No Mean City is ironically used in some parts as an affectionate term for urban Glasgow (it’s even the name for an annual local music festival).

No Mean City lives on...

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Candy 1967

On January 21st 1967, just one month after the final episode of Thunderbirds had aired on British television, CANDY ‘the comic full of fun and magic’ was launched for the nursery market. For 9d, its young readers were introduced to Candy and her brother Andy, who live with Mr and Mrs Bearanda above a toy shop in the High Street of the village of Riverdale. That nine penny purchase is in my opinion - and I’d wager this goes for just about anyone who has ever come across it - the most bizarre experiment in the history of this nation’s comic book output.

Mr and Mrs Bearanda are never actually identified as either parents, guardians or foster parents. They are adult-sized Panda Bears in human form, and well, Candy and Andy are blond-haired life-sized dolls of children who appear to have been inspired by those spooky kids in ’The Village of the Damned’, the 1960 film adaptation of John Wyndham’s ‘The Midwich Cuckoos’.  Just what could Gerry Anderson have been thinking of, when Candy was given the green light by City Magazines and Century 21 productions, to unleash this craziness upon the minds of pre-schoolers?

Well, when I spoke with Gerry at his office in Pinewood Studios back in December 1993, even he admitted that he was slightly hazy about the origins of Candy, but he recalled what was going through his mind at the time: “I came up with the idea, instead of writing a story and having it drawn, I thought that it would be a great idea to produce the story photographically. Use 3D imagery, and presenting the real world in photographic form as a story”.

Two years earlier, TV21 comic had pioneered banner-style headlines and news-style copy lifted from the adult press. The combination of dramatic photography and bold brightly coloured artwork has made this much loved classic publication a 60s icon. But Candy has slid out of sight. It has been dismissed as a big budget flop, and now so easily forgotten, sandwiched in the time frame between Gerry Anderson’s two greatest creations (Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet).

The weekly adventures of Candy and her Riverdale family were depicted by Doug Luke, who was one of Anderson’s most trusted stills photographers. He’d worked on Thunderbirds, and would stay with the Century 21 team up to the final episodes of UFO. But Candy was the only time he’d been handed a special new studio to run, crammed with a dozen sets, two assistants, and a D-reg pop art styled Mini called ‘Stripey’ which was merchandised by Century 21 as a Dinky Toy accompanied by tiny plastic Candy, Andy and Bearanda figures. For the comic, Luke churned out dozens of weird and wonderful three page photo stories, usually read horizontally within its unconventional landscape format. 

Most of the adventures in Candy are mundane, domestic accidents, shopping, flying kites, trips to the countryside (usually a few miles from Century 21's Slough studios) though it is often the adult Bearandas that seem to get into tangles. Candy and Andy are always assured and graceful. They not only live above a toyshop, but the doll children can communicate with their toy friends, passing ducks or squirrels, and of course, real-life children. Indeed, the most disarming imagery in Candy is the presence of real people in the photo strips. Adults like farmers, fishermen, vicars, petrol pump attendants, and even the Marquess of Bath at his stately home in Longleat turn up within the pages. Then there are the real children, Candy and Andy-sized, sometimes Candy-competition winners immortalised in the year 1967 meeting their heroes. What do you all remember of it now, I wonder?

The Bearandas, Gerry Anderson believed, were born out of the love children have for giant, cuddly, fluffy panda bears - and in fact the whole nation had gone panda crazy since Chi Chi had arrived at London Zoo in 1958. But for Doug Luke, they were cumbersome heavy monsters, which would often topple over into a muddy field just before the shutter of his Rolleiflex clicked. The Bearandas would then get a firm kick in the ankle from Luke! Together with Candy and Andy, their photo stories lasted until comic book number 54 in January 27th 1968, and then they all saw out the year, re-jigged for a series of annuals and hardback story books with titles like ‘the Duck who could not Swim’.

Gerry Anderson had hoped that “Candy would be the basis for high quality children’s books for forever and a day. But it didn’t catch on”. The comic Candy itself actually stumbled on until the end of 1969, by this time ditching its horizontal format and the Bearanda characters. It was unrecognisable from its optimistic and glossy early months, instead ending up offering the crudest of juvenile art work. 

