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.

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