Candy and Andy and the Bearandas were thus banished to oblivion. Only surfacing in jumble sales and charity shops, which is exactly how I came across them back in the 1980s. Then in 1994, eight massive prints from Candy taken from the original 2” x 2” transparencies were exhibited at ‘Who’s Looking at the Family’, at the Barbican Art Gallery. It was an amazing photography show exploring representations of family life since the birth of photography.  Gerry Anderson and Doug Luke were now being lauded by the critics and the public for Candy’s bizarre psycho-imagery.  During the exhibition’s run, I’d hear comments like ‘obviously a precursor to the work [of the then emerging YBA artists] Jake and Dinos Chapman’, or ‘it’s like a Jeff Koons’ (often dubbed America’s king of kitsch). 

All this a far cry from what was a stylish, yet innocent, 60s comic book for the very young. The press were intrigued by the discovery of Lady Penelope’s long lost relatives, and were delighting in either their astonishment of, or their repulsion by, the Candy and Andy dolls they were looking at. And, let’s face it, I’m certain that we still are.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Overthrow Everything!

These little sheets of brightly-coloured stickers have been kicking around for years and years. I actually used to have dozens of them when I was a kid - they came in packets accompanied by a flat sheet of pink bubble gum. This lot were found in a jumble sale back in the '80s, and must have cost me some typically token price made up on the spot by a volunteer in a church hall . Like 5p for the handful. 

It was a time when this sort of ephemera was being chucked out - though it's amazing how they survived at all! The individual stickers measure 2 x 1.7 cms, and there were 16 of them to a thin card sheet. Some of the individual pieces were peeled off from my batch of cards by the previous owner, and I recall using some during the weeks after I'd picked them up. Of course they're now difficult-to-find these days - but at least it's easy to trawl the web and discover far more information about the stickers than just the fond memories I had of them when I was young. 

For one thing they originated in the US in 1968, a product of the famous Topps company, who dubbed them with a surprisingly bland name - 'Mini Stickers'. Over here they were issued two years later in 1970 by the A&BC manufacturers who were based in Romford, Essex. The name they chose? 'Mickey Takers' - a rather odd choice, but one which sounds like it must have been inspired by the cockney banter heard in the playgrounds of the locality...

However I'm not sure if the stickers with the Americanisms like 'Ratfink' and 'I flunked MATH' made it into the British edition. These would have been lost on me and most other British school kids at the time - and also I never knew anyone called 'Trina'. But in hindsight, these pieces of disposable nonsense are perfect brash and bold statements of 60s design - and ooze throwaway pop art and culture in a way that so many 'serious' works of the same time can only dream of doing now. And hey, they also tell it like it is: 

'Overthrow everything!'

This wrapper is "COND-EMMED' Now that spelling is taking the mickey...
Inevitably, even the images of the actual wrappers turn up on the 'net. Your threepence got you 2 cards with 12 stickers on each...
and it seems like there were several versions - no 'COND-EMMED' on this one - instead, the 'OFISHAL SPELIN CHAMP'
'Idiot of the Year'

This is the American wrapper from '68  (note - four more stickers per card than the UK version!)


and here's the US Topps Mini Stickers box - so not only with bubble gum, plus 2 'Nutty Tickets'...

OKAY already!

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Bonfire Night

To mark Guy Fawkes Night, here are two photographs that I took in Bacon Street, London E1 sometime in the late 1980s. I remember that there was a former sweetshop close to where someone had handwritten the prices of their fireworks for sale back in the days before Decimalisation. So when I'd taken these pictures, the handiwork of this unknown fireworks seller had remained on the brick wall for around 20 years. 

This DIY signage has wonderful thick rough-hewn paintwork with further additions of what looks like blue chalk in the passing years. Viewing them now, I wish I'd also taken a wider shot showing the wall in relation to the old shops in the street (all which have since been demolished) - but it was the close-up shot that I was after